Blog / 2021 / How to Buy Art Like a Boss
November 21, 2021
It may seem strange, but there are right and wrong ways to buy art. Because art isn’t like anything else you might purchase—because it’s actually a little piece of someone’s heart that they’ve broken off and painstakingly shaped into a compelling object that you can take home with you—mixing it with money is complicated.
So, if you truly love art, here are seven tips for loving it better as you buy it:
- Pay the artist with money.
- Be prompt in your payments.
- Don’t bargain with an artist unless you’re willing to explain exactly why you deserve a deal.
- Avoid telling an artist that you’ll purchase their unfinished artwork as-is.
- Never buy art unless you really love it.
- Refrain from wishing that an artist will die soon.
- Share your love of art with your friends.
Should this go without saying? Absolutely. But I can’t, in good conscience, publish this article without at least a nod to the widespread problem of people expecting artists to do work in exchange for “getting their name out there.”
It’s a fact of freelance life that some people will put off transferring funds as long as possible. Luckily, I don’t come across these reticent types too often, but my worst experience of it actually developed into a kind of psychological game. Eventually, I realized the client expected me to unravel the convoluted feelings he had for his “gold digger” ex-spouse and then guess what combination of words would magically make the payment appear. Needless-to-say, there’s no amount of remuneration that makes that kind of emotional labor okay in my mind.
Unlike other businesses, most artists don’t have a staff to track down payments, meaning that your timely transfer of funds is especially appreciated.
If the thought of having to lay out your financial situation feels shockingly intimate, that’s the idea. Making art is already a vulnerable process, and putting a price on it might be even harder. Because of market pressures—ie the glut of artists who chronically undercharge—most art is already priced in such a way that it doesn’t compensate artists adequately for their labor, so clients who insist on negotiating are adding insult to injury.
People who own multiple houses and/or boats try to bargain me down on the regular. My guess is that, on some level, they assume that, as an artist, I must be desperate. Sometimes that’s true—sometimes I’m in a bad place financially—but both their assumption and their bargaining gross me out. On the rare occasions that I end up working with people like this, the art is never my best.
Maybe you see it as a compliment. After all, you’re letting the artist know that, even unfinished, the work fascinates you. Unfortunately, you’re also telling the artist that your money can control them, and that’s not something that most people—artist or non-artist—want to be reminded of.
If you want to be more involved in directing an artist’s creativity, hire them to make you a custom artwork. If the artist has good boundaries, you still probably won’t get to dictate when the work is finished, but you will have more input in general.
So-called “pity purchases” don’t usually end up being a big favor for an artist. One way or another the fact that your only real interest is in bolstering the artist financially and emotionally will probably leak out, and I don’t know many people—artist or non-artist—who enjoy being pitied.
When I buy art, it’s always at least in part because I care about the person who made it: I’m very aware that my purchase is noticed by the artist and that adds to my enjoyment of the piece. Still, I want to emphasize how different that is from pitying a creative. When you love the work, it shines through.
If you’re nonsense rich and colluding with others in that (un)tax(ed) bracket, then buying and selling overpriced pieces can net you a profit, but for the rest of us—artists and non-artists alike—art isn’t ever going to be a huge money maker. That means that an artist dying and cutting off the supply of new pieces isn’t going to make the artwork you own go up in value.
Nevertheless, plenty of people who buy art still talk about it in terms of investing. Some even take a share-holder’s interest in artists’ careers, pushing a creative in the direction that they imagine will be most lucrative. PSA from all of art-kind to anyone who’s buying our stuff: advice is welcome, demands are not, and jokes about us dying are tacky.
Some artists are terrible at business stuff and others have more of a handle on it, but every last one of us will benefit from your help. When you talk about a piece you purchased or post images of it on your social media, you are doing that extra bit to support us, and it is lovely.
If you’re ready to buy art like a boss and you want to make your purchase extra special, check out Artists Sunday, which is one week from today! It’s the world’s largest art event, and it’s dedicated to supporting artists and recognizing the impact they have in enriching our lives, communities, and the economy. It’s all explained in this video.
As part of my Artists Sunday participation, I’ve got this series of landscape paintings on paper, inspired by my COVID-across-America road trip last summer. I painted:
- a whale ballet at Devil’s Tower
- Bryce Canyon
- a Grand Prismatic bison
- a lizard at Devil’s Garden
- a firefly encounter
- Old Faithful
- a prairie dog party
- Multnomah Falls
- the Badlands
- a Craters of the Moon chipmunk
Everything but the firefly painting is still available for $140 each, plus shipping (and tax if you’re in New Jersey). See all artworks that are for sale here.
This one was a special pleasure to paint, since it depicts a scene from Oregon, my home for many years. It’s Multnomah Falls, a magical place where I spent hours hiking.
If you’re not looking for original art, but instead for an arty item, there are prints and pretty things of Liquid Glacier here in my print shop. And if art stickers are more your thing, check out the Gift Cer-sticker-cate, a present that will keep on giving well into the new year!
Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!
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