Why the market for real art is not going to grow

People buy art for a variety of reasons.

  • To project who they are or who they want to be seen by others. For instance, Roman Abramovich is buying football clubs and Lucien Freud paintings to look not like a common thug he is.
  • To “own” the objects that are painted or sculpted, metaphorically. This is how Dutch still-lifes came around. This is also what happens to single men failing at the dating front. They often buy “nudes” and place them in their bedrooms because they want to own at least a painted or photographed image. Other single men, whose pick-up strategies work at least occasionally, buy “nudes” as medals of honour, and view them as a reflection of their ability to bed any “gal”. Single women rarely buy nude men, but happily go for family “idylls”. Perhaps, to scare off any man who happens to get to their bedrooms without the proper intention to get married first.  It is very easy to sell paintings of children in China. Because of birth control there.
  • To earn money after their art would have appreciated. As usual, that’s the kind of game when the casino pockets all the profits, that is the Saatchi kind of art dealers. It is never about art, and always about cheating oligarchs out of their money by flattering their non-existent taste. Don’t try to play it.
  • To get a kick out of it, each time they look at it. This is the kind of logic I use when I buy paintings, and most normal people should, for the single reason that it makes life a tad better.

I didn’t say anything new here. 

Now, who and why is buying THIS!? (paying the price of $20-25K for this fireplace)

a) people who have $20-25 000 to spend on a fireplace and
b) people who want to project the image of sophisticated art lovers towards people they know, and about whom they know that those people know this painting was done by Raphael. Now, don’t be put off by the quantity of “knows” in this sentence. It is about “I know that you know that I know Raphael, and what a smart pair of guys that makes us”.

People whose knowledge of art stretches beyond the Sistine Madonna, call it vulgar. Well, it is vulgar for them, but not for the buyers. We can laugh at them, point at them, ridicule them all we want. We can’t reach them. And you know why? They don’t want to go beyond the Sistine Madonna, they don’t want to learn or change because if they do, they feel they’d have to demolish that fireplace and feel stupid for the rest of their lives. It is difficult to admit a 25 grand investment was an uneducated error. Hm. Better stay as you are, sophisticated among idiots than become an idiot among sophisticados.

This is why the market for art that people buy because they really, really get a kick out of it, is so limited and won’t grow. To buy art you personally like – and not what you think your friends, neighbours, bosses, etc. might enjoy – takes a lot of courage. The percentage of courageous people in the total population ain’t large.

Pessimistic, am I?


  1. Interesting that I am reading this post only now, after I’ve been following your blog for a few months. Interesting also because I used to think exactly like you, till my own experience started to change that view. During the last couple of weeks I sold 8 pieces through 2 pathetic group exhibitions (the village fair type) in the small town where I presently live. All of them can be seen in the Art For Sale section of my blog and are product of my marketing skill (90%) and artistic skill (10%), though I cannot be absolutely cynical when I make art no matter what. The art which I have been serious about is there under Work. The people who bought the paintings (and commissioned more) did that only because they loved them – in their own words, while looking me in the eye. My conclusion: the honest buyers are at the low end of the market, people who make an impulse purchase because they see something that they simply like. And to give them credit – if they buy kitsch, it is because they truly like it, not because someone gives them the BS about Koons etc. etc. …

    1. It is the last bulleted group of people. Those who buy art they like. I am trying to grow this group of people by educating them a bit ) But this is a small group that is difficult to reach by marketing art through galleries. I would be more than happy to be wrong though! )

  2. Interesting post! The only reason I’d purchase the art if I have a confidence about the increasing value of the masterpiece (product, painting, couture apparel, etc.) over time. It shouldn’t depreciate, but appreciate! Or I have to foresee the raise of demand on it. The latter one is risky but I’d go for it!

    1. Thank you for a rather alternative point of view (for I am against playing this game for financial gain), but all I can suggest is that you shouldn’t put all your money behind it. That’s a game that, really, you can’t win, unless you own the market )

  3. Excellent post. Brave post, I would add. And yes buying art takes courage, but the genuine, non-speculative acquisition will be its own reward. Passion and conviction yield the highest interest where acquiring art is concerned. Therefore, I tend to regret those pieces (the ones that spoke to me on some sort of visceral level) that I did not buy, rather than those I purchased. I buy modest pieces that move me in some way, pieces I would rather not live without, given a choice.
    (The artist in me certainly wishes she would come across more collectors like herself…)

    1. Thank you, I think we stand on the same spot, more or less. It is great to have an artist inside… Alas, there’s a sarcastic critic in me instead -)

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