Buying original art which keeps or gains in value can be a fun and highly enjoyable process when you know what to do. As in anything, knowledge is power. No one can be reasonably sure which art will become valuable over time, but there are a few solid guidelines which have worked consistently over time. Original oil on canvas paintings are historically sound investments if the artist has earned some level of success in his or her own life. But that is not the only indicator. Original art is kind of like gold as an investment. It may fluctuate here and there, but extremely it is one of the known non-renewable resources in this world. So over time it can only go up in value because of its rarity. But only if it's fine in quality.
Whether an artist achieved fame in his or her own lifetime is not always the only indicator, however. For example, van Gogh never sold anything, but his works regularly sell for many millions now. Prints can become valuable if they are very high in quality, have low edition numbers and have original signatures. I never, for example, allow edition runs to exceed 200. I want my work to be rare, collectible, valuable over time. So follow some simple guidelines and you can build a privileged collection over time, and maybe make some real money in the process. Art is rare and one-of-a-kind, and therefore not replaceable, so by definition it will never become less rare. So this protects the buyer who holds ownership to it during their lifetime.
As I've said before, the number one rule is to buy what you like. You must enjoy living with it first. But there are also a few tricks of the trade which will help you make sound decisions when purchasing a collection. And let's face it, if you buy something you like and then it becomes highly valuable over time? That's the cherry on top. And it can happen. And it's like they say in real estate … you make your money when you buy right.
In terms of the historically desirable works of art over time, the human subject has withheld the test of time. It has been said that nothing will ever be as interesting for a human being than to look into the eyes and likeness of another in art. There are many examples of this. Klimt's "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bayer" sold for over $ 130 million, for example. But there are many other examples, such as van Gogh's portraits of himself and others in his life. All highly valuable works now which could have been obtained for almost nothing in their own lifetime. Picasso's "women" portrait are another classic case. Some of these works are now worth well over $ 100 million each. Wow, think of it. One painting you can hold in your hand is worth the same as 100 one million dollar houses in a row. That's powerful appreciation in a relatively short amount of time.
In terms of what other subject matters have held up to the test of time value-wise, the list is rather concise. Natural subject matters are almost always a safe bet, as nature is nature and never goes out of style. Still life painting is desirable, as people can live with it, they get it, it's easy to like, it looks nice wherever it hangs, and then retains it's value. Landscape painting holds value for similar reasons as well. Classic nudes are universally accepted as fine works of art, provided they are tasteful and not vulgar. Shock art certainly has a place, but it's far more risky a bet. You never know what it's going to be worth once the shock has worn off and the public moves on to another shocker. You get the idea. The more beautiful works tend to withstand the test of time, because ultimately collectors like to know what they're looking at. Ultimately it's all about supply and demand. Paintings are created by hand, and then the supply will always be rather scarce. So demand usually remains high over time as the result.
Another powerful tool when buying original art is to focus on oils. Oil paintings are universally considered the most popular art medium, and this has been true for over 500 years. Painting galleries in museums are by far the largest attractions. People like to look and study past artists' lives and works. They like to feel like they're connected to that artist. They feel his pain, they feel his joy, they feel his creativity in the presence of that particular work on display. The "Mona Lisa" is oil on panel and even more popular today than when it was painted over 6 generations ago. The painting could almost fit in a small briefcase, and yet it's arguably worth well over $ 300 million if it was to go up for sale. But not likely, the Louvre in Paris knows a good thing when they see it. It is one of the most viewed original artwork in the world, complete with its own air quality control glass case.
There is another category of art which has long held favor with the public and collectors in general. Abstract art. Collectors will always enjoy viewing an artistic interpretation of something from real life. Realism has its place, but abstract art gives the viewer something interesting to think about, and people there buy it with regularity. Picasso's "Dream" original oil, for example, is one of the most valuable artworks in the world. It's an abstract depiction of a woman sleeping in a chair, and yet the painting is highly sexually charged without being vulgar. You know it's a woman, and yet it looks like no real woman in reality. These are components of great abstract art. They stretch the imagination, give the viewer something to think about, and are there before very prized as cultural objects worthy of collecting and holding onto from generation to generation.
And finally, have fun with your art collecting. Remember to buy what you like. And buy original art when you can afford it. After all, it'll be a one-of-a-kind object created by hand. The world will always prize such objects because they can not be replaced. But most of all, enjoy it for what it is, and enjoy the fact that the artist put his or her heart and soul into its creation.