h4. Leave the speculating game to the pros (and the fools), and revel in the less tangible benefits of collecting.

MARJORIE MYERS WAS A 30-year-old, retired modern dancer living in Texas when the feverish collecting boom of the 1980s was just warming up. At the time, Myers estimates, “there were probably only a couple hundred contemporary art collectors in the world,” and New York was the unchallenged epicenter of exchange. That relatively low-stakes market allowed this daughter of a Dallas doctor to indulge her blossoming passion for contemporary art by picking up pieces by emerging artists at bargain prices. In 1995, for instance, she bought the large Kara Walker paper silhouette pictured at left for $3,600; today, similar works by Walker, a MacArthur “genius” known for her works that depict racially charged scenes from the antebellum South, sell at auction for $40,000 and up.

But if the art market’s recent, well-publicized, decade-long frenzy has you dreaming about flipping paintings for princely profits, dream on. In 1983, the total art trade in insular New York was already estimated at $2 billion; since then the art market has exploded into a global hydra of far greater size and complexity, with paintings by recent Chinese MFA grads—the latest hot commodity—selling for tens of millions at mobbed art fairs in Miami Beach and Tokyo. “For the average person to go out and buy a painting they like, and to think of it as an investment—that’s ill-fated,” says Myers. “The entry level into the speculation market is too high.”

Erik Schneider, a former CPA who owns the contemporary art gallery Quality Pictures in the Pearl, echoes Myers’ sentiments—and, like most dealers, cautions his clients against thinking of their collections as especially comely 401K plans. “Anytime someone comes in to make money, it doesn’t work,” Schneider says. “The first step is falling in love.” (That’s especially sage advice here in Portland: Works by local artists are pretty much never offered at auction, which is how the prices of most artworks are driven up in significant spurts.)

After all, the real rewards of collecting art have less to do with growing your assets than with partaking of intangible pleasures—stimulating your mind, inspiring your soul, supporting the cause of creativity. And as you progress from merely buying art to building a real collection—a compilation of objects that tells a compelling story about you and the world you live in—you’ll be socking away something far more valuable than a financial asset. You’ll be preserving a piece of history and even, in an important sense, making your own creative mark on the world.

With that attitude, if you pick a winning horse, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. And if you’ve collected for the right reasons, you’ll probably refrain from cashing in, knowing that what you have can’t be bought for money.