The business of purchasing art

Profit or Pleasure?

by Edel Cassidy
Words Edel Cassidy

In the preface of his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde proclaimed, ‘all art is quite useless’. An Oxford University student named Bernulf Clegg was so intrigued by the statement, that he wrote to Wilde and asked him to explain this now famous quote. To his surprise he received the response, ‘A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. A flower blossoms for its own joy. We gain a moment of joy by looking at it. That is all that is to be said about our relations to flowers. Of course man may sell the flower, and so make it useful to him, but this has nothing to do with the flower. It is not part of its essence. It is accidental. It is a misuse. All this is I fear very obscure. But the subject is a long one.’

“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”


It’s certainly not a get rich quick scheme and can be an unpredictable investment. Art is therefore viewed in the long-term asset class for various reasons. Firstly, it is subject to changes in trends and fashion, it is not a liquid asset, meaning that you cannot always sell it when you want or need to, and it does not produce an income. Secondly, selling art has been long association with debt, death and divorce and no one wants to look like they need the money. However, the value of art is not just in monetary terms and investors are usually art lovers who want to enjoy their purchases as well as buy works that will increase in value.

IMAGE: The Money Changers – Marinus Van Reymerswaele (follower of): © Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa-Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao.

  • ‘The business of purchasing art’ is published in Anthology Volume 01. Read more features from this volume or buy it now.
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