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Ten Strategies for Collecting Art

August 18, 2010

Untitled multi-media collage by Pam Batista of Chicago.

Having a personal art collection is for everyone.  Why buy imitation art at a big box store when you can have real art made by real artists instead?  Here are a few works in my eclectic personal art collection and some tips on buying art.

 It is very pleasurable to have a real piece of art to enjoy and enhance your home.  It is more interesting to have something more unique and sophisticated than a bunch of posters on the wall.  Starting a personal art collection does not take a lot of money and does not require an endless hunt to find work you like.

I came across many of the works I now own in my daily travels, mostly in my local area and the majority of the pieces were within the $20.00 – $30.00 USD range with a few in the $50.00 to $100.00 range.  Photographs and printmaking works are done in multiples and in limited editions, so they are often more affordable because there is more than one created.  Smaller paintings are in the price ranges I listed, but be prepared to pay more for larger or more intricate paintings.  If you can pay upward of $200.00 per work, you have a wider range of choices.

Here are some recommendations on buying art based on my experience:

  • Don’t ever haggle.  If you can’t afford a work, then move on.  It is insulting to artists for you to try and bring the price of the work down; it may be priced nominally above the cost of the materials to make it, and artists rarely try to get money for the total number of hours of labor that went into a piece.  I have personally wanted to scream at people for trying to haggle me down on my price: it’s rude, it’s embarrassing to me (the artist), I think how people don’t try haggling prices down at stores and that this is my art not a garage sale.  If you want a piece and your wallet is low on money, ask if you can put a deposit on the art work and arrange a time to bring the rest of the money for the balance due.
  • Don’t speculate on appreciation.  It is nice if something you acquire goes up in value, but it is a gamble.  Wealthy collectors have the income to use The Shotgun Approach where they sweep into BFA and MFA shows at colleges and universities and buy the walls empty, hoping one work in the lot will appreciate in value and preferably that at least one artist will make it to the big time.  Buy art you like and enjoy, buy art that will interest you and make you happy when you see it; don’t treat the pieces like potential winning lottery tickets.
  • Learn about the piece of art you are buying and about the artist.  Get information and ask questions, learn about the style of the art work and any techniques of production.  This helps your appreciation of what you are paying for.  Real hand-pulled lithographs are beautiful; they’re also a nearly back-breaking amount of labor, especially if they are multi-colored.

 Purple Soap, a multimedia drawing and painting on wood by Alice DuBois of Chicago.

  • Buy from local artists and people you can meet with.  I bought this multi-media nude piece on wood from a local Chicago artist; I bought a miniature oil painting of a landscape from an artist street vending in NYC.  I have purchased African carvings at street festivals.  If there is some kind of street festival, like Thai Fest or other cultures, go and look for the arts of that culture.  Look for artist studio open house nights, artist coalitions and groups, art fairs and street festivals.  If you have a bigger budget, you can look for pieces at local galleries.  About 40 – 60% of the sale is the cut for the gallery but this keeps the gallery doors open for both the gallerist and the artists represented.  If you travel or go on a trip, artwork makes a nicer memento than a lot of the tourist tschotchkas available in most areas.  Unless you really, really need that Niagara Falls coffee mug…
  • Buy student works.  If you like the work and feel it is skilled, it is guaranteed to be priced lower than the works of more established artists.  Students have less room to store works and need money to buy supplies for the next upcoming semester.  Check for student sales events on campuses and student galleries.

  • Check second hand shops and junk stores.  If you feel you are knowledgeable about different kinds of art, you may find treasures.  I bought an estimated $2,000.00 USD of Navajo incised pottery for $20.00 at a junk store; a friend’s mother paid $600.00 for a single piece like this.  I bought a lovely, older Chinese bisque au chine Qu’an Yin statue in the same shop for another $20.  Sometimes you can find original drawings, paintings and prints abandoned in the Goodwill or similar charity after someone dies and the relatives donate the art not knowing what it is worth.
  • I don’t recommend antique stores for any bargains or a good selection.  Anything really valuable in terms of art or at least interesting most likely would have been whisked away by the owners of the antique store and fenced at an auction house.  The paintings I see in antique stores tend to be mediocre works in old gold colored frames.

Genuine Kachinas and other Native American art works.

  • Visit Native American pow-wows.  Traditional crafts and art forms will be for sale, often by the artist or the family of the artist, sometimes by middle-men – “Traders” that gather things from reservations and scattered artists and travel to various pow-wows with them.  Learning about the pieces and their creators is wonderfully interesting.  There is such a wide variety of Native arts and many regional differences.  It is best to buy signed works.  Observe these three rules of politeness: ask about the origins of the piece with open ended questions like “What can you tell me about this work?” but do not ask the “tribe” of the artist, that is very rude; do not point at things, it has been my experience that Native Americans do not engage in pointing at things and may find this offensive; and do not take photos of the dancers or other things at a pow-wows (unless you have very clear permission to do so) because this rude and is tiresome to them.  Act like you are at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner at another family’s house; dance a few rounds and enjoy the food while you’re there!

Pottery plates by artist Juanda Sims of the TalentZone in Joliet.

  • Get to know artists in your area.  They appreciate your support and interest.  You can hire them to do a custom piece for you or buy the work they are engaged in now.  Some may be chillaxing in a booth at a local farmer’s market or have their own studio and gallery like Juanda Sims above.  I have between five and ten year’s worth of pieces from Juanda Sims, an artist whose work I enjoy both for its beauty and its utility.

“Two Towers (White)” by Eric Coleman, graduate of Columbia College.

  • Trade with other artists.  If you make art yourself and like the art of someone, see if they will trade with you.  I had a personal goal to trade as much as possible in art school.  I traded some silkscreen prints for this terrific and large seven color separation silkscreen print whereby the artist took the photograph the print is derived from.
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