Many people interested in learning more about buying original art are intimidated by the art world and are afraid to ask about what they don’t know. If this describes you, then you are not alone.
To support new art buyers in building a foundation of art market knowledge, here is an introductory list of ten questions that can provide the confidence needed to start an art buying adventure and help lead to a lifetime of enjoyment and learning.
1. How can I hone my taste in art? It takes two things to develop your tastes in art: interest and time. Spend as much time as possible looking at various forms of art at art galleries, fairs and museum collections in person or online. Make note ofthe artists that you like and galleries that carry work you like. Ask yourself for what purpose you want your art to serve? Do you want your art to give you joy or a challenge, compliment your decor or take a stand? Look at your friends’ artwork and ask them questions about what and why they purchased what they did. Talk about art. Your interests will become more intense as you develop a better understanding and a higher level of comfort with art.
2. What do I ask the artist or gallerist about the artwork? By asking lots of questions, you are helping yourself learn about art and the artist. See how a deeper understanding helps develop your interest in the work. The end result establishes a higher level of comfort in buying and living with the work. Try asking these questions: Which artists have influenced you? Why do you create work in this size or use these materials? How do you determine how many works to make in the series? Why did you choose these colours or patterns? Did you study art and, if so, where and with whom? How would one take care of or display this piece to keep it safe?
3. If the price is not posted, is it okay to inquire? Artwork hanging in a booth at an art fair or in a gallery is there to be purchased. Artists or gallerists may not like the look of the price or a label on the wall beside the work. Or they may not feel that the process should be about the price because they want you to focus on the artwork. But, they do expect you to ask. If you really like the artist’s work but the price doesn’t fall within your budget, inquire if they have a smaller work or a work on paper that is more in your price range and don’t be embarrassed if they don’t. You’ll just have to keep looking and that’s a lot of fun.
4. Is asking for a discount on the price common practice? Selling artwork is how the artist and gallerist make their livings so asking for a discount is not okay. In some cases, discounts may be given by artists or galleries if you are a regular buyer and collector of their work or you are purchasing more than one piece. The same is true about asking whether or not you have to pay tax; we all have to pay tax. So, don’t take away from the enjoyment of buying original art by asking these questions. The story you want to create is about the artwork and your conversation with the artist or gallery about the work; this is the story that will last years and add to your enjoyment of the work.
5. Can I return a work after I’ve purchased it? In most cases, the purchase of artwork when you are buying in person or online is final. Some artists or galleries may have a policy that the work must be returned within a certain period of time or that you can take it home on a trial basis for a non-refundable deposit. In some cases, the artist or gallerist may bring the work over themselves to help you decide. Ask about this before you make the purchase, especially if you are unsure or you are buying as a couple and one of you isn’t as sure as the other.
6. When I buy a piece of original art, is it mine to use however I want? When you buy a work of art, you own the physical object but you do not own the image; the artist maintains copyright and as a result, you cannot use the image of the work in any way. You cannot sell reproduction prints or t-shirts or phone cases with the image on it. But the artist can – even with the image of the painting or print that you purchased. If you are interested in using the image for your own business, you must come to an agreement with the artist. In some cases, the owner of the rights to the artist’s work may be the artist’s estate or a foundation if the artist is no longer living. Ownership of an artwork does not grant you copyright.
7. Is art an investment? It can be. Art falls into a category called “treasure assets” and for these kinds of assets to be an investment, a buyer must know a great deal about the art and how the art markets operate. Art as an investment is very high risk and typically longer term because of the transaction costs. A collector would usually be buying and reselling in the secondary market and it is the costs of buying and reselling that can range up to 50 percent in commissions to the dealer, advisor or auction house depending on the selling price. In order to realize a solid gain, the value of that art would need to increase substantially. Research has shown that high value artworks and an investor armed with great art knowledge and market information would likely see a return similar to bonds. You might be able to realize 6-9% per year but few people do. And if you do, don’t forget about capital gains tax. On the other hand, your art may be worth more than you think if you’ve inherited some work or started buying recognized artists’ work a long time ago. Have the artwork appraised by a qualified appraiser. Remember, most art buyers buy because they love being surrounded with original art.
8. Who can I ask for help with buying and selling art? To learn more or to help you feel more comfortable, you can work with an art advisor. Make sure your advisor is knowledgeable, reputable, educated and associated with a known art industry association such as the International Society of Appraisers. Advisors can help you discover your tastes, suggest artists to watch, find artwork that meets your needs and tastes, and negotiate prices and terms for purchases on your behalf. They are part of a network of ethical and professional members of the art world who continually study and upgrade their knowledge. They are always at the art fairs and gallery openings and they follow trends in the art market. You don’t necessarily see them but they’re there working for their clients.
9. What do I need to do after I’ve purchased art? Art requires specialized care and maintenance; begin by considering the following:
You many need to insure the work. Check your existing homeowner/tenant insurance policy to see if it covers fine art and for how much and from when/where that coverage takes effect. Find out how best to transport it and hang it. Sixty percent of insurance claims for fine art are due to damage during transit or hanging.
Part of care and maintenance are the framing requirements for the work. Framing with poor quality materials and workmanship can prove to be more expensive than spending the extra money upfront for conservation framing. For example, wood pulp in mat board for prints and photographs could burn the artwork and, without the proper glazing or glass, UV light can fade work on paper so consider acid-free matting and UV protected glazing. Talk to the artist, art advisor and hanger for help with finding the best location with optimum conditions to hang your new acquisitions.
Establish a paper trail. Keep all background information concerning your art purchases including the purchase receipt and promotional materials from the exhibition such as the catalogue. Take a photo of you and the artist holding the work. Create a catalogue with the artist’s name, title of the work, year it was created, details of the signatures or markings and the exhibition history or auction or gallery information along with an image. Get certificates of authenticity and past ownership details at the time of purchase.
10. How can I find out the value of my art for my insurance coverage or my estate?Always work with a qualified appraiser who is a member of a recognized personal property appraisal organization such as the International Society of Appraisers. A qualified appraiser can help you manage all the responsibilities you have as an art owner. They can reduce your risks by providing unbiased and thoughtful opinions of value upon which you can base your financial decisions. A qualified appraiser’s value conclusions are based on prescribed methods of evaluation, research, report writing standards, and formal education and training. Remember, many qualified appraisers are also advisors but not many advisors are also qualified appraisers.
Kelly Juhasz is an art advisor and a qualified appraiser specializing in fine art and antiques and an Accredited Member of the International Society of Appraisers. She is the principal at Fine Art Appraisal and Services offering artist legacy services, collection management, estate planning for treasure assets, sales services and Canadian Cultural Property appraisals.