There's no doubt that original art is a luxury item that only a small percentage of the population collects. I mean, it's not something one "needs" in the way they need food or shelter. However, for some, it is a need, or rather it fills a need, a very real one. That idea got me thinking and wondering, who are these people and why do they feel this need?
Well, as for the who, the most reliable source of information I could dig up was the National Endowment for the Arts 2008 Public Participation in the Arts Survey. Granted, it's 10 years old, and it's only dealing with the U.S., but it does give you a good basic picture. Apparently, 20 percent of respondents reported owning at least one piece of original art, and of them, most were between 45 and 64 years old. Now, that 20 percent included any and all forms of original art, sculpture, paintings, photography, etc., and it didn't specify how these people came into possession of their art (collection, inherited, etc.) . Compare that to author and artist W. Joe Innis's assertion in the 1970's that less than 1 percent of the population collects original paintings specifically. So, I suppose it's safe to say that the percentage of people who collect original paintings specifically, is somewhere between 1 and 20 percent. A pretty small and exclusive club.
Now that we know the who, what about the why? That's a little more complicated because as humans, so many things drive us to do the things we do. That being said, these are some of the most common reasons art collectors collect:
1. Investment: Many people invest in art as a commodity that will rise in value, especially if they collect the works of already established artists or stumble upon an artist that is on the rise. It can be a pretty decent strategy if they "back a winner", so to speak, just look at some of the prices auction houses like Sotheby's garner for more famous works.
2. Social Status: Some folks like to have something to talk about, a conversation piece. Normally, the people in this category will collect from the more established artists, but they may also collect the works of emerging artists if they're known for "discovering" unknown, talented artists. For them, its a symbol of having arrived, being successful, cultured and "in the know", and who doesn't want to feel like that?
3. Decorative Purposes: This one's pretty straight forward. These are the people who want something that will look good in a certain room, they want something that matches their décor.
4. They Know and Like the Artist: These are most often return collectors. They've collected a piece or two and have developed a relationship with the artist and they know and like him/her on a personal level.
5. It Speaks: This, in my experience, is probably the biggest driver that moves a person from casual art lover to the elite few, those who collect art. The piece, for whatever reason, just speaks to them. They may know why, they may not, but they just have to have it. It may remind them of something in their life, a childhood memory, a much loved and cherished person, a past experience. Or it may just stir something in them, it makes them think, or it stirs an emotional response in them that they can't shake. They can't look away, and when they do, the work calls them back, it becomes an object of lust, or desire, the want has crossed over into need, they MUST have it. Whatever journey the piece takes them on, they have to go.
That's the long and short of it. I'm sure there are many more reasons. As I said before, humans cannot be reduced to simply statistics, but the data is fascinating nonetheless. With all that said, I think I'll wrap this up and make some breakfast.