How to buy art that is right for you and your home

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I recently read an article about buying art, written by someone from a leading art gallery who stated that to be able to assess an artwork’s quality you should check to see if the artist has been in one of their exhibitions or included in their catalogues. The article went on to state that you need to check to see if the artist has a degree from a “good” art school, where they have exhibited before and who has collected their work.


What utter rubbish (In my head I was far more explicit)! That is their opinion and there is plenty of frankly crap art being touted as “great” simply because the bullshit art world has decided that a particular artist is worthy, or they are well connected and have found their way in through a back door.

The truth is that to assess the quality of artwork you need to see it for yourself, ask questions about how it was made, and how it has been finished, varnished, how and where it should be stored etc. You kind of need to understand a bit about it all first but most of all, you should only buy it if you love it. Let me break that down for you a bit.

If you are in the market for collecting art, you need first to be aware of how that market works. High-end galleries will tell you that the work they are showing is the best because, let’s be honest, they need to sell work to keep their businesses going. Just because work appears in a high-end gallery, it doesn’t mean that it is great or even good.

It just means that gallery has chosen a particular artist’s work because they like it, and they think they can sell it and make a handsome profit. Oh, and most high-end galleries take between 55% – 75% of the sale price meaning the artist gets next to nothing financially, just the prestige of showing with that gallery and unfortunate also pushes prices up. It still doesn’t make the work good, let alone great.

I know some incredible artists who make amazing work which sells extremely well through their own websites, without ever touching a gallery’s walls. They are self-taught and produce very high-quality work.

So where can you find these works? Art exhibitions such as the Affordable Art Fair, Other Art Fair, London Art Fair, Roy’s Art Fair, and similar shows around the country are good places to start. There you will be overwhelmed by the choice of artworks, paintings in particular, which are being created for you to buy. Local art clubs produce some great work, too.

As I say you will be overwhelmed, and I will tell you now what I tell every person who visits my stall and says they are finding the fair overwhelming. Walk round, visit all the stands and then go and have a cup of tea, then walk round again. Whilst you are having that cup of tea there will be two or three, maybe four or five at most pieces you really remember and, hopefully, like. Go back, take another look at the ones you like and walk away again. In your head you will be tossing up between just one or two. Now, go back again.

Take the details of the person exhibiting the work and have a conversation with them about the work. Ask them why they made it, how they made it, and what was their inspiration. Find out everything you want to know about it. If you are still undecided and the artist is based not too far from you, ask if they would be prepared to bring the work to your home so that you can see what it would look like in the space(s) you have available for it.

Most artists will bend over backwards to have you buy their work. As artists we know that buying our work is an investment. It might be boring, but we can live with bare walls (and many of us do) so buying art is a luxury which we respect and know is not, for most people, an impulse. Sadly, some artists will come across as desperate, which can be very off putting. They are often quite new to the art market and need you to buy their work to validate them as an artist. I know it is hard, but please do try not to be put off by anyone behaving like that.

If you love their work, and I mean you really have fallen in love with the work, buy it. You don’t have to have a relationship with the artist, you don’t ever have to see them again, but it would be a bit daft to walk away from something you love because you don’t like the person who made it. I have watched many sales fail because of overexuberant artists, desperate to sell, coming over too strong so I do understand.

So, what is great art? Great art is work that you fall in love with. It is work that sits on the wall and every time you walk past it, it makes you smile. It is work which makes you feel something. That something should, ideally, be happy, but sadness, gratitude, or even fear are all valid emotional responses. You just need to feel something. It is better if it is a work that normally makes you feel good, but I am not telling you what to feel; it is going on your walls for your enjoyment. That is what great art is; not a fancy high-end art gallery’s assessment, a well-known curator’s opinion, or even the view of someone who is a household name. It is work that makes you feel good.

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