What Should I Consider When Buying Art?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
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  • Last Modified Date: 04 September 2019
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Buying art can seem to be an overwhelming task for most of us. There are tens of thousands of artists promoting their work, shifting trends, and it can be difficult to know whether a piece you buy today will pay for your retirement tomorrow, or be worth less than the canvas it was painted on. There are, however, a few things to consider when buying art to make it less likely that you will feel disappointed with your purchase.

First of all, consider whether or not you’re buying the art primarily as an investment. If you’re looking to buy art mostly for your own enjoyment, or to liven up your living space, then you don’t have to worry nearly as much as those trying to make a sound investment decision.


Look for art you like. Pay attention to art magazines, go to gallery openings, and take note of the sorts of things other people have hanging on their walls that entice you. Get a feel for how art interacts with the space in which it’s hung — some pieces may impress you in a museum, but will just feel overburdening if they’re hanging above your couch at home. If you’re buying art for a specific space in your house, pay attention to the light in that space, and try to think how that will affect pieces you look at. Also, make sure not to rush into buying art that you like because of something shocking or jarring about it — remember, you’ll be living with this piece, so try to pick something that will fit a variety of your moods, and help transform your space into what you want it to be.

If you’re thinking of buying art as an investment, or to become a collector, you’ll need to consider your purchases much more carefully. First of all, realize that buying art is not a sure investment — even the smartest choices sometimes wind up devaluing, and often the biggest successes are pieces that didn’t fit any model.

When you’re looking at buying art for profit, first look at the artist. Are they well known? Where have their other pieces gone off to? How much has their work increased in value in previous years? New artists of course won’t have a track record, and this can make them a much more risky venture. Well-established artists may sell their pieces for prices far outside of your budget — if you find yourself buying art that costs more than your house is worth, you’re probably overreaching.

Even beginner artists that have no real record of high-profile buyers, or high-valuation, will have information available about themselves. Finding an artist who isn’t yet established, but who is beginning to get a ‘buzz’ built around themselves through articles, interviews, and small shows, can be a great way to get in on the ground floor buying art that will likely increase greatly in value.

Many artists will be well-established but not yet incredibly famous. This isn’t always a sign that their art is sub-par — in fact, it often means they just haven’t been discovered yet. Finding an older artist who has been creating art for decades likely means that when you’re buying art from them, you’re buying part of a legacy that can continue on for a long time.

One thing to keep an eye out for when buying art is whether a piece is an original, or a reproduction. Many reproductions look like original paintings, and as the technology used to create such copies gets better and better, this trend will likely continue. If a piece is sold as part of a Limited Edition, make sure to ask whether it’s an original or not. A reproduction — no matter how good it might be — will always be worth much, much less than an original piece.

Finally, do look at the work of art itself when considering whether buying art from an artist you’ve decided on. Are there things that make the piece stand out? Interesting techniques or subjects that might make the piece particularly important as a part of the artist’s larger work? A sophisticated understanding of art history and fine art can help immensely in this aspect of deciding what you want to buy.

Do keep in mind though, that such an understanding is not crucial — just use your common sense, and try to learn as much as you possibly can about both artist and piece before purchasing. And, as always, pick pieces that call to you especially. Never underestimate the power of your instinct — it is instinct that separates the great collector from the merely mediocre.


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Post 3

@ GlassAxe- I took a look at the Yokoi pieces you are talking about and they are beautiful. I especially like the older works from the '60s and '70s.

I am an amateur collector myself, and I am into buying art prints as well. I have a particular interest in abstract works, so maybe that is why I like Yokoi's earlier work. The earlier stuff was much more abstract than her most recent stuff. I also enjoy the calligraphy that is incorporated into some of her pieces...definitely a Japanese influence.

My favorite artist is an American Named Sam Francis. I have a couple of Lithographs (his originals are insanely expensive for the average collector) of his and a few collector’s

items. I especially like the work's from his Blue period, and the works that use geometric shapes and borders (lots of negative space). He started around the Pollack era, but his pieces are much more vibrant and not as busy. I once saw his work hanging over the underground walkway at Chicago O'Hare (I planned a layover just to see the exhibit).
Post 2

My Parents are collectors and they buy both abstract and contemporary art. Because of this, I have dabbled into buying art myself. I mostly buy lithographs, but I have a couple of originals. I only collect to enjoy the art, but my parents collect for enjoyment and investment. I am of Japanese descent so one of my favorite artists is Teruko Yokoi. She is a Japanese born artist based in Bern Switzerland. She is somewhat popular in Japan and Europe, often having her art featured in exhibits and museums. She will be holding an exhibit in the fall at the UBS headquarters in Switzerland (I think it is an old castle).

I have a beautiful lithograph titled Eis Blummen that

was done in '69 and is printed from a run of 40. Her style is abstract with a Japanese influence. The art is beautiful, and adds to the interior décor of my condo. Another bonus is that the lithographs are a cheap way to own a hand painted limited run print.
Post 1

This article has a lot of great information - thank you!

I am certainly not a collector, although I do own several pieces of original art. For me, the most important aspect is buying what I like and will enjoy looking at for years to come. Even if the few works I own never rise in value, the money I paid will be worth it to me for the enjoyment I have had.

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