Sunday, February 9, 2014

Collecting Art 101: Start Where You Art

I had a couple conversations recently with a couple of artists - one was a digital illustrator, the other a traditional realist - in which we talked about good art, trendy art, collectible art, and ways to sell it to the public. The term "Tastemaker" popped up during one of the conversations, referring to those who judge and curate shows. It made me cringe - I could never call myself a Tastemaker. To me, it implies that the curator or judge somehow is not just merely an expert on their field, but a superior, refined, End-All, Be-All who has the right to label anything they see as "good", "bad" or "ugly". Whatever the Tastemaker throws, sticks. The balance of power rests with their opinion, interests and - honestly - mood.

I know that when collecting art, the first thing that tends to go through the mind is if what we like is any good. "I don't know anything about art" is a comment I hear a lot, which I tend to translate as "I don't trust my own taste, I don't know what is good and what isn't". We all have seen pieces of work that critics have hailed as genius, but all we see is a couple pieces of wood and twine knocked together to represent some sort of strife in the far reaches of the world. We think "Really? This is good art?".  We think to ourselves that our dog could do better than this.... and in most cases, you're right. But your dog doesn't have a brilliant gallerist or art rep working the ropes for him. You and your dog haven't targeted the right audience with the right amount of investment money. So for now, your dog remains the untapped artistic genius who drinks out of the toilet and barfs on your rug.
Metro the Horse has a good agent
Another worry is that good art costs a lot. This is only partly true, as there are many variables that go into the costs and value of artwork, some of it from you, and some of it coming from the artist or third party selling the piece to you.

Art is a business. It can be quirky, slick,weird, or wonderful. The experience can be fun and pleasant, but in order to be that kind of experience, it's important to do two things: educate yourself, and start where you are.

I Like
First thing to think about is what you like. Do you like bright colors? Do you like animals? Do you like little things or big things? These are first grader questions, sure, but the answers are honest and true, and will help you define more complex "likes". Don't judge your likes by using words like "cheesy", "cute", "dark", "weird". Those may be judgement terms that someone else assigned to your likes at some point and you latched onto them.
I Like Dogs
As you really think about what you like, you may find yourself veering away from your defined "likes" and into uncharted territory. This is good - it's important to keep your mind open to concepts that are new and unexpected.

What people like is as individual as a fingerprint. A "like" doesn't define you per se, and it can change and morph over time, but no two people are really alike in their collection of preferences. It can surprise you what people really like: take the art in my own home, for example. I have a lot of dog art in an English Pub style. I have skateboard art, photography, and lots of 3D pieces, mostly stuff my great grandfather whittled. I have a mix of original art and lithographs, many of which are in bright, primary colors. I have roller derby posters. I also have art similar to the stuff in Krab Jab, but I'm not restricted to any type of genre. Which roles me into -

I Like Living This Way
You will have to live with your art. You will look at it, touch it, straighten it, match it to the sofa, clean the dust off of it. It will remind you of your childhood, of a person, of a trip you took or want to take. It will be an object you meditate on. Maybe it's something for your office or your studio. Whatever the piece of art is, you will have to live with it in some way. It should add value to your space. It's not important HOW the value is added by anyone else's standards, and it should be YOUR value. I can tell you what looks good in your hallway, but I don't walk it every day on the way to the bathroom, you do. Maybe a priceless Monet doesn't work in your house full of dogs and children, as you'd panic every time grubby hands or paws got near it.
"Junior" looks good over our Chesterfield couch. 
Where Is the Art?
Not all of us have a nearby gallery, or more importantly, a gallery with art we like. So where does one start looking?

1. Start Local
I always advocate to visit a local gallery or show. It's important to know what is happening in your region, and even more so, see art in person. A lot of art does not translate well in photography, and even more so, artists aren't exactly the best photographers.

Many towns and neighborhoods have art walks, which are regularly occurring events in which local merchants, galleries and studios open their doors to the public. You can easily find out if your neighborhood or town has them by contacting your city or town cultural affairs department (like Seattle's Cultural Affairs department of local city government). Or easier still, ask a local merchant; most merchant's associations either run art walks or know of them.

Street fairs are another way of locating artists in your region. Quality of art may vary, but it's a good and easy way to make contact.

I also recommend to go to group shows - no better way to get a taste of all that's out there than a show containing several artists' work. Many group shows are themed or classed by genre - the show's title is often a dead giveaway as to what the theme entails.

2. The World Wide Web
Ah, the world at your fingertips! But locating and buying art online is overwhelming and sometimes risky. What's reputable? is very popular with artists right now. They sell direct to you, the buyer, and terms are clear. Buyer experience can be rated publicly, so artists try to represent as honestly and best as they can. Everything is tagged by genre so it's easy to find what you're Likes are.

Many artists have eCommerce on their own websites, so buying direct is easier than ever. One note of caution to buyers, though: artists are often not the best marketers or salespeople. Photos may be poor, they may not be good at packing and shipping art, and most of all... they can be really slow at getting your work to you. I know folks who've waited MONTHS for their paid art to ship to them. This is one of the reasons why working with galleries and online shops like Etsy are worth it, even if you're paying a little more than you would working directly with an artist.

There are also good websites and blogs that categorize and rate art for you. Online art magazines are good for that, as well as sites like, which is a Seattle based online source of local art. Blogs like Art Nerd (it's a blog/magazine) are great as well. If you like certain genres of art, online art magazines are a wonderful place to start making connections to artists, shows and galleries. My personal favorite is Hi-Fructose - I really like the neo-surreal movement right now.

And finally, (sigh) Facebook. Many artists have Facebook pages that are accessible to the public. They often post images of what they're working on or what inspires them. If you can avoid getting sucked into the Facebook void for several hours, its a great place to find talent.
I found French artist Yoann Lossel on Facebook.
Art is Expensive if It's Good, Right?
Nope, not at all. I mean sure, there are really expensive pieces out there, but art collecting can start at a small budget. And by "budget", that's exactly what I mean. Work out a budget for art, the way you do with other purchases.

Most artists have pieces that run in various price points, from an inexpensive open edition of prints (open edition means that it's not number and limited) and limited edition prints (which cost more because it's from one specific print run and is numbered), to sketches, studies, and finally, finished pieces.

Sketches and studies are a great place to start with original art. Usually artists don't advertise these items for sale, but many are more than happy to part with them. They are often in graphite or possibly watercolor or limited palette oils (for sculpture, they may be small, simple study pieces). Sometimes sketches and studies are more interesting than a finished piece - you can see the thought process of the artist in them. Don't feel bashful asking an artist or rep about these items - it's not an uncommon request, and often they are the only art pieces you can barter a price on.
A study of a crow skull. Artists working on their anatomy often have wonderful studies.
Many artists and galleries have payment plans; you can purchase art on layaway. If you see a piece in a show at a gallery or studio that you could purchase in payments over a short period (such a two months), ask about their payment plans. However, do expect that you will not get the piece until it's paid in full.

It's not generally okay to haggle a price at a gallery; prices are often set in contract. Sometimes a gallerist will offer you a deal (usually if you are purchasing multiple pieces) - deals are often on the spot and if you don't agree to the terms at that time, it's off the table. Don't expect that deal to adhere to future purchases.
This Brian Froud piece comes by itself or in a set of three limited edition prints; a buyer can get a deal on a multi-piece purchase
Sometimes an artist will adjust pricing in a direct sale (artist-to-buyer). However, respect the artist and their price point - often people are a little too pushy with artists in order to get a deal. Many of the artists out there are on tight budgets themselves and this is their livelihood. Badgering them down to a price you like may seem like a win to you, but trust me, that's the last time you may ever work with that artist.

And finally, if you are working a direct sale with the artist, a trade is not uncommon. Some folks trade services for art (haircut, contract work, landscaping, etc). It's only a good trade if you hold to it, and only if the artist is in need of what you're trading. Be honest with the value of the trade.

Finally, if you are offering to trade art for art - don't, unless the artist brings it up. I can't tell you how many artists have offered me their art for art I have for sale - it's not really a value trade for me, and 90% of the time, other artists aren't interested in collecting your art, they really need to sell art to make a living. It can be an awkward moment for an artist to turn down your work, so keep that off the table.
Your kitteh painting is not my cup of tea...sorry.
Final Words
So now you have a starting point. Woo hoo, right? You have your budget set, you march off to the local gallery, you look at the art, and...huh... what the hell is a "giclee"? What is "gouache"? Do I have framing options? How do I take care of this stuff once I get it home? What if I hate it in a few days? What if a piece falls off my new sculpture?

Don't panic. Terminology, care and maintenance of a collection takes a little time to get but it's not rocket science, I promise. I'll cover that in my next Collecting Art post.

Until then, poke around, think about what you like, and most of all, enjoy yourself! This is supposed to be fun!

No comments:

Post a Comment