What it feels like to buy a work of art.

 I offer a free art course online called Business for Fine Artists: How to Market, Sell and Ship. 

I designed the course over eight years ago and it’s a little bit dated and also, I’ve learned quite a bit since 2015 when I designed it.  My sales have risen from 10K to 80K so I’m redesigning it.


It’s still free but once it’s updated Udemy will no longer allow me to offer it for free.  

If you sign up now for free you won’t have to be charged if you’re interested later.


This is the first of many blog posts that I am offering in advance of the redesign.


Please buy a work of art for this section or think of a time when you have bought one.  If you have already collected a work of art that will work too.


I’m going to start each section with a “To Do List” or a project.  Rather than spending a lot of time front loading you with information, I want you to understand by doing.


Buy a work of art and then answer these questions

It would be better if you wrote or typed out these answers so you can look at them again.  It would be wonderful if you shared them in the comments.  

If you like, please send them to me and it would be great if you discussed them with someone else.


Who did you buy your art from? Did you buy it from a gallery, a website, a craft fair, directly from the artist, a friend?  Think about how the person or organization made you feel during the process.  Can you use that when you are selling art yourself?  What did you like and not like about the process?


What did you buy? What was the subject matter or content? What medium was it? Was it a photo, drawing, print, sculpture, clothing, furniture?  What you chose, in a way, describes you as a consumer or collector.


When did you buy it? Were you on a vacation? What time of day was it when you bought it?  Which day? If you bought it online, was it when you were watching television, or surfing the web?  When you bought it also says something about your habits and profile as an art collector.  What does it tell you about you?


Where did you buy it from?  Did you buy it from an auction, a gallery, a shop, from the artist, a website?  Which one? Did the “location” of where you bought it influence you?  Where you bought it from places you in a group or demographic of collectors.  It’s part of your profile as an art collector and patron.  What does this information say about you as a collector?


Why did you buy it?  Was it for the subject matter, because you liked the color, the size, the medium, you had a specific place for it?  Did you buy it just to support the artist or did you do it as a contribution to charity?  Did you buy it because it made a statement or because it fit the size of your space?  What does this information say about you as a collector?


How did you buy the work of art?  How much did you pay for the art?  How were you able to afford it?  Did you pay cash, check, credit card?  Why did you choose this way to pay? How did you feel before you bought it, during the process, after you bought it?  If you’ve owned it for a while, do you regret having bought it. Now you are able to get a picture of your economic situation and your “price point.”  It will help you if you get used to thinking about and talking about money without embarrassment.


I hope that the questions above generated some empathy and made you aware of how hard it is to buy art and what kinds of things your collectors are experiencing during the process. 


The reasons why I asked you these questions are to make you understand the process of buying art from an emotional point of view and also from a practical point of view.  Something to keep in mind, sometimes it’s really hard for some people to afford a luxury like art.  It also can be almost painful for some people to spend the money on something like art and there are lots of things that create resistance to investing in a work of art especially if they have debt or are living paycheck to paycheck.


I remember almost every time I’ve purchased art and can actually recall the feelings and motivations that either compelled me to buy it.  Here are some anecdotes about buying art.


My First Purchase


The first purchase I ever made of original art was a studio sale in 1984 at the University of Cincinnati.  Some of the MFA candidates were graduating and had to clean out their studios and make a move.  The student art gallery was set up a bit like a flea market and I found a wonderful small painting on unstretched canvas of the interior of an airport waiting area with the planes outside the window.  I can’t remember who the artist was and I ended up leaving the piece behind when I had to downsize and drive back home one summer. 


I bought the painting for $20 and the person who took my money was another graduate student named Patty.  Patty snatched the money out of my hand angrily and was clearly jealous that the artist was selling his work so inexpensively and was selling quite a lot of it. In comparison, she was selling her work in the $100 and above range.  She started to take her work off the wall and began to change the prices to be more competitive with the artist I had bought.


I remember that this artist had produced so much work that there were at least ten to thirty paintings of his throughout the space.  The quality of the work was something that I never imagined I could afford and I remember thinking that this artist produced so much high quality work that he was almost drowning in it and had storage problems.  By producing so much he had both improved his quality and his sales.  I remember feeling like I had gotten away with something and that it was an almost impossible deal and that I made out like a bandit.  It was my first time buying art and the ratio of pleasure of owning something far outweighed the cost of buying something.  I just couldn’t go drinking that night.


My Second Purchase


I was still an undergraduate and had moved back to New York City in 1988.  Outside of the Cooper Union college in Astor Square there was a sort of tradition of setting up blankets and putting things out for sale on blankets.  The stuff ranged from books, brick a brack, clothes, electronics, records, cassettes and sometimes art.  I had often airbrushed tee shirts and sold them for five to ten dollars a piece and when the cops would swing by to break us up I’d fold my portfolio with the shirts inside and skateboard off in the opposite direction of the police cars.  It was how I could afford to go out to eat and other small pleasures.


One afternoon I was on my way to work when I noticed someone had a portfolio out and was selling some loose watercolor that were embellished with pen and ink of noir scenes.  I asked the guy who was selling them if they were his and he said he found them.  I bought all three watercolors from him for around $25.  I still think about those watercolors because I left them with my ex wife when we split up and they were of incredible quality. 


My First Regret


In 1991 I had just gotten married for the first time and while on a honeymoon trip in Connecticut and upstate New York my wife and I would visit small galleries and antique shops.  At one small gallery/shop there were two 9x12 inch oil studies of nude female models against a black background.  These were clearly life studies by a very talented artist who was just past the student phase.  The paint was creamy, the shading, color, and anatomy was perfect and they reminded me of some of my teachers’ works (Max Ginsburg and Irwin Greenberg.)  Each painting was $100 and it was just on the edge of what I could comfortably afford.  I didn’t buy them and I still think about them today.


My Third Purchase, David Tomb


1993 I had already broken up with my first wife and was out visiting the studio of a mutual friend named David Tomb.  I had already seen his work at a very prestigious gallery in San Francisco called the Hackett Freedman Gallery and was blown away at the quality of the work.  His art was everything I thought I was trying to be and when I visited David’s studio in Oakland it was filled with art.  Many of his works on paper were strewn across the floor.  Some of them were dirty and had footprints from his Converse sneakers across them.  The footprints looked cool to me.  Some of the drawings were almost collages that were carelessly stapled together and I found the rough messy quality enhanced them.  The sheer volume of his output was astounding to me. 


I shyly asked him if I could afford something, I had a spare $250 and although the money was a little dear to me, I offered it to him for anything he felt he could part with for that amount.  David chuckled at me and said sure, “which one do you want?”  It never occurred to me that I would have a choice out of what I saw.  One of the drawings that was stapled together was at my feet and I asked for that one.  On the drive back from Oakland to my place in Oakland I could barely contain myself that I had managed to own something that beautiful.  The amount of money I spent was immaterial compared to the work itself.  I framed the piece as quickly as I could and as expensively as I could afford.  I now own four works by David and he and I are still friends.  I even used to pose for him and when I managed the art gallery at the college where I was a professor, I exhibited his work three times.


Some artists I’ve collected since then,

Mary Farrell

Amanda Besl

Kathleen Dunphy

Kelly Jo Shows

Christian Fagerlund

And six or seven more artists.


I think one of the most important ideas is that there is a kind of ratio of expense to pleasure when collecting art.  Even when I bought art that was in the thousand-dollar range, it was always at a time when I felt like I had more than enough money and if the money was tight, I was proud of myself that I had gotten such a good deal on an up-and-coming artist.  To me, it seemed like the value of the art always exceeded what I paid for it and I think of this every time I sell a painting. 


When I sell a work, I think about how I would feel if I was the collector and I work on the principle that they should be as happy to get the art as I am to sell it.  I try to sell my work as inexpensively as I can but not so low that I feel like I sold it for too little, but I also want the collector to be as happy as I am.  So far that’s been the case, collectors who buy my work online are much happier when they see it in person.  The reproductions don’t do it justice and I think this is to my benefit.  I also make sure I under promise and over deliver.  When a collector buys from me, I send a letter thanking them and explaining what the art is about and a bit about the technique. In essence, I’m giving them an explanation of why they should appreciate the work and what my intentions were.  I also include catalogs, a resume, and sometimes even an extra drawing or watercolor.  Sometimes I make greeting cards on cardstock with my color printer of the painting or drawing they’ve collected and add that. I also keep in touch with them by adding them to my email list and send them a new catalog every year.  You would be amazed at how this makes a great relationship with my collectors.


Here's an interesting fact or point, although I’ve collected at least thirty works of art from artists, galleries and online, David Tomb is the only artist who has sent me a thank you note and stays in touch.  I’ve never once gotten a thank you note, a show update, or an email from one of the artists or galleries I’ve collected art from. Just something to think about.

No comments:

Post a Comment