Why do we buy art?

We buy necessities like bread, sweatshirts, and car insurance because we have to, but we also buy things we can't eat, wear, or protect us from mishaps and have nothing to do with "practicality".


In the course of our everyday lives we get used to the surroundings of our home, office, and city and feel bored. So we try and change how we feel by buying something that excites us.  It grabs our eye, causes dopamine to ramp up in the brain, and we feel moved. Sometimes we buy it immediately, and other times we save it, pin it, email it to ourselves, text it to a friend, or bookmark it on our browser. Pushing against the urge to buy is the question of "do I really need it?" This is a responsible adult response and we apply this somewhat begrudgingly because, after all, we just want it.

Even when we weigh whether something something "frivolous" or non-essential as a painting or sculpture is worth it, something inside that's awakened by it implores us to get it anyhow. Something deep inside wants that which awakens beauty, rapture, sexiness, tranquility, inspiration, and love (plus other emotions that we probably couldn't defend to our accountant). 

We sometimes go on expensive vacations because we want to see life differently, be inspired, and feel otherwise than we feel in our normal lives. There is evidence that experiential spending makes us happier (and most of us could use a vacation right now), but ultimately we all need to come home and face our lives. 

But when we come home, even the stuff that was once cool and new becomes part of the scenery and blends in with our other stuff. The couch is stained, the shirt gets wrinkled so fast, and those headphones aren't as cool as they were last year. The stunning sunset photo from the trip last summer lives on Instagram, but you still live in an apartment. 

So if impulse buys end up disappointing us and getting away from it all isn't a solution, what should we do with our money?

Practicality has its limits, as the very foundations of our lives are built on grand and lofty principles that inspire us. This means that if we can posses something that symbolizes our aspirations, strengths, and dreams, we are more likely to behave in ways that are consistent with those principles. Saving is important, but austerity should only go so far because if we are not moved by something, we are probably not moving.

Cathedrals, with their palatial interiors and floods of iridescent lights, inspire the pious and irreligious alike because the architect designed it to feel that way (and stained glass windows ain't cheap). A detailed sculpture of god sparks the divine inspiration within us, awakening our own archetypal energy. Intricate rugs pull our eyes and hearts into the detail of their countless weaves and knots, slowing us down, almost inviting us into the home of the wool spinner and the rug makers shop.

Artists have the skill of capturing things we can't put into word and making them accessible through their craft, which and why people spend large sums on the artwork they produce and can't explain why they're doing it. It's because art reminds us that legacies are built on what we do today, and tomorrow and that it is the moment-to-moment, immediate, and sometimes irrational beliefs that drive us to build something great in our own lives.

Art reminds us that we are here for just a short time and need to make the most of every day we are given on this earth. A Banksy piece recently auctioned for $1.4 million and instantly was put through a built-in shredder, serving us all a beautiful example of the fleeting nature of life itself (a Zen lesson worth more than the dollars commanded by the auctioneer's hammer).  

If buying something "impractical" has the power to wake us up in our day-to-day lives, inspire our own animal spirits to live bolder, more courageous and fulfilled lives, it becomes practical. If having a meaningful symbol in your home reminds you to be your best self, it is no longer a luxury item but as necessary as healthy food, clothing, and shelter for without life doesn't have the same color, meaning, or beauty. 


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