Collecting art – for love or money?

Why on earth do people buy art? For love? For money? This appears to be a baffling question for those who don’t have the collecting bug (or gene, as some call it). The concept of paying sometimes extremely high prices for something functionless is beyond comprehension to many.

As an academic researcher on the subject of art collecting, I frequently witness misconceptions that people have about art collectors and here are four of them:

Andy Warhol dollars

Andy Warhol dollars








Art collectors are very rich.

Absolutely not! The art collectors you read about in the papers – those who pay record prices at auctions are very few. The main bulk of collectors buy art at affordable prices. Not only that, they choose their art according to what they can afford. A few collectors participating in my research are employees that live on a budget. They focus on paper works, (which are always less expensive than oil paintings), they buy in installments, according to their financial abilities.

People buy art as an investment.

Some do but they aren’t really collectors but rather speculators. Financial research on the subject of art as investment shows a high risk factor in art investments when dealing in the middle and low ends of the market and also sometimes in the top end. Take Damien Hirst as an example: After reaching his peak in 2008, his art has declined in value by 30%. Many put up for sale in auctions in the last three years have not sold.

Art collectors have formal art education.

Not necessarily. Most of the art collectors I have interviewed do not have formal art education. Art knowledge can be acquired independently and is, as stressed by collectors, an essential asset. Art collecting is not a profession but a hobby. Most at collectors have formal education in their varied professions.

Robert Indiana Love

Robert Indiana Love

Art collectors buy out of love.

Yes! There is definitely an element of love involved in the collecting of art. There is a spark of immediate attraction that ignites a desire to acquire. Many collectors mention a metaphor of a hunt and a capture –  referring to art as a trophy – especially regarding artworks acquired in auction.

Real collectors do not buy with an intention to sell. They buy to enjoy their art. Most collectors are reluctant to part with works they collect. But I have yet to meet a collector who is not aware of the value of his collection, following prices of artists he collects. One of the greatest satisfactions of an art collector is the knowledge that he bought “well” – meaning that his collection has risen in value and that artists he invested in have gone up in price. This, for the collector, is a sign of his good eye and good intuition – a major source of pride – even if he doesn’t sell the work.


In summary, collectors have a love affair with their art collection, while at the same time hoping that their acquisitions are also good investments – even if the never sell anything.