Thursday, May 17, 2007

On Buying Art

Have you ever spent money to buy art? I don't mean reproductions or posters: I mean real, original art. I wonder how many people actually do this-- lots of people like to look at art and browse around in galleries, but original art can also be very expensive. Even smaller paintings by little-known artists can cost in the hundreds of dollars, and if you're familiar with cost of painting supplies, you can understand why.
A long time ago, when I was living in Boston, there was a wonderful gallery on Newbury Street that specialized in prints-- again, I'm not talking about posters. These were lithographs and etchings, which happen to interest me because I used to do them myself. The prints in the gallery were by a wide variety of artists, and I suppose some were limited editions by notable artists, and some were quite expensive. But the nice thing about that gallery was that there were also lots of smaller prints, drawers and drawers of them, and the owner was happy to let you just browse. I must have spent a couple of hours in there one night, paging through lots of small etchings, looking at them up close and thinking about the techniques the artists must have used to make them. I ended up buying 2 small unframed etchings, at a total cost of around $60, I think. This was a lot of money for me to spend at the time, as my salary was quite low. I also remember a larger print that I fell in love with, but didn't buy because it was $80, and that just seemed like too much for my budget.
Aside from those long-ago purchases, I have never really bought original art, aside from maybe a couple more small etchings bought as gifts/souvenirs when travelling, at even lower prices. That is the nice thing about prints-- they can be an inexpensive, accessible thing to buy, as an artist can make more of them, more cheaply than painting, usually. But now that I have more wall space to fill, I find myself noticing paintings on display in cafes and galleries and starting to think I'd like to buy one. The other thing that made me think about posting about it is that this weekend is the Park Slope Open Studio Tour-- you can view the map here. It's fun to stroll around and peek at what local artists are up to... and this year I'm wondering if I'll see anything I might actually want and be able to afford to buy.

The thing is, I can't really imagine "going shopping" for art. A painting or photograph or print should be something you just stumble on and have to have because you think it's beautiful... and if it goes with your couch, that is just a happy extra. The other trouble I have with the idea of buying art is that my DIY impulse kicks in and I tell myself "I can MAKE this stuff, why am I buying someone else's?" Of course that kind of misses the point, in that every artist's imagination produces different things, and what is interesting to me about most art is that I couldn't or wouldn't necessarily create it myself... and even if I could, someone else thought of it first. But if I just wanted something that matched my decor, I could probably do that... though it would take a lot of time, and materials I don't currently own. And I'd have to spend more money on fruit.

18 comments:

Sassy Blonde Girl said...

You should check out the Affordable Contemporary Art Fair in NY next month. I've read about it and have been wanting to go and stumble upon some art myself, but it's out of the budget right now.

Madame X said...

Sassy BLonde-- thank you! I remembered hearing about this and wanted to mention it, but I had been googling "Cheap Art Fair" and couldn't find it!

Rich Minx said...

I've bought art by an up-and-coming local artist (who also happens to be a friend). It cost a few hundred but I felt it was an investment and it hangs in the living room, where most people notice and admire it.

On TV the other night there was an interview with a woman who'd bought some art for next to nothing, and now there's speculation it could be an original Pollock worth millions! Now that's the kind of art investment we all dream of.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I had always hated the fact that a section of our house has a huge amount of negative space because of the 16ft ceilings in the living room. We hired a local artist to do large paintings that took advantage of the space.

I was always told by my father (a carpenter) that twice the cost of the materials is the least amount of money you should pay for handcrafted, custom art. (He was always talking about jewelry boxes, hope chests, custom painted tile and things like that).

I'm very happy with our decision, and it is well worth the money.

Of course, I always try to save money on consumables, but on something I intend on having for decades, sometimes I feel that you get what you pay for.

mOOm said...

No I haven't but sometimes I think about buying one of my brother's paintings.

~Dawn said...

I was in Augusta last summer and stumbled upon a well drawn and painted farm picture that was hanging on a local deli wall. I bought it for my Dad as it reminded me of the farm he grew up on.
I was more than I usually pay for a birthday gift for him, but it was worth it and I felt good about supporting a local artist as well.

Dennis said...

I had to think of the flip side to this, since I make art but haven't sold a lot of it. How much was I willing to charge? I came to the conclusion that I should charge, including cost of materials and time involved, about as much as I would be willing to PAY for a similar genre of art that I really liked.

Also, some things to consider are how much are you doing it for "investment", collection, and/or bragging rights, and alternately how much is it just a piece of beauty or statement that you want in your home? The latter will probably command a much lower price tolerance. I've sometimes been really impacted by art by unknown artists, but would not pay the hundreds of dollars for it. However, something like a Dali lithograph, just the name itself inspires conversation, and would make a good piece in the home whatever the price.

BTW, aren't lithographs and etchings also "reproductions"? Albeit, much more meticulous and higher quality reproductions than posters and prints, but still, original art reproductions nonetheless?

Single Ma said...

Funny enough, I don't own any art but I'm ALWAYS "looking" for a good piece - internet, galleries, estate sales, etc. I told myself I want to own at least one original piece of art in my lifetime. I just haven't found anything that strikes my fancy...yet.

Caroline said...

I went to the Contemporary Art Fair in Melbourne last year and bought a very small sculpture.

I have plans to buy a very large Aboriginal painting to fill an empty wall. I've been intrigued by Aboriginal artwork for quite some time. It's not something I plan to buy too soon because it's quite expensive. On the other hand, Australian Aboriginal artwork is actually very underpriced if you consider what you would pay for a painting by one of the top artists from another country.

Dafna said...

There's actually a lot of quite nice art that can be hard for not unreasonable prices, which I'm arbitrarily defining as $500-$1,000. And yes, that's not pocket change -- but people spend similar amounts of money on gadgets/electronics/jewelry all the time. I agree that it doesn't really make sense to go *shopping* for art. Get in the habit of *looking* at art -- in restaurants, hair salons or wherever -- and if you see something you love, don't be afraid to ask how much it is. Galleries are good too -- but you don't want the high-end ones. Next time you're in a small town, or on vacation somewhere that's not a big city, check out the local gallery and you might be pleasantly surprised.

Warning: Buying original art can be habit-forming. My gateway drug was a $400 monotype and in the several years since I've probably spent in the thousands. But I'm surrounded by great art and every piece has a story of how I found it.

Oh, and I couldn't disagree more with the idea that art should be an investment. Index funds are an investment. Most art will never be resold at even a fraction of its original price. Buy the stuff you love, that makes you look at the world differently.

Stacy said...

aw, I'm sorry I'll miss the open studios! I'm all tied up this weekend. But I'm totally looking forward to the afforable fair.

I keep meaning to blog about this ... I started buying art a few years ago, first almost accidentally (it's easy to stumble across wonderful street art here in NYC) and suddenly realised after my fourth piece or so that hey, I have a collection. Most of my purchases are in the three-figure range, though to celebrate my new degree I bought myself the most expensive piece I've yet acquired -- my first four-figure purchase (gulp), an etching by Darren Waterston, whose work I've totally fallen in love with.

It can be expensive, and I try to be frugal and stay on a budget. But when I look at what I want my money to be spent on, supporting art and surrounding myself with beautiful, creative work I love seems a good choice.

Madame X said...

Dennis-- lithographs and etchings are original art made in multiples, and lithography can be used as a way of reproducing an original painting, but the kind of prints I am talking about are considered original works in themselves. Especially with etchings, each print is unique because of variations in the way the plate is inked, and in the case of drypoint, the plate is slightly altered every time it goes through the press, so no two prints from it are ever exactly alike.

Coyotelaw said...

I have quite a few pieces of original art - pieces my husband, myself (or both of us) have fallen in love with. Part of that may be due to having several friends who are artists, and part may be due to the fact that the small city where we live has lovely weather and many open air art festivals on the weekends. We never go with the intention of buying - it is just a nice way to spend an afternoon outdoors with our kids. The most expensive piece we have cost $800 (we both HAD to have it), but most are in the $200 to $300 range. I agree with the other commenters above that art isn't a monetary investment, but it is an investment in making your home your own in a unique way.

English Major said...

I've bought original art, but mostly from my friends. I also plan to be at the Affordable Art Fair this summer, though, because my apartment is pretty bare.

While art by emerging artists isn't much of an investment (because who knows whether the value of their work will take off or not?), work by established artists qualifies as an investment to me. Among the things my sister and I will probably inherit from our parents are several pieces of valuable art, including work by Man Ray and H.C. Westerman, and that feels to me very similar to inheriting shares of stock.

Anonymous said...

Did you paint that apple? Nice!

Tiredbuthappy said...

I have bought a lot of art, mostly prints, and a few photographs. My partner and I often buy each other art for birthday gifts. I also have a number of original paintings because my mother is an artist. And there's a cafe near where my father lives in California. An artist has an ongoing exhibit there and it's become a tradition for me to buy a small painting from the cafe every year when I'm out there. By small I mean really small--my favorite piece of hers that I have is about three inches tall by two inches wide.

Most of the art I've bought cost me well under $50. I do have a few pieces that cost more like $100.

We came very close to buying a painting in a gallery a few years ago that cost almost $1000. I still think about that artist and regret not buying the painting, but we didn't feel like we could afford it at the time.

I love prints. It's an affordable way to collect art. It's something I definitely plan to spend more on if I ever have the money.

Anonymous said...

I always loved to look at original art but never, like you said, thought of "going shopping" for it. Then one day I saw a piece in the window in my neighborhood's small gallery in Cambridge MA and it spoke to me. I drove by it for a week on my way home from work then one day it was not there. I had to go in and ask. Some crazy looking (in a cool way) lady was painting inside, music blaring. I asked her about it and she thought it was still there and mentioned out loud that she thought and hoped it was her piece. She took me down a trap door to the basement and after looking around she found it! She told me the story behind it (totally interesting story in itself as is the reason it spoke to me so). I had no idea how much it would cost but asked... $300. Though I hated to bargain I asked her what the best she could do (I had about $275 cash) and we made the deal. Some people may hate it but I love it and as more time goes by the more it is worth to me.

Madame X said...

Anon 2:59-- I think it was actually a plum, but yes, that's one of mine!