Here are 5 simple things to know before you purchase a painting. Remember that great art will last in your home longer than your tv, carpet, or any appliance. If it is well made it will be passed down for generations. Choosing to invite a painting into your home is a big decision that can enrich your life for the rest of your life, if you choose wisely.
1. Do you love it? Does it speak to your soul? This is the first and most important question that one should ask and is often overlooked. Instead people think about art in terms of matching the furniture or as an investment. Do not be distracted by what some “art expert” tells you about how important or amazing it is. Most likely they stand to profit from you. Art is communication. Does it speak to you? What is it saying? Just because it doesn’t speak to you doesn’t mean it isn’t good or that it won’t speak to someone else. Great art has the best of the artist that created it in there waiting to speak to someone. If it isn’t you then don’t buy regardless of the resale value or what the gallery owner may say. Trust your gut on this one always.
2. How long can you look at it? Artists talk about “read”, more specifically, “length of read.” The longer the read the better. Think about great literature. You can reread it repeatedly and still see or understand something new or a film that can still make you tear up even after the 5th time of seeing it. Those things have a long read. Great art is the same way. The artist has put great thought and care into its creation and, as a result, it slowly and beautifully unfolds itself over time. One suggestion is to ask an artist to borrow a piece for a period of time. Reputable galleries may do this too. If you want to look at it every day, if you like it more at the end of the month than you did at the beginning. That is a good sign of things to come. As an artist, I love to let people live with the work. 90% of the time, it results in a sale. Collectors become attached to the work don’t want it to leave. The other 10% I am happy to have it back so that I can find it a home where it will be loved and appreciated.
3. Galleries take half. Although there are a few exceptions to this rule (non for profit galleries or artist collectives) that is the industry standard. Until artists are unwilling to agree to it, 50% of the sale price will go to the gallery. In theory, really great galleries earn their share through aggressive promotion of the artists work to collectors, advertisement, and prime real-estate. However, this, in my experience, is the exception not the rule. Every collector I tell about the 50/50 split gasps. One way to bypass this is to buy art through interior designers who rarely charge commission or better yet contact the artist directly. Artists love to talk to collectors and get to know them. I love studio visits and will often show collectors “behind the scenes.” This is a great way to get the best work too. Galleries will contact “special” collectors first when they get work to let them preview it before it goes on the wall to the public. They choose the best work before it ever is available to the rest of the public. By working with the artist directly, you get the work before it goes to the gallery and you get to know that 100% of the money goes to the artist. Be aware that artists that are represented by a gallery may have an exclusive contract with them. If so, the artist may be contractually obligated to pay the gallery their commission regardless.
4. How is it made? Did they use archival materials? Will this thing be here 50 years from now? 100? 500? A well-crafted oil painting has been shown to exist unchanged for approximately 500 years. Poorly crafted ones can fall apart in as few as 10 years. Professional quality paint is 10 times more expensive than student grade paint but can be the difference in whether your painting will be a family heirloom or in the dumpster. Problems that can occur include:fading-the color dulls over time, delamination – paint peels off the support or off previous layers of paint, cracking- cracks in the surface of the paint. Though the craft of painting is starting to once again be taught in colleges and universities, I am always surprised by how little painters know about how to use their materials to create a stable unchanging work of art. This process varies from medium to medium so do your homework before you buy. Artists and even gallery owners should be happy to share this information with you. If you don’t get this information you may be buying something that will self-destruct in a few years.
5. What is the price based on? I think this is a valid question that I think most collectors are too shy to ask. The price of a painting is often priced on what someone is willing to pay for it. Here are some additional questions to consider. Does the artist have a selling history? How many hours did it take him to create it? How many years did they study and where? Some artists price by the square inch others seem to have no system whatsoever. Personally, I keep track of the time I work on a piece and pay myself a fair hourly rate given my experience and training plus the cost of materials.