The art world is like any other industry, and it is filled with myths. One of the most prevailing of these, believed by both artists and people who are not artists, is that extremely wealthy people know good art when they see it, and what they buy is always a good investment. This, it is assumed, is the major reason to purchase art: as an investment.
After all, in order to buy an iconic work like The Scream, the famed 1895 pastel by Edvard Munch, one obviously much be richer than the normal person, since at the latest auction the work auctioned off for $119.9 million. And although the average person, upon seeing the drawing, would think, "That drawing looks like it was done by a 10-year-old," he or she is reluctant to say this aloud because somebody just spent $119.9 million on it -- and anyone who has that much money must be smart, right? Because in our culture, another of our myths is that outrageously wealthy people are that way because they are smarter, kinder, better, and simply superior to others. (This is a pretty good distillation of the plot of the book, Atlas Shrugged, used as a game plan by many that regular, ordinary people would term "elite.)
But an item's intrinsic -- natural, essential -- value is frequently at variance with what the market assesses it to be worth, and this is patently obvious in the art world. As the old saying goes, "It's worth what a person is willing to pay for it." For a brief time in the 17th century, people were willing to pay as much for a tulip bulb as they would for a house. Crazy, you say? How is that any different from five bidders driving the final price up to $119.9 million for a drawing that looks like it was done by a 10-year-old, when there are ample artworks, by actual 10-year-olds, available for much less? What, exactly, is the intrinsic value of The Scream?
And herein we find the reason why ordinary, regular people have the potential to be better art buyers than the fabulously rich: when they buy an artwork -- whether it's a print, an original painting, or an image on a coffee cup -- for no other reason than because they like it, and the image speaks to their heart and soul, then they are purchasing art with their mind, and not their sense of cunning that they are a savvy investor.
And when they take that artwork and place it, not in a vault or safe, but on their walls where they see and enjoy it every day, then they are honoring the skill, ability, soul, and hard work of the artist.
Of course, people who buy artwork for no other reason than that they like it are frequently told, by the elitists of the art industry, that they are naive, unsophisticated, and foolish, But it's not an impossible conclusion to draw that the person who treasures the artwork because of its appeal to the heart and soul, understands much more about art than the one who treats it as nothing more than an investment.