On buying artwork …..
The whole business of buying a picture is distinctly different to that of choosing furniture, curtains or any other aspect of decorating your home (or ‘interior design’ if that is where you are!)
Because there is an ever-present underlying belief that somehow that picture on the wall will, one day, be worth a fortune.
In the back of our minds is the tale of the cafe owner in the south of France who accepted pictures in payment for the tab of his regular client, Vincent van Gogh.
I suspect that there are probably quite a number of us artists who work at producing art with the same faint hope niggling away - one day this painting will be recognised for its true worth.
Even though we all know, when we are cold and business-like, that these hopes and beliefs are very improbable, millions of people still buy lottery tickets when they know the chances of winning are 14 million to one against.
There is a pleasure about holding that ticket until the draw is finished, hoping that maybe this will be my week, and that same pleasure can add to our enjoyment of an original painting that we have chosen.
This is clearly not true of the big department stores’ sections labelled “Art” where there are factory-produced prints of nice pictures being sold in between the curtains and the wallpaper. This stuff will have absolutely no value as soon as you take it out of the shop - but, to be fair, I grew up with Monet’s poppy fields on the wall - a valueless print, but still a good representation of a Monet.
We ‘spend’ money on carpets, furniture and curtains, but we ‘invest’ in art, and we probably spend a lot more on those other aspects than we invest in the art. But we buy a new car much more often than we change the artwork on the walls (some of us buy a new HOUSE more often than we change the artwork), so choosing wisely is important.
In one of my exhibitions, a lady came in and said she was looking to buy a large oil painting … I tried to remain calm and professional and suggested she take a look around. She did that, then returned to gaze at one, and called me over. We chatted about it, me trying hard not to be the second-hand car salesman, but she was a definite prospect, until….. “No, it won’t go with my carpet.”
It has taken me some time to come round to the realisation that she was right and that leads to Rule 1 in this Guide - the artwork on your walls has to fit with the look you are creating in the room.
I believe that you must enjoy looking at the piece. If it is going to be with you for years and years, you must gain pleasure from gazing at it.
From my point of view, of someone creating and selling art, this is the cold business rationale for why some art sells while some doesn’t.
But - as I say above, the art market is not cold and rational - there is the ‘lottery ticket’ idea which flows from fashion - some artists are ‘hot’.
There are thousands of people producing original art creating a market which offers original work of good quality covering every imaginable subject. The technical quality of most of that is excellent, and yet - some sells for £100, some for £10,000.
There is an enormous iceberg-shaped distribution graph, with thousands of us striving away at the bottom, selling work for whatever someone is willing to pay for it. At the other end, there are those whose every scribble is snapped up and auctioned for huge sums.
The middle zone of this distribution is busy and competitive, Curators and Gallerists use their skill to judge what will be hot and gamble their careers on choosing which artists, or which styles will sell next year.
Many artists are critical of the role these people play, but I respect them - if they are to survive, or thrive, in their business, they have to have a track record of success. Even though they rely on the commission they make on every sale, their view is (generally) longer-term - they want you to come back and develop as a ‘collector’, which you will not do if they sell you rubbish.
But - this does mean there is a tendency to be followers rather than leaders. They can see what styles are popular, what is selling at the Art Fairs they attend. This might be a good thing from your point of view - less risk?
I have two paintings dating from the 19th century which I have held onto for many many years. I have taken them for valuation at least twice, in different cities, many years apart, and they are worth nothing.
The simple fact is that I derive pleasure from looking at them - these are not ‘investments’. Nobody has heard of the artist, s/he is not listed in any reference books.
And that is the point - an ‘investment’ in art is actually based on the name of the artist.
There are thousands of us who are ‘emerging’, but what marks out the few, the very few, who will not only emerge but will be known far beyond our lifetime?
If you find the answer to that, then those are the ones to buy as investments!
A little watercolour: Beacons Sunrise
And the other end of the day
Some people enjoy landscapes
Some people enjoy eating these!
The idea was edgy 50 years ago, today it is only mildly eccentric
Diversity is marvellous. Who would want us all and everything we see, to be the same?
But - it is often difficult to understand WHY - why do some people enjoy eating deep fried Mars Bars? Some people enjoy gazing at very realistic pictures, while others prefer their stimulation to come from concepts.
Personally, I cannot imagine eating a Mars Bar that has been coated in batter then sunk in a deep fat frier. I also find some art that was cutting edge when it first appeared to be little more than mildly eccentric today.
I have to accept that there are trends, though - look at the number of young men who are now proud of their beards, or young couples who insist on dressing their young babies in absurdly expensive clothes because they carry designer logos - both are concepts that I find completely bewildering.
While diversity is great, there must be an instinct amongst us to feel that we belong with the tribe, we seek to conform to norms and standards shared by people we respect, or whose respect we crave. So the decisions about how we choose what to hang on our walls, and hence what art work, if any, we choose to purchase, will be complex.
I have never understood why anyone would buy a book purely because it is (allegedly) written by someone who was once a famous catwalk model, and the same doubt applies to artwork created by ageing rockstars or retired actors. The rationale has to be that those works will give the buyer something to talk about with those friends and might somehow garner a notch of greater esteem in the tribe.
There are significant businesses dedicated to selling art as investment, and the success of their work flows all the way through the art world - every one of us hopes to be the one who finds the long lost masterpiece, but what is more likely is that someone will purchase a painting (because they like it) from someone who is relatively new to the art world, and at some point in the future will find that it is worth more than they paid for it.
I have always enjoyed the work of James McIntosh Patrick, and I’m delighted to see that his paintings now command prices £10,000 to £50,000. These were originally bought for a couple of hundred. BUT - of course at the time he was selling them, there were many many other artists doing the same who have now disappeared without trace.
If anyone claims to have the formula for spotting winners, walk quickly away!
“The basic claim of contextualism is that an artwork is ontologically not just the sum of the empirical perceptible properties of an artefact, but that artworks consist also of relational properties that are determined by their historical, cultural and practical context. The proper experience of an artwork is therefore not a more or less unmediated sense-perception, but it is dependent on an interpretational approach.”
Which means …… you might think you are making a free and independent choice, but actually you are manifesting the cultural norms that have seeped into your being.
Philosophers through all
ages have included art among the topics of their thinking, since pre-history
when the ancient Greeks were concerned about beauty and art. Since those times,
philosophy, religion and art have been intertwined.
Today few people (in the UK
at least) are even vaguely aware of any philosophy, and yet great thinkers of
the past gave long and thorough consideration of issues that are very relevant
Similarly, today we are living in an increasingly non-theist world, where
people are less concerned about an all-powerful spiritual entity. For over 100
years, artists and their art have moved a long way away from the previously
dominant theme of producing work for the glorification of a supreme being, but
does that leave art with no points of reference? If there is no meaning in art,
is it purely decorative? Just another kind of wallpaper?
The ancient Greeks believed there were many gods and consideration of art was
thought to be best approached from a duality of those – the intuitive or
sensory on the one hand and the rational on the other.
Church domination of the
world began to crumble in the 17th and 18th century after
Luther and Henry VIIIth had challenged papal infallibility and thinkers again
turned some attention to questions of ‘the sublime’. The ancient Greek notions
of the duality between sensory and rationality was – and is – carried forward.
A painting is likely to be
judged against both – the technical / rational (is the drawing effective? Do
the colours work well together? Is it well-presented? etc) and the more
elusive, ephemeral – Do I LIKE it? Does it appeal to my taste?
It seems to me that this is a two-legged stool. There are, in my view, tonnes
of paintings which meet those two criteria, well painted technically and
pleasant to look at, but …. Are they challenging at all? Do they ask any
questions of the viewer? Do they convey something more than ‘nice’?
I don’t often have anything positive
to say about installation art, but I can at least use it to argue that the
stool must have three legs:
Sensory and rationality (as
per the classic notions) plus the third leg – The Challenge.
A piece of art needs to stimulate the viewer somehow.
Through the 20th century
that stimulation came from challenging new styles of painting, but even in the
19th century, Ruskin commented that a landscape painting should be
Installation art, all too often, goes for ‘challenging’ at the expense of
beauty and technical excellence, but the best of it manages to cover all three
Having said all this, I know
that people buy art for their own often complex reasons. I was once excited at
the prospect of selling a large oil painting, until the customer turned and
said “No, it needs to match my carpet.”
So much for Philosophy!
But – do I want to produce
Just look at fashion - how people dressed 50 years ago compared with today. Or furniture - that clunky solid stuff that filled the space?
Taste in Art changes faster than either of those so what you might think of as ‘beautiful’ is not likely to be the same as you did ten years ago, UNLESS you can apply some sort of ‘timeless’ test - is this painting something that is exciting only because it is ‘on trend’ right now, or does it have qualities that will still stand out at some time in the future?