Paul Johnson uses his column in Forbes to warn against the folly of investing in art:
I think investing in art to make money is a fool’s game. The art market–now enormous and global–is crowded with smooth-talking con men (and women) who make Wall Street fraudsters look like amateurs. Art values are determined by unpredictable trends that are rarely linked to quality. And who’s the arbiter of quality anyway?
If you love works of art, read up on the subject and visit museums. Then buy because you want to possess certain objects and have them in your home to look at and enjoy. But don’t collect in order to make money. You won’t. And you’ll have a painful, anxious time of it as well.
Johnson reminds us that Henry Clay Frick, who amassed the greatest private collection by Johnson’s estimation, was an extremely unsentimental businessman:
How did Frick do it? Was there any connection between his astute strategizing and ruthless tactics as a businessman and his unique success as a collector? Frick plainly loved art of the highest quality, for without that love such a collection could never have been put together. But whenever I visit the Frick, I find my mind wandering from the marvels on the walls to thoughts of the hard-headed titan in his office, dismissing union representatives with scorn and dictating cables to summon an army of Pinkerton men.
Perhaps the greatest collector of all was King Charles I of England, a physically small man not noted for his intelligence or learning. But the king, like Frick, had a wonderful eye for paintings of the highest caliber. Charles I’s downfall–his ouster from the throne, loss of the ensuing civil war and subsequent execution in 1649–was the result of his obstinacy and unwillingness to admit he was ever in the wrong or to compromise. It’s likely, however, that the obstinacy that made Charles I such a poor politician helped make him a collector of genius. He adamantly refused to accept anything that was not of the highest quality.
Many of the top Renaissance collectors, especially the de’ Medicis, were as obstinate as Charles I and as ruthless as Frick, which is why Florence’s great palaces–the Uffizi, the Pitti and the Bargello–house the finest concentration of first-class works of art on earth. Obstinacy and ruthlessness were also characteristics of Pope Julius II, under whom Michelangelo and Raphael flourished and who set his ineffaceable mark on the Vatican’s vast collection.
All these people loved art and trained their minds to respect and cherish it for its own sake. Not one of them collected art to make money or because it was a safe investment. Unless you share this love of art, I would give it a pass when deciding where to place your money.
Don’t ‘Invest’ in Art (Forbes)