With the high value placed on powerful, socially-relevant art of today and the timeless works of history’s greats, art will always be an intriguing and sought after form of investment. Art is still a powerful medium of influence and serves an important role in the evolution of visual and popular culture. While the Italian Renaissance is fondly recalled as an era of creative, artistic innovation, history truly revealed that most art projects were funded by religious institutions. For the Catholic Church, visual art was an important investment because it was critical for spreading its mission to the masses and encourage church membership. The major funding and investment of Italian Renaissance art exposed a reality about the art world that was separate from the artistic genius of masters, technique and theory.
The art world is extremely particular, fast-paced and has always crossed paths with the business world and institutions of influence. While the term “starving artist” was undoubtedly the reality of many working yet unsuccessful artists like Van Gogh, there have always been those major success stories of working artists living the dream. Behind that dream, however, is the financial investment of powerful, influential patrons. While people invest their money to foster the growth of a business or artist, investors also contribute because major financial gains could await down the road. While an artist’s passion compels them to create, surviving off that passion may require creative compromise in their career. Those who invest in working artists, and the pieces they’re presently making, can undoubtedly have an influence about what is made and where it’s shown.
Overall, investment is risky by nature regardless of the product. Whether it’s stocks, companies or fine art, an investor knowingly goes into the decision with the weight of potential success or possible failure. Like any other forms of investment, confidence in the economy determines whether art is a wise investment choice or an unnecessary and potentially harmful one. Throughout the course of art history, leading art movements have attracted investors with money to burn. However, harsh economic conditions, like the Great Depression, scared most potential investors away from art; the lack of art investment drove artists into destitution and prompted government programs to employ them for public works projects.
While art history has revealed the negative impact of bad economies on art investment, it has powerfully shown the influence economic confidence can produce. The extravagant culture and rampant spending behavior of the 1980s made an indelible mark on the art industry. People were investing in art at a rapid pace which created overnight sensations like Keith Harring and Jean-Michael Basquiat. The reckless abandon of the 1980s, and the popularity of pop-contemporary art, opened the flood gates for a wave of new artists and investors. While that manic investment if art has since slowed down, the value of artists’ works, deceased and present, continues to draw investors, rise in value and sell for staggering amounts at renown auction houses.