10 Steps to Buying Your First Piece of Art
Whether you’re looking for a budget-friendly conversational piece for your first apartment or want to invest in the next Lou Reed (or an actual Lou Reed), buying your first piece of art can be challenging—and that’s what makes it so rewarding. While compiling our step-by-step guide to making quality artwork purchases as easy as shopping consciously with Zady, we asked some experts from Artspace, Artsy and Artsicle for advice. After all, once upon a time—before they revolutionized the art market—they were struggling to figure out what was de rigueur in art investment, too.
Get exposure to art by subscribing to Artforum and reading gallery reviews in local newspapers to become confident in your own taste—especially if you don’t have a visual arts background. Scott Carleton, for example, studied engineering in college before co-founding Artsicle with Alex Tryon. Lara Björk of Artsy adds, “Education is not necessarily defined as laboriously studying from a book or learning in a classroom, but is more about researching the artist, emotionally responding and when possible getting out to physically view the art itself.“
Set a price range that you can comfortably afford. Catherine Levene, founder of Artspace, strongly advises that purchases over $50,000 should have a separate insurance policy in addition to the one provided by the seller.
Learn the basics of pricing: The most significant factors are the stage of the artist’s career, the size of the piece and the medium of the artwork—in that order. A larger piece will cost more because it usually requires more time and effort to complete, and a time-intensive medium, such as oil paint, will also command higher prices.
Ask yourself some basic questions as you browse art: Do I love this piece? Will it fit into the space where I want to display it, both aesthetically and physically? Is this financially feasible for me? Am I buying for investment or for personal pleasure? Who am I buying for? Tryon does not recommending buying for investment for new buyers because “you have to set aside many personal feelings, just like when you are investing in the stock market, and focus on outside factors such as the artist’s sale record.”
Get in contact with nonprofit organizations that have relationships with artist donors—they often sell the donated artwork at reduced prices, with proceeds benefiting the organization instead of the artist. Both Levene and Carleton, in fact, bought their first pieces of art at charity events. “My first piece that I bought was a Ross Bleckner photograph from a nonprofit benefit to support ACRIA [AIDS Community Research Initiative of America]. I think I bought it for $100. It still hangs in my living room today,” Levene recalls fondly.
Visit digital art marketplaces like Artsicle, Artsy and Artspace, where you can stay au courant, buying curated art in a variety of prices from around the world. These websites take care of the curating and research so you can browse for work you like without worrying about the legitimacy of the artist.
Avoid common pitfalls of the nervous first-time buyer, such as buying at art fairs and live auctions. Carleton elaborates: “The events are designed to create a sense of urgency, giving you little time to digest how you truly feel about a piece. The heat of the moment can easily cause you to exceed your budget for a mediocre artwork.”
Don’t be afraid to negotiate. If you choose to purchase directly from a gallery, Carleton recommends speaking up and asking for a discount. After all, the gallery wants to develop amicable relationships with first-time buyers, and probably wouldn’t mind helping you out. Galleries rarely have sales because it’s considered to be in poor taste, but most pieces sell below their listed price.
Keep up the momentum—set aside time and money to keep collecting throughout the years. Levene points out that if you buy one piece every year, you’ll have a collection in 10 years. “Today’s art is tomorrow’s history,” she adds.
Above all, make sure you love the piece you’re buying. It’ll be your walls that it’s hanging on for all those years.
Every piece of art has a story that continues to grow with you throughout the years you live together. You may not look at the painting in your hallway 20 years from now in the same way—and your children may not view it in the same way, either. As time goes on, it will become a meaningful piece that interweaves its story with stories of your own.