What Motivates High-End Art Collectors: Swizz Beatz Talks About Buying an Ansel Adams Photograph

What Motivates High-End Art Collectors: Swizz Beatz Talks About Buying an Ansel Adams Photograph

In this episode of the Fine Art Photography podcast, we examine more new data on how high-end art collectors are buying art in 2021, and we learn from the example of a real world collector — the rapper, record producer, and businessman Swizz Beatz (Kasseem Daoud Dean). Dean talks about buying photographs from Ansel Adams and Gordon Parks, and how he got into art collecting at age 19.

Listen to the Swizz Beatz interview from Art Basel

Read the Artsy survey results: “Art Collecting 2021: An Artsy Report”

Full podcast transcript

In this episode, what motivates high-end art collectors?

Welcome back to another episode of the fine art photography podcast.

Late in June, Artsy released the results of their 2021 Art Collector’s report. The results fall very well in line with the results of another survey that I discussed in March, published by Art Basel and UBS. You can find links to both of these surveys in the description and on my blog.

The Artsy survey found that today, thanks to the pandemic, almost all collectors buy art online. For context, pre-pandemic, high-end collectors especially preferred the in-gallery or in-studio experience. The numbers of collectors buying art online went up from 64-percent to 84-percent. Among newer collectors — a group that Artsy calls “next-gen collectors,” over 91-percent have bought art online. Next-gen collectors are more likely to discover and even buy art directly from smart phones.

The survey also found that collectors prefer seeing visible prices on artwork. That runs directly counter to how work is displayed in bricks-and-mortar galleries.

Artsy found that 60-percent of collectors who responded said they prefer to purchase works by emerging artists.

But what motivates art collectors?

  • Artsy found that 67-percent of respondents said they buy art to build a collection
  • 47-percent said they wanted to support artists
  • 46-percent said they collect to be inspired
  • 64-percent of respondents said collecting art is one of their greatest passions.

So, having these stats in mind, let’s take an example of one high-profile art collector to see how this works in real life.

I recently listened to an interview on the Art Basel Podcast called Stories where record producer, rapper, businessman, and art collector Kasseem Daoud Dean — who performs under the name Swizz Beatz — talks about how he started collecting art.

Dean says he began collecting art at a very young age for the wrong reasons — namely to impress business contacts. He said he went to parties and meetings at the homes of big shot music industry execs and he would see their artwork. He began buying art based on what he saw in those settings. Keep in mind, he would have been around age 19 or 20 at the time!

Dean talks about how the first real piece of art that spoke to him was an Ansel Adams black and white landscape. He says on the podcast that he liked the photograph aesthetically, but also that seeing that snow-capped mountain landscape (he never mentions exactly which photograph he’s talking about) — but that seeing that landscape helped him travel mentally and emotionally to a place he thought he could never actually go — it took him away from home, which he loved.

He credits a New York gallery owner with taking him under his wing spending a lot of time to educate him about types of art, things like originals versus prints, at a time when a lot of the gallery employees didn’t take him seriously — he said was very young, and came into the gallery in baggy pants and braids and he said a lot of the gallery folks thought he was just playing around when he was actually serious — but the gallerist took him seriously — and as a result Dean bought millions of dollars of art from that gallery.

Dean said that he attended the Harvard Business School’s Owner / President Management Executive program where he realized that artists are the ones generating the creative product that leads to wealth, but they often don’t understand business or realize they are being used by business. He is a supporter of the idea that art schools should teach students about the business of art.

Dean became instrumental in urging successful Black musicians and celebrities to buy the work of Black artists. He said he has gone to gallery shows of big-name Black artists and seen no Black collectors in the crowd. He said artists have told him they don’t sell often to people of color.

Dean said he doesn’t buy art to support a gallery or auction house, he buys art because of — and for — the support of artists.

Dean also advocates for visual artists to get a part of the resale proceeds of their works, comparing it to his own career in music where he earns money on performances made years ago. This is a great thought and something I have always had a problem with — musicians have an infrastructure in support of them and technology that identifies anywhere their music is used online — all in support of making money on every single use of their music. Visual artists don’t have this kind of support.

Dean said he collects art that he loves and that he wants to see in his home — he advises fellow collectors to only buy art they love, regardless of it’s monetary value or investment potential. He said his collection has never sold away art once it has been purchased.

As a photographer, I love to hear about collectors who mix up their collections with paintings and photography. Dean’s collection also holds work by the seminal Black photographer Gordon Parks.

On the podcast, he talks about how he regrets skipping an opportunity to meet the late, great photographer — who died in 2006. Dean said he was busy working in the studio when his cohorts left to go meet Parks, but he opted to stay behind and work — not understanding the gravity of meeting a photographer like Parks. Now, of course, he’s a major fan and collector of Parks’ photographs.

Dean talked about the symbiotic relationship of music and art, and offered advice for art galleries. He said when he goes on art studio visits to meet artists, there’s music playing and a vibe going on — but often art galleries are awkwardly silent.

My takeaway from these surveys and from listening to Kaseem Daoud Dean speak, is that collectors want to support artists they believe in. They want to have beautiful objects in their homes created by people whose story and mission they can get behind. So put yourself out there — tell your story. Build your own brand and don’t be afraid to work it. If you have a gallery, they can hopefully help with this, but most of us don’t have a gallery . . . so it’s up to you and your crew to build the legend. The tools are out there. We know from previous reports that collectors often use Instagram to find art and artists. 

Well that’s all I’ve got for this episode. As always links to everything are in the description and on my blog at i catch shadows dot com.

Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you again real soon.

Be sure to visit me on FacebookInstagram or Pinterest, or on my website at

~ Keith

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