How to Buy the Right Piece of Art
I’ve heard it said ‘People don’t buy art because they don’t know how to.’
Thus the post: I’m going to tell you how to get a great piece of art. [Disclaimer–there are many holes in my arguments, I’ll admit from the outset, so take everything with a grain of salt.]
Galleries will force a bunch of (what are in my mind ridiculous) litmus tests down your throat. Here are some of my favorites and why I think they are dead wrong (unless you are Warren Buffett):
1. Don’t buy anything from an artist who isn’t regularly sold in the major auction houses.
Wrong because: a. New and fresh art is being created every day. Artists that are being traded in the auction houses today were living in hovels 120 years ago. They were so frustrated with the establishment that they started doing crazy things like cutting their ears off. Today’s establishment too often safely touts the virtues of innovators of yesterday, while ignoring the innovators of today. b. At the auction house, unless you have a first rate budget (millions of dollars) you are going to get a second or third rate piece of art from an established big name. Much better, in my opinion, to get a first rate piece of art from a current name for a fraction of the cost.
2. Only buy from a gallery who will take your artwork back at any time and credit its value toward another work of art.
Wrong because: Same reasons as above. New and even established artists find themselves working with whatever gallery resources they have available to them. I would cut my own ear off to own pieces by artists who unfortunately aren’t represented by galleries with deep, deep pockets.
KIRK’S RULES FOR BUYING ART:
1. Buy Something You Absolutely Love
This is the rule of all rules, in my opinion. If the piece speaks to you aesthetically and conceptually, it will be a pleasure to live with, and no rises or dips in the market will tarnish your connection to the work.
2. If At All Possible, Buy Original Artwork
Yes, I offer prints of my images. Do I think they are worth the canvas they are printed on? Yes, and maybe a little more. But it ends there. Some reproductions even trade for significant amounts of money on the secondary market. But I don’t think it will last. Technology is improving, but these objects weren’t made to last for centuries of time. Better to save for the real thing and experience a direct connection with the artist’s hand. There is texture, translucency, and subtly in the original that can never be captured in a reproduction. A small original can often be purchased for the same price as a large reproduction. Yes, I realize it is often a specific image that speaks to you, and that image is only available as a print. And I say go for it. But if you’re sitting on the fence–spring for an original.
3. The Early Bird Gets the Worm
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people want to buy something that just sold. So how do you get first dibs? This can be tricky for a couple of reasons. Even though an artist may be grateful to sell a piece in the studio before it’s completed, a pre-sale can actually make the finished work of art worse. There can be a mental and emotional hold over the work, preventing an artist from freely making necessary creative and aesthetic changes. Also, some artist simply keep their studios closed–so there is no opportunity to buy a piece before it’s finished. Get to know the artist and find out if he or she likes to sell out of the studio. If not, make sure you’re on the artist’s mailing list as well as the mailing list of the artist’s galleries. Develop a relationship with both. Some artists and galleries will send out images to preferred clients, giving those clients first dibs. Request to be on that list. If all else fails, and this may be the best advice yet, come a little early to the art show reception–not so early as to annoy the people setting up–but early enough that everything is hung and you can lay claim to that perfect piece.
4. Avoid Interfering in The Creative Process
You’re paying for the artist’s expertise and vision, right? So why would you want to interfere? Don’t ask an artist to paint a photo that you took–that’s not the artist’s composition–it’s yours. Avoid asking the artist to put your loved one’s face in the picture–it’s hard enough to make everything fit perfectly into a composition without adding distracting peripheral constraints. Let the artist make a masterpiece without interference. But what about commissions? Yes, I accept commissions–if the patron wants me to do something along the lines of my usual work, and if the patron gives me plenty of artistic freedom. Even then it can be hard to finish a commission well.
HOW I STRUCTURE A COMMISSIONED WORK:
Usually I visit the space where the work will hang. I measure the space, look at the room’s design elements, and envision something that will work nicely. Scale is important, as is how high the work sits off the ground. I talk to the patron about general themes they are interested in. I take this information home with me and work up three or four sketches from which the patron chooses their favorite. This allows me to create compositions without too much dictation from the patron, but also involves the patron in the decision-making process. Once the sketch is chosen, I get to work. I often send photos of the work in progress to the patron as a courtesy, but I don’t ask for suggestions. I need to be able to take or leave specific parts of the composition in order to make the whole thing better. Months later, after I’ve agonized over the process, the commission is complete, and hopefully both the patron and I are happy with the finished product. I ask for the patron’s final approval, hoping and expecting they will appreciate the expertise I bring to the work.
WHY I HATE ARTICLES LIKE THIS
I’m not a rules person. I hate reading articles that list rules. In fact, I’ve been cringing the whole time I’ve been writing and proofreading this article. Like I said, take everything with a grain of salt. And the title of this article? So presumptuous and arrogant. The only reason I wrote it is to get people to read the article.
TO SUM UP:
Get to know the artists you love and want to collect from. Ask them, “How can I get one of your best pieces? Can I get on your preferred client list? Do you accept visitors in your studio?” Be prepared to tell them what your favorite pieces from their past have been. Be patient but vigilant.
P.S. – If there’s anything I didn’t address in this article, let me know. I’d be happy to continue this discussion in a later post.