Aesthetics and a desire to live with art
Online art buyers overwhelmingly purchase art in order to live with it. Seventy-one percent of collectors surveyed said they buy art to decorate their home. Even for investment-minded collectors
, this was the most frequently cited driver to buy art. The motivation here appears to be deeply personal in its origins: 67% of collectors—the second-largest group—reported buying art to provide a source of inspiration in their daily lives.
Similarly, when asked about the biggest factors to consider when making a purchase, collectors reported aesthetics as the most important, cited by 78% of respondents—three times the number that cited an artwork’s potential to increase in value as a key motivating factor.
A passion for artists and their stories
In interviews and answers to the survey’s free-response questions, collectors indicated that a work’s aesthetic appeal is frequently the gateway to a deeper exploration of the artist and their career. Among active art buyers identified in the survey, only approximately 17% reported buying art without significant consideration for the works’ content or the artist’s background or career trajectory.
As one collector stated, “There’s definitely work where I just see it and like it, and I don’t really care if the person is ever going to be worth anything, and I’ll buy it. But that’s become less and less common.”
While both factors ranked highly, collectors seem to be relatively more motivated by the subject matter and story behind the individual work (58% of respondents) than they are by the artist’s story and background (43% of respondents). Some of the interviewed collectors explained that this tendency is due to artists frequently working in multiple series with varied subject matter. And while conventional art-world behaviors see a majority of attention placed on storytelling about artists and their careers, this data suggests that equal attention—if not more—should be placed on going in-depth about individual works online.
When analyzing their reasons for collecting, the fourth and fifth most frequently cited motivations by online art collectors were to support artists and artist friends, with 51% and 36% of respondents, respectively. Both factors were particularly prevalent among Gen-Z buyers. This finding is consistent with broader consumer trends
suggesting that Gen-Z consumers are more likely to be motivated by how the brands—in this case, the artists—they consume relate to their personal identity and community, as well as causes they care about.
This diverges significantly from the Gen-X consumers currently among the online art market’s biggest spenders, who are more frequently motivated by status and a brand or artist’s mass relevance.
Consistent with online art collectors’ relatively modest average budgets, affordability was the second most frequently cited factor that influences buying. This finding remains consistent across all age ranges besides 45–55 (when budgets are also highest), and all but the two highest and three lowest segments of net worth (above $5 million and below $10,000).
One explanation offered in interviews conducted after the survey is the propensity to collect at an increasing volume, and, in some cases, to buy more expensive works as net worth increases. Collectors’ passion for art appears to be a driving factor here: Multiple interviewees mentioned continually pushing the limits of what they can afford as their wealth increases—climbing up lists of artists they had been following, but whose works had previously been financially out of reach.
As one collector who reported spending $10,000–$24,000 on art annually noted, “[When] I started, I bought things that I could afford that really spoke to me, and then luckily as my potential grew, so did my art purchases.”
Additionally, interviews demonstrated a propensity among collectors to think of affordability not only in terms of their current budget, but also how well priced an artwork is relative to what they think is fair, based on the current market. Collectors expressed demand for more data to inform this estimation. “I don’t have a perfect idea if I’m getting a great deal,” said another collector, “but I know where my limit is, and I’m willing to stop.”
Trends and art-world validation
Contrary to what might be inferred from large swings in the value of certain types of art (such as the recent move towards figurative painting
), trends were the least frequently cited factor driving online art collectors, at just 9% of respondents. This is consistent with the previously mentioned propensity among the majority of collectors to focus on aesthetics and individual taste when buying.
Age and net worth were not significant in determining collectors’ relative propensity to factor trends into their decision-making processes. But a subset of collectors who indicated a high affinity to the art world and were twice as likely to view art as an investment (across multiple factors in the survey) were also nearly twice as likely to rank trends as a key driver.