By Sheilagh Casey, October 21, 2023

There is no right or wrong reason to buy artwork. The best reason is to buy what you love. But you’ve got to see it to want it. Browsing is always free. Don’t feel pressured into buying. If you do decide to buy a work of art, what might go into your decision?


Original art is a luxury item, like fine perfume, spa visits, designer clothes, or anything really that is not necessary to one’s physical existence. Your spiritual and aesthetic existence demands more, of course.

  • If you can only budget a few hundred dollars for art at any one time, you can still get something you love. Starting small is no shame. If you really love a particular artist’s work, ask if they have small works they can show you. Negotiate. Can you barter goods or services? If you’re dealing with a gallerist, ask them whether the artist produces other, more affordable pieces.
  • If you can spend a little more, you can get a lot, especially if you patronize local galleries. Some remarkably good work is going for a remarkably few dollars out there, from young artists, or artists who would love to make sales. If you keep looking, you do get lucky and find work you want and can afford. But if you’re not looking, you won’t discover anything.


This is the most important aspect of buying. Unless you’ve got a treasure vault in Switzerland, you want to buy art that you love to look at every day. Nobody can tell you what you like. Your own personal aesthetic is unique and has great personal value.

  • You could be a sentimental person who loves things that tug strongly on your heart, that tell a story.
  • You could be a romantic, one who is moved by passionate expression, natural majesty, mysterious symbolism, or strong subjective identification.
  • You could be a manager or interior decorator wanting to add some contemporary zing to an office space, something visually soothing for a medical office or client’s bedroom.
  • Maybe you just want something the right size and color to hang over the sofa or fill some wall space. There’s nothing wrong with that.
  • You could be intellectually inclined, or politically motivated. These are great topics for artists, and there are plenty of artworks that speak to the current political and intellectual climate.
  • You might love painting for its own sake, and gestural abstraction for its celebration of the artist’s hand.


  • All art has some degree of historical value. At a minimum, the work marks the time or occasion when you acquired it. That would be subjective value. Since good artworks will last a long time, they become part of your legacy.
  • Objective and factual historical value relates to art movements and social and political history. This is a vast subject best left alone for now. I encourage you to become conversant with it. It’s especially important if you’re buying for investment or prestige. It’s delightful and interesting conversational material for almost everyone.


  • It’s true that investing in art can outperform investments in financial instruments. But, just as in financial investments, there’s not a lot of love in it. Go ahead and buy a share in Warhol futures, if you want. As of yesterday, when I checked, they’re at 17%
  • Many very important art collections have been built one inexpensive piece at a time (looking at you, Dr. Barnes).


If you’ve made the effort in your life to develop some personal taste, you’ve made the investment you need to acquire work of increasing value.

If you have no personal taste, ask yourself why not. And start enjoying the art you like without apology.