Tips for New Art Collectors
by Joy Dellas
Buying art is a truly subjective activity. Chances are, you have a space in your home in mind, and you like certain colors, and if you are a little more advanced, you know what type of object or imagery you are looking for. Landscapes? Pottery? Portraits? Sculpture? Contemporary expressionism? Representational art?
Your friends are unlikely to appreciate the same pieces you do and that's okay. You should explore your own creative taste! Have some confidence in what you like and trust your judgment. You are not making a crucial life decision. Your intelligence will not be measured by what you select. The culture police won't be waiting at your door when you get home. The waiter is not going to snub you as if you were trying to buy a bottle of wine in an expensive restaurant when you've never ordered anything but the house wine. If you feel drawn toward a piece of art, don't doubt your taste. Accept it! Embrace it!
Don't be overwhelmed by an artist's studio. Frequently you are seeing lots of artwork in its raw state. It can be chaotic and a strain to focus on one particular piece. The work looks much less valuable when it is not presented in a gallery environment.
To begin your Open Studios extravaganza, if you can attend the central show or at one of the hot spot shows, you can get a preview of the work of many of the artists. Alternatively the pictures in the published guide or the Artists' Directory on this web site may help you determine which studios you most want to visit. Second, decide how much you are willing to spend during your open studios experience—this will keep you from having buyer's remorse or regret if you decide to leave a piece of artwork behind.
When you visit a studio, introduce yourself to the artist. They want to meet you—and by all means, sign their guest list. Look around the studio. Are you in the right place?
For those on a shoestring budget, ask the artists if they have seconds, studies, or smaller works that they are offering at a price you can afford. When you see something you like, tell the artist. This will help create an opportunity for conversation. Most artists will accept checks or cash and would be glad to wrap up the piece right then. But please remember, its okay to tour studios and just look at the art. Open Studios is a great opportunity to learn more about art and to meet your artist neighbors. Go with a friend and talk about art you see. At the very least, you will have an interesting cultural experience.
What to Bring and How to Prepare
Look around your house. Measure walls or spaces that you might like to decorate with artwork. Note any details about the space you are shopping for. Is it in direct sunlight? Is it directly above a screaming yellow sofa? Is it in the middle of a room or in a more protected corner? If you have a space for a piece in a cabinet, make sure you know the dimensions available for the work. Are you drawn toward particular colors, images, or styles — i.e. formal, classical, contemporary, abstract, whimsical, or eclectic?
You may want to use a digital camera at your home to record the space and then at the artist's studio both to discuss possibilities with the artist, and to take a picture of the work you are interested in, especially if you are not ready to buy. Please remember to ask the artist for permission to take a photo of the artwork in question.
Bring a pencil and a piece of paper so you can jot down any details about a studio or particular piece of art that you are interested in. An artist might give you a series of prices of work that you are deliberating over. Some will give you a price break if you buy several pieces. It is helpful to write down details like which paintings, sculptures, etc. you are interested in and the prices. If you are not planning on buying work on the spot you might want to verify whether the prices quoted will remain the same. In some cases an artist will let you put work aside if you want to think about your decision overnight. If you are allowed this option be sure to call the artist within the time agreed upon to arrange for payment or to have the art taken off hold.
Cash, Checks, Charge
All artists will accept cash and most will accept checks. Only a handful of Open Studios artists can accept credit cards at this time. If you need to know in advance, please call the artist. Many artists will set up a payment schedule with you though most will want to retain the art until the purchase is paid off.
Some artists are open to negotiating prices; others are not, and may feel insulted at the suggestion. If an artist is willing to negotiate, the artist will tell you without your having to ask. Some artists are more likely to offer a discount if you buy several pieces, but this is not common practice.
Occasionally an artist will let you take the artwork on a trial basis (on approval) for a certain amount of time and return payment if you are not satisfied with it in your environment. Of course the work will have to be returned in its original condition.
If the work you decide on requires framing but is unframed ask the artist what they recommend. Some artists can point you to framers that are experienced in handling their work. Others might tell you about a frame source that will allow you to economically frame the work yourself. If you choose small artwork it will often fit in a readily available store bought frame.
Start Small and Work Your Way Up
Many artists have small inexpensive work for well under $100. It should be a fun decision and not break your bank account. Your taste may change as you collect more art—but you will always have the record of what your tastes are at this point in your life. Buying art for your home is like buying a pair of earrings, or an accessory. It is an adornment. You don't have to buy just one. You don't have to live with it or love it forever. You don't have to be right or justify your purchase. All you need to do is enjoy it for as long as you like.
While some artists hate doing commissions and won't do them, others make their living on commissions. If you are intent on commissioning artwork know as much as you can before you visit the artist. How much are you willing to pay? What size piece are you looking for? Provide photographs, examples, etc. if possible. You should expect to pay more for a commission than for "ready-made" art. You might even see a painting, sketch, print, sculpture, etc. in the studio that you would like to have one similar to, though larger or smaller, or in a different color range or on canvas instead of paper. Be willing to wait, but try to get an agreement from the artist for the date of completion. Most artists require at least half the payment up front. Offer an e-mail address from which to view rough drafts of the commission if that is an option. It can save time and can help to avoid surprises. Many artists will do a few rough "thumbnail" sketches from which you can choose.