I’ve been crafting and drafting this post idea for a couple years now. I’ve been saving up all the knowledge I’ve gleaned from working with art collectors, having my own art collection, and seeing art investment on both large scale and small scale. So I wrote this post to help new art collectors or art lovers wanting to invest in or buy art... but who don’t quite know where to begin.
Investing in art is investing in the artist. Where is this artist going to end up? How serious are they about art? Will they get bored and move on? Switch careers? Would a big life change like marriage or children or some other obstacle/challenge put a stop or a pause on their career? How long have they been making art? Is the artist invested in their art or will I pay $1k for a piece and find them working at a craft store in 6 months?
Ouch. The truth hurts…. but so does a bad financial investment.
So when you’re buying art as an investment or as a part of your private collection; consider the following:
Is this artist trained or does he/she have a formal education? Why? Because that shows they’ve invested in their art and are here to stay in the art industry. An arts education takes time and money (and hard work!). The difference between a trained (or intensively practiced) artist and an untrained artist is what they were willing to invest into their skills, credentials, and overall career. There are exceptions to the rule, I’ve met quite a few ‘naturally’ talented artists who didn’t pursue formal education or training of any kind. But the majority of career artists sought out the training for their chosen profession.
How long has this artist been making art? The price should correlate. A newbie hasn’t really earned their stripes or the trust of art collectors. Time is a tell. Watch for the artists whose prices steadily rise, not the ones who charge one person $500 for a piece and turn around and sell a similar piece for $35 when they’re strapped for cash. I remember investing in a piece of art and then two months later seeing him sell the same size/medium/technique/pattern for twenty dollars. There were two lessons for me to glean: this artist will sell cheap when bills pile up- so wait for those sales and this artist isn’t a good candidate for a long-term art career. (p.s. I was right and he is no longer makes art). Consistency in price means consistency in value.
BONUS: And I cannot stress this enough: avoid the “artist all my life” and “painting since I was two” artists. If an artist can’t pinpoint when they began to intentionally make art and they need to pad their career with childhood years: that’s not a good sign.
Is it good? You don’t need a Masters in Fine Arts to figure out if a piece is good or not. A quick glance will tell you if the person is skilled at their chosen craft or if their work looks like they’re trying… but they’re just not there yet with their techniques. Time is a tell in this situation, too. The first year of work looks a heck of a lot different than the fifth or eleventh year of work. It’s easy to see if an artist is dedicated to their art because it will get better and better.
Remember that the majority of artists won’t end up in Christie’s or Sothebys. It’s just a fact. That’s where the big art sells. Picasso. Basquiat. Rothko. Cassatt. Banksy. Saville. Cecily Brown. The majority of artists hope to end up with their work going for millions and everyone in the art industry knowing their name: but few succeed because very few are committed that deeply. Many, many artists give up within the first two years. Many make it a hobby or an ‘if I have the time this weekend- I might make art”. And that’s okay. That’s their prerogative and their choice. Committed artists are just that: committed. They’ll still be here, making art, in fifty years.
Watch for the artists who use the ‘Wal-Mart’ approach: lots for little. Beware. If I make 1 piece of art and 10 art collectors want it: its ‘supply in demand’ skyrockets and its value increases. If I make 500,000 pieces of art and 10 art collectors want one: it’s a buyers market and the value decreases. I, personally, don’t want to invest in a piece of art that has thousands of other siblings out there because it works similarly to houses: if one undersells- all the neighbors comps drop. So stick with the artists that create meaningful individual pieces and don’t undersell their work.
Lastly, if a piece speaks to you, if it moves you, if it engages you somehow: that’s good art. Art that can visually communicate with its audience, no flowy descriptions or sales pitches needed- that’s authentic art and an authentic connection. Always buy that art. You won’t regret it.
I hope this was helpful to both artists and art collectors. I hope every single person reading this owns (or will soon own) a piece of art that they love.