Saturday, April 5, 2008

An Article I am Working On

Why do you collect art?

I often hear people say that they cannot afford to purchase art, but this frequently means that they are frightened of showing that they don’t know anything about it. The learning and discovery is, to me, the most thrilling aspect of collecting art. It is an opportunity to hone your eye and expand your horizons. For many years I enjoyed wine but felt that I could never learn about “good wine.” I felt it was beyond my experience and abilities. At some point in my life I decided to try experimenting. There are some wine shops I feel comfortable going in to and describing what I like and asking for recommendations. I state my budget and my tastes. I have learned a lot- I will even occasionally drink a rose! Art can be like this too. You will find that there is some affordable and good art to be had if you start looking and asking questions.

Some gallery salespeople may try to tell you that art is an investment. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. There are a lot of factors that go into investment grade- or blue chip art. Your primary reason for purchasing art should be for the enjoyment of the piece. It should give you pleasure for years to come. Unlike cars or clothing, it will never rust or go out of style. If you still insist on buying art that could potentially hold its value- look at the artist’s resume. Are they in good collections? Museum Collections? These are indicators that an artist might go the distance, but this should be considered a fortuitous bit of luck- often times realized only by your children or grand children.

Collecting art doesn’t just benefit you; it benefits artists and galleries too. I like to think of a purchase as a direct grant to an artist. Through your purchase you are saying that you think their work is good and worth pursuing. The money keeps that artist in rent and food so that they can continue to create more art. This is the main reason that my gallery is committed to showing the work of living, regional artists.

Purchasing art also helps to keep your favorite galleries open, giving you an opportunity to view lots of different work. Commercial galleries do not receive government funding or have boards to raise funds, so they thrive or falter depending on how much support they get from people coming through their doors. So not only are you doing all this good work- you also get a beautiful piece of art to hang on your walls!

My favorite reason to collect art is that I love it and I love how it looks in my home. It is an opportunity to express my tastes and make an individual statement. One of the best compliments someone ever paid me was “your home looks like you.” My home offers me rest and relaxation – and the art is a big part of that feeling. I try to instill that spirit in others when they are purchasing art for their home. They should really love the piece and it should make them happy when they look at it.

Another very personal take on collecting art can be read about at

Where do you collect art?

Many people are intimidated by the thought of entering a gallery or are concerned that there will be an admission fee. Commercial galleries have no admission fee as a museum does. They make their money by selling the artwork to people, but you are under no obligation to purchase something because you have walked through the front door.

In most galleries you will probably be allowed to wander through on your own. This is a great way for you to be come familiar with a gallery’s artists. If you see something you like, be sure to ask if there is more. There are often many pieces which are stored. After you have visited several galleries you will find that certain ones appeal to you more than others. Galleries are mostly owned by individuals who have a distinct personality, which is reflected in the art that they offer. Make sure that you get on their mailing lists so that you will be notified of all upcoming shows.

There are also ample opportunities to buy art at art schools, artists’ open houses, art auctions and even eBay. One of my customers only buys from second hand shops. He has a wonderful eye and picks up some quality pieces for very little money. He then frames them in top notch frames to make the pieces look really special. When you purchase art from people you are not familiar with be sure to ask very specific questions about condition- especially if they are framed which might mask condition problems. I have seen many pieces purchased sight unseen, which then have to go to the conservator to be repaired from being improperly handled or framed.

The only places I do not recommend purchasing art are on a cruise ship or in a resort town. These sales take place far from home when people are not thinking clearly- they are often extremely relaxed as they are on vacation or have had too much to drink. Resist! Your defenses are down and it is a spur of the moment, impulse purchase often driven more for a desire for a memento of the trip than a love of the art. Save your money and buy a snow-globe.

Once you have found a couple of galleries that you like, try to visit them frequently. Things change often- new artists are brought in, shows change regularly. It is also a good way to establish a relationship with a gallery and to learn more about their artists. Once they know what you like they will probably contact you when something of interest comes in- giving you first choice.

How do you collect art?

Another reason that many people never start an art collection is that it can seem so overwhelming. So much to learn! One way to limit what you have to look at it is to only collect a certain style, medium or geographical region. Some of my clients will only collect New Hampshire or Maine artists. Some like to focus on just prints or only living artists. Others are only interested in abstracts. This is one way to really give your collection focus. It is also a way to become very knowledgeable about a certain segment of the art world. One of my favorite collectors focuses on prints and ceramics. His collection is prodigious- as is his knowledge. He is able to keep abreast of everything new in the print world and frequently teaches me a lot about it.

Go to shows at galleries. You can see a lot of work by an individual artist. If you go to the opening you will have a chance to meet the artist and ask them about their process. Don’t expect to always like what the gallery is showing, but you are exposed to it and are allowed to make up your own mind. Disagreeing about the merits of different art allows you to view and collect within a context. I often find that people will start off saying they don’t like something and then, over time, warm up to it.

Once you have decided that it is time to start purchasing, let the gallery know what you want to see. Tell them your budget and style constraints. They should be willing to pull out a number of pieces for you to view. Don’t be afraid to let them know how you feel about the work. That sort of guidance helps them to bring out more appropriate work.

Most galleries will allow you to take a piece home on approval. They may ask for a credit card number if you are not a regular customer. If you like a piece ask the gallery person if this is an option.

You are going to see a real range of prices in a gallery. Generally an artist can charge more for their work if there is a high demand for it or if they are a more established and respected artist. Don’t hesitate to ask if there seems to be a discrepancy between quality and price. The gallery should be able to explain it satisfactorily. It usually boils down to the fact that an artist’s work has sold consistently at that price.

Once you have purchased a piece of artwork, the gallery should provide you with information on the artist- perhaps a bio and artist statement. They should also provide you with, at the very least, an invoice stating what you have purchased and for how much. You will need this for insurance purchases (more on this later.) Often times galleries will provide a certificate of authenticity as if it guarantees that you have purchased a real piece of art. I find certificates of authenticity pretentious and serve only to bolster the purchaser’s confidence in what they have just bought. The only real guarantee is to purchase from a trusted gallery.


A confusing issue for art buyers is the term “print.” It can be used to refer to a reproduction and to a fine art print. A reproduction is a copy of an original piece of art. Even though a print has an artist’s signature does not mean that it is an original. A fine art print is the original art. The artist will create an image on a plate or block (matrix), which will be inked. The image is then transferred to a piece of paper. These prints can be in editions as small as 1 (monoprint) and up to 250-300, although most range in the 50-125 size. Because these prints can be produced as multiples, they are frequently less expensive than paintings. The price will be based on both the artist’s reputation and the size of the edition.

On occasion an artist will use a master printer to print their work. There are many reasons for this. The printing process can be physically difficult or the technical nature of a print requires a very skilled hand to bring the artist’s vision to fruition.

A new process for reproduction has further muddied the waters. Giclees (pronounced zhee-clay) are produced on very high quality ink jet printers from very high resolution images of the original artwork. Because the image is on a computer it gives the artist much greater control over the colors than any other reproduction process. This process is expensive as reproductions go, but gives buyers an in-between price point on an artist’s work without forgoing on quality. These are frequently hand signed by the artist, but are nevertheless a reproduction.

There are a number of photographers and digital artists who use the giclee process to print original works. These are originals and not reproductions as the originals exist on computers until they are printed. The giclee process is perfectly suited to their mediums.


Cookie Sunshine said...

This was an interesting post. It was thought provoking. I liked your comments regarding the purchase of art on cruise ships and trips, although I have to say that some of my favorite pieces have been purchased on vacations at little galleries we have found tucked here are there. I like the memory of talking with the gallery owners, and on occasion having met the artist, learning more about the town and about the piece and how it came to be. I'm in total agreement with you regarding the cruise ship marketing plan because it's just that.

I found you at Michelle's page. I 'll add you to my list of fortune cookies so that I'll be able to find you again.

Welcome to the land of blogging.


ps. Your banner is adorable

smith kaich jones said...

This is really good. I used to work at an art museum, and was struck at that time by the realization that people are REALLY insecure about contemporary art or art in galleries or "undiscovered" artists. It felt as if a piece had to be declared as "real" art by some "expert" or another, before the general public would agree. Which meant usually the artist had to be dead or the work had to be astronomically expensive, and then it would be deemed "art" & then it would be acceptable for a person to like it and/or purchase it. It's sad because there's so much wonderful stuff out there right now for the taking - I wish every day I had a few expendable $$ to purchase art I see online or around me. I'm not sure what the answer is - art is so thought of as intellectually above most people (which makes me LAUGH!) & that makes them so intimidated. I'm gonna stop here, but now you've got me thinking & I may have to blog about it one of these days.

Debi (Smith Kaich Jones)

SMC said...

Cookie Sunshine-
I don't want to make anyone feel bad about purchasing art. I'll still "allow" you to enjoy your cruise ship purchases. Ultimately it should make you happy, and that is the only reason for purchasing it. I dislike when novice art buyers come back from cruises and want to frame their purchases and tell mewith starry eyes how much the pieces are worth. Someone has sold them a bill of goods. It isn't worth anything until someone else wants to buy it. Which is pretty much true of all art (and antiques furniture and diamonds as I have found out.) But a dealer worth their salt won't sell art with the promise that the work is worth something.

I suppose I object to the prices people have paid for cruise ship art. It seems unreasonably high for the quality with no back up materieals on the artists to justify the price.

Anonymous said...

This is a great article Sarah!

I'm so glad I found your blog.

Sara (my Sara) can't wait till you start blogging about your garden. She has a green thumb as well.