Smart Art Investing

In Art Collecting

Of all investment opportunities, art is perhaps the most exciting. Art investing requires seeing a lot of pieces, tracking the market, and making smart buys — but for art lovers, it’s hard to separate the work from the fun.

Not all art investment is alike. While many wealthy investors jump right into buying Monets and Van Goghs, this is not typical. Most people benefit from looking for smart investments of contemporary work from artists creating and building a career in the here and now. Their original work is less expensive and will one day, with a little luck and the right attention, become the next big name in the art world.

And as we will see, many art investors go beyond profiting from art. Investors like John Quinn were so involved in the art world that they ended up reshaping it, turning passion for investment into an adventure of discovery — the benefits of which we are still enjoying today.

Before we get into the life and times of heroic art investor Quinn, let’s delve a little deeper into the benefits of becoming a collector of contemporary, original art.

Benefits of Art Investing

Of all the many art markets, original art is the most rewarding both financially and personally. While purchasing limited edition prints can limit some of the upfront costs, the ceiling to your returns is much lower. And equally as important, a large part of art investment is having the art around. No matter how good art reproduction gets, it can never beat the real thing.

The major benefits come down to four key features:

  • Low exposure to risk
  • Low volatility in the market
  • Large possible returns
  • Enjoyment of your investment

For many investors putting down significant sums, they want to know that at the very least they can get back what they put in. With original art, especially at a moderate price point, the exposure to risk is very manageable. Most moderately priced works aren’t likely to depreciate in value, because the price is driven mostly by the quality of the work and not the name.

This goes hand in hand with the low volatility at the moderately priced level. Big names can fluctuate dramatically based on the rising and falling tides of taste, but the market as a whole has steadily risen decade after decade.

Of course, if you have your finger on the pulse of the art scene and you make enough smart purchases, you could wind up with an early work of a big name later on. Large art auction houses regularly report stunning winning bids, and every artist begins somewhere. Finding out what is a smart buy is also part of the fun: going to galleries, looking at art, and speaking to artists all adds to the excitement of investing in original art.

That leads us to the most unique feature of art investment: you get to appreciate the art while it appreciates in value. No matter how well a stock performs, it doesn’t bring beauty to your home. It’s a great benefit to have a physical investment that you can enjoy all while it increases your wealth.

If these benefits haven’t convinced you, it’s time to consider the importance of the art collector as an ambassador and champion of the art world. No one exemplifies this role better than John Quinn.

Case in Point: The Life of John Quinn

Born in Ohio to an Irish family, John Quinn’s beginnings were rather quaint. His father was a grocer in the small town of Tiffin, and they lived a more or less normal life.

Quinn went on to get an education, studying law at Georgetown and international relations at Harvard. He worked as a lawyer in New York City, leading a much different life than his father. Quinn even got involved in politics, but after a particularly contentious Democratic National Convention in 1912, he refocused his energies on collecting.

He set out in the field of contemporary art. Rather than chasing the established names (that came with enormous price tags), he worked hard at understanding the new movements and painters coming out of Europe. He researched the new trends tirelessly.

At the time, the United States had steep tariffs on imported art made in the last twenty years. This added cost slowed the movement of art across the Atlantic, keeping Americans ignorant of the latest development from their friends across the pond. Quinn led the charge to repeal the tariff, and he succeeded in 1913.

With this win under his belt, he helped organize the now famous Armory Show that same year. Held by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, the exhibition brought over all the wonderful new styles thriving in Europe at the time. It caused an uproar in American audiences who’d rarely seen much outside of realist paintings.

Movements like Cubism, Fauvism, Futurism, and more were represented. This one event led to an explosion of experimentation on American canvasses, creating still more new avenues of expression that are still ongoing today.

Quinn’s voracious appetite for the arts extended to literature as well. He befriended the likes of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound,  He was such a dear friend to Eliot that the poet gifted him the original manuscript for The Waste Land. Quite the gift, indeed.

The life of John Quinn shows an entirely different side of investing. Quinn made money from his activity, for sure, but his involvement in the scene of his day shows a passion for art that went above and beyond money. He stands as an archetype for what art investment can do to make the world a better, more beautiful place.

Contemporary, original art is a wonderful opportunity to make money, and it’s also a way to engage the art world in a meaningful way. Who knows? The right investment could spark the next revolution in painting. And even if you don’t change the world, you can always fall back on making some decent returns.