Tips for Buying Art During Uncertain Times

Aug 31, 2022

It’s no secret that things are feeling a bit nervous in the economy. From high inflation to talk of a potential recession, it seems that a lot of people are getting anxious. That kind of talk makes it hard to feel confident when you are doing any kind of investing. And if you are buying art as an investment, it’s really no different.

Even if you are buying art as a collector who simply loves the beauty of a piece, it can still be unsettling to buy things up when you aren’t sure what tomorrow will look like economically. After all, buying art can become expensive, and when there might be a recession just around the corner, one wonders if that money wouldn’t be better spent somewhere else.

So on a certain level, this isn’t the easiest time to go around shelling out your cash for artwork. But you might be surprised to find that, in other ways, it can be a fine time to collect. Let’s look at a few of the burning questions going on among collectors right now and see if we can give some answers that help you navigate these times.

Is art recession proof?

The major question people ask themselves at a time like this is whether or not art is “recession proof.” If it is, maybe holding on to a bunch of artwork right now is fine. If not, how are we supposed to be buying art when a recession might hit? Now, that is a complicated thing to understand. First of all, there is no standard meaning of the term “recession proof.” It can mean different things to different people. But for the most part, it means an asset that performs better than most others during a recession.

So, is art one of those assets? Yes and no.

For top blue-chip artwork, there can still be major bidding frenzies and high prices even in the worst of economic times. So if you are selling Basquiats and Picassos, there’s no need to worry. But what about the rest of us?

Much of the primary and secondary art market will see prices go down during recessions. That’s because all that discretionary spending on art dries up pretty fast. Lowers prices aren’t all bad. They are a benefit to collectors, for instance. You can get a lot more art for your dollar during a recession while also giving funds to the galleries and artists who keep the art world turning.

All this being said, prices do seem to go down less in the art market than in others. On top of that, prices can fall unevenly across categories. 2008 was the single worst year for the art market on record. But even then, Impressionist and Modern Art prices only went down slightly. If you remember what happened in 2008, you’ll recall that other investments, namely stocks, took much more brutal hits.

But here, you might just be seeing the basic dichotomy rear its ugly head again: major blue chip art is more resilient while lesser known and unproven work can’t hold onto its price as well.

Is it risky to buy artwork right now?

The great thing about art is that it actually provides value outside of what you can recoup as an investment.

When an art collector purchases work, they do not have to worry if it will definitely make them money down the line, because it will be a piece of artwork that they can enjoy no matter what. You can’t buy a stock and simply hang it on the wall and admire it — if it doesn’t make you money, it has no value to you.

That means that when we talk about “risk” with buying art, we need to define our terms. Will the art you buy today all of a sudden have low resale value in a week or a month? It might go down significantly, but that’s only a problem if you want to sell it in a week or a month.

This is something that has made art such a beloved asset for such a long time. It weathers the storms of recession rather well, all because it has far less pressure on it to make money. That ends up slowing down supply during a recession — as people find it easier to simply not sell while the market looks weak — and that ends up keeping prices from falling through the floor.

In short, it isn’t any more or less risky to buy art right now as long as you are doing it for sheer enjoyment. If you are buying strictly as an investment, you will have to assess your own taste for risk.

How do you go about buying art right now?

During a recession, it is probably wise to increase caution around major purchases and the decision to sell work. But the general rules remain the same. Fundamentally, if you can easily afford a work of art that you love and want to take home with you, that math still checks out.

If you are wanting to offload work you own, it might not be the best time, especially if art world prices begin to fall. There’s no harm holding on to things through the slow times.

Keep optimistic when it comes to buying art

No one has a perfect working crystal ball, but many people are reading the tea leaves and seeing economic trouble on the horizon. Whether or not that comes to pass, buying art doesn’t have to become a terrifying prospect.

As long as you keep the fundamentals in view, you’ll be fine. And always make sure that you buy art you will enjoy for many years without needing to resell right away for a profit.

And remember, the more collecting you do through a recession, the more you directly support the artists and galleries that make the art world possible.