Buying a painting for beginners
Reading time: 8 minutes
This article is a guide for buying art for beginners. It is also part three of a three-part article on what a painting should cost. We end and begin this series, that the cost of a painting is ultimately in the collector's hand. In this final part, you will learn when and how to buy art for your budget. Most people who buy a painting for the first time, are shocked at the prices or might be intimidated by a gallery or an artist. After you have read this, you should feel more at ease at the buying process, as well as your unique aesthetic. In short, this article is about
1. Knowing your budget.
2. Knowing your style.
3. Knowing there is room to negotiate.
1. What is your budget?
Know what you are willing to pay for a painting, that will hang in your life the next 5-30 years.
Before deciding what painting, I should buy in 2020 or any year; I should:
Set a budget for the year.
This way you always buy an affordable painting. There is a romantic myth about art and money. That art and money should not touch, and real art cannot be measured in money. Yet the reality is, buying a painting costs money. How much does a painting cost? Well, you decide. Decide ahead of time, how much you are willing to buy a painting that will hang in your living room-, or bedroom wall the next 5-30 years. Even if you only have a vague idea of maybe hanging a painting above your couch or bed or what you like. Set a realistic budget of what you will spend on art that year.
Buying a painting can be a big expense, in most if not all cases, galleries and artist can work on a payment option with you. But also, finding a painting you like, is not as easy as walking into two or three shops and walking out of it. Usually, you find it in an accidental stumble after several forays into widely different scenes. Not knowing your budget beforehand results that buying art just never fits into your life. Not having a ballpark idea of what you are willing to pay gets in the way of buying anything. With this information, you can easily decide where you can best find real unique art that fits your life and aesthetic, by real artists.
Without a budget you can never afford art
Last year I wanted to buy a limited print of a cartoon by an illustrator I liked. I had been following the illustrator for some time and they came with an offer for limited cartoon prints. Somehow, I was shocked that it cost €70,00. It is not a crazy price; it is less than 5% of what art at my gallery costs. I ended up not buying the print and I deeply regret it. It had made me snort-laugh every time I saw it for more than three months. Why did I not buy the print I wanted? I had not set a budget for myself of what I could spend on art. As buying art is not a daily, weekly, or even monthly expense for most people. Any price can be shocking, as to how does that price fit into the rest of our life? €70,00 is more than what I ever spend on myself in one event. However, I finally stumbled onto something I liked, only to be deterred by the price. If I had known my budget, I could have bought the cartoon I so liked and supported the artist, that brought me joy weekly on Instagram. And somewhere between loving that piece and writing this, I have not been able to find that cartoonist/illustrator again. I lost a little joy and I lost a moment to support an artist.
Get to know what you like and what brings you joy.
2. Cultivate your own aesthetic
I also need to invest in myself and what I like and my own interests.
Get to know what brings you joy in life
Cultivate your aesthetic while or even before you start looking for art. This is a process of developing yourself or getting to know what you like and what brings you joy. Cultural Historian Elisabeth de Bievre wrote numerous articles on why we like things we see more because our brains create more neural links to constant exposure. Knowing what you like, allows you to go look for an artist that links to your understanding of the world.
Proximity to art and artist
Sadly, often the closer an artist is to us, the more we undervalue their genius. As it is so part of our daily world, but usually the art made closes to our own life, holds more meaning to us. The only art that survives, is the art that is nurtured. And you can only nurture art, once you know what that is to you. Become aware of what brings you joy and what you are interested in. This process takes place in the books you read, the conversations you have. How much time and money this process costs you; will depend on where you get your inspiration from. Cost includes museum admission, lectures, books and going on coffee or lunch dates. Usually, this process can be seamlessly integrated into the activities you already partake in.
Start close to yourself
My partner used to study astronomy and science. He loves space. One day on holiday with friends in Mexico, he was delighted by a street artist. He loved seeing a fantasy galaxy take shape in a few minutes by a street artist. He was fully submersed and delighted by the act of creation. He paid for the painting the street artist has made while he watched. He supported an artist for the joy they had brought him. He trusts his aesthetic judgement. My partner was more involved in what we know as the post-studio art movement than me. Partaking in art made in public, mutually consumed in by large masses and the artist compensated for his performance and art. More than I have ever done for the arts. That is what cultivating your aesthetic is, as well as enjoying art for art sake.
What if someone is mean?
Come to a point in yourself where you unapologetically like what you like. People are going to expect an opinion of art you have on your house or office. A painting in your home or office can be a great conversation piece, one that is easily held, when it fits your life. But having art so close to yourself can be scary. Some people will expect you to justify your aesthetic choice. You do not have to justify your choice. You can shut it down with, I like it and change the subject.
It is truly delightful to have a lovely conversation around all the associations that come with the painting. Anyone who is derisive is simply a person insecure in their own aesthetic choice. Buying art because it is expensive, or investment does not allow you to freely talk about art casually. Then the art stops being about the art, but about the CV of the artist. Justifying your own choices by the pedigree of other people’s judgement.
My partner has only genuinely liked one, and subsequently bought one piece of art. We have more than 20 paintings in our house. Most of them I made as gifts for him or was gifted to me by other artists. However, two of the artworks in our house is a galaxy spray-painted street artwork. The other is my partner’s attempt at painting a shooting star from his academic knowledge of the elements of a shooting star. Which was the first time and the last time we painted together. Both these works were first met with derision from a younger me. His art pallet was not as cultivated as mine. I am disgusted at that infantile person I was then. After my derisive remarks, he stopped being interested in making or looking at art. I was rude and disrespectful, assuming my drop of knowledge was worth more than his joy. He had cautiously started painting something he loved, as well as something we could do together, and I crushed a tentative creative outlet. As well as his interest in any contemporary art. It was a stupid thing I did and I regret it.
So you know what you like and you are confident in yourself to not let other people's insecurities affect that. You found something you love!
3. Price negotiations and payment options
Pricing practices where discussed in part one and in part two. When you know your budget, you can determine where you can buy art or add filters to buying art online. That way you can look buy a painting that fits your aesthetic and price range.
If you are buying art at a gallery or an art fair, you can choose the segment you go to, but there is almost always a difference in the asking price and the price that is actually paid. However, some artist or galleries do not show prices. So, you must ask, and you wont know if it is in budget or not. Not showing a price, can be because of traditional industry standards, or because artist themselves has not been able to pinpoint a good price for their work. But in most cases at a gallery, this is the first part of negotiating the price of a painting. A step that often scares most people away.
When the prices are visible and lower than €5000,00 or the economy is booming, do not expect too much space for negotiations. Negotiations however can be about more than the price, but also and payment strategies. The range in which negotiation takes place depends on the artist and the economy. This New York Times article from 1993, is a delightful case study by journalist N.S. Kleinfield and negotiotons at art galleries.
Knowing your budget is an important piece of information for you to have when negotiating. For both art that has visible prcing or where yo uneed to enquire the price. Here is what you need to know, to confidently partake in any negotiations. Doing this over e-mail often takes pressure off the transaction. You can carefully read and respond during the negotiations.
Negotiations are expected but be respectful.
A successful negotiation is when you do not pay more than you can, and they are not selling for less than they wanted to. Suggesting a price of more than 50% less than the asking price is considered extremely rude. Most galleries can and will easily allow a 10% drop in price but can go up to 20% (but the gallery will need the artist to sign off on such a large percentage). The more expensive the price of a painting, the more negotiations are expected. If you are buying directly from the artist, I would advise against hard negotiation for artwork under €500,00. If this is way over your budget, respectfully ask payment options or ask if they have other maybe experimental work for less. When negotiating with a gallery, it is business. When negotiating with an artist, it is emotional. Some artist is okay with negotiations, some are deeply insulted or have already given an exceptionally low price.
Be respectful towards your own budget, the artist and the gallery. Even if the negotiations end up going nowhere, see it as a moment to cultivate a long term relationship that furthers your aesthetic knowledge. The chances of you being invited to a party, an art fair or even a better price further in the future is greatly increased. Buying contemporary art is not the same as buying a poster or milk. It is a much more intimate exchange. Treat it as such. In this exchange expect respect, give respect and enjoy the process. It is part of a life long journey of cultivating beauty in your life. If you are interested in what an art collector has learned over the years of buying art; Daniel Grant wrote an article about what he has learned. If you want to learn more about negotiation, Micheal Mamas wrote a comprehensive in depth five step article about negotiating in general.
Concluding the beginners guide to buying a painting
This is the end of the three-part set of articles of what a painting should cost. The answer at the beginning of part one was it depends on what you are willing to pay for it. Then it explained four calculation methods that can be used to calculate the cost of a painting. The second part explained the enormous economic, educational, and cultural investment involved in substantiating the value of a painting. Coming to the full circle in this third part that the cost of a painting is in the collector’s hand.
The collector should always have a budget in mind before you start looking for art. This also forges a path to keep art prices reasonable. Once a collector is secure in their judgement, the fewer secondary players are needed to confirm and substantiate the value of the painting made. Collectors are willing to invest in their personal development and aesthetic choices so that they can be comfortable with their style. When you are comfortable with what you want to spend and know what you like, you are never taking a gamble. Buying from an “unknown” or emerging contemporary artist becomes obsolete. These terms take away from the year's artist have been making art out of mainstream marketing. Instead, a more organic industry evolves. You are buying from an artist who you admire and supporting contemporary artists.
And lastly; negotiations are still an important part of buying a painting. Be respectful, to the artist, the gallery and yourself.
in a Dutch Kingsday outfit,
with the galaxy street art.