5 Things You Should Do When Buying Art (and 1 You Should Always Avoid)

Oct 14, 2020

Like any important purchase, art buying takes special consideration. You wouldn’t buy a car without a test drive, and you wouldn’t buy a house without taking a tour. Even most ice cream shops expect you to try a sample first!

Below are tips for buying art. These dos and don’ts will help you know how to make the right purchases and avoid common mistakes that art collectors come to regret.

Do #1. Buy What You Love

The golden rule of buying art is this: buy what you love. No matter what you plan on doing with the work — whether you are looking to resell in the future or hand it down to your grandchildren — you should enjoy the art that you buy.

Many people looking for art as an investment try to think like the market, only for the market to change. Others are buying art to impress visitors at their home or office, only for their living room to feel cold and lifeless.

You will likely be spending a lot of time around any piece you purchase, and there is so much great artwork out there in every style and niche. Look for artwork that calls out to you, that demands your attention, that stimulates your mind and heart.

Check out art books and magazines, follow art accounts on social media, attend art auctions and art fairs and go to local museums and galleries. What better way to spend your time?

Do #2. Know What You’re Buying For

You step into a gallery and are struck by the first painting you see. It’s a stormy landscape, rendered in magnificent detail. The sense of light and atmosphere stirs your soul, grips you at your core. As you move through the rest of the gallery, you’re physically shaken, unable to take your mind off of the masterpiece.

Should you buy that painting? Maybe, maybe not. We always want to buy art that we love, but that doesn’t mean we should buy every work of art that we love.

That landscape might be moving, but will it work in the dining room? Is it the right size for the bare wall you’re looking to fill? These are important questions that should narrow down your search. Buy art that fits in with your needs.

Do #3. Know the Artist’s History

This tip is important for those buying art as an investment, but collectors of all stripes benefit from knowing the background of the artist they’re buying from.

For the investor, a work of art by a serious, committed artist with a devotion to their craft is more likely to continue making a bigger name for themselves. This will pay off years later when you are trying to sell their work.

An education from a top art school and solo exhibitions in important markets (like New York or Paris) are often good signs. But there are big exceptions to these rules. Have they developed a style? Have they found their voice? Does their work have an appeal that goes deeper than the latest trend? Will their work resonate with audiences in ten years? Five years? Next week?

For the art lover who is not interested in reselling, this is still good practice. Buying several works from the same artist gives your collection a strong backbone and can make a room really come together. And you never know when you might wish to resell — in which case, wouldn’t you want your artwork to have appreciated in value?

Do #4. Bring a Friend Along

Ultimately, the decision to buy a work of art will always come down to you. Are you comfortable with the price? Are you moved by the piece? Do you want it in your house for years? Those are questions only you can answer, but bringing a friend along helps.

For one thing, it adds to the fun. Galleries, art fairs, and other venues for buying art are great places to stimulate big conversations. There is no shortage of things to talk about and enjoy together.

If your friend has good taste, they can also bring necessary perspective. When purchasing art, you sometimes have to rely on your intuition in the moment to make a decision that will last for years. Having someone else there allows you to talk it out. You can also get help from the pros and acquire the services of an art advisor.

Do #5. Keep Your Receipt

Whenever you buy art, always make sure to save any emails, receipts, or other documents that come along with your purchase.

In the world of selling art, provenance is king. Provenance refers to the documentation that proves a work of art came from a specific artist.

It might not seem like a major issue, most work is signed by the artist after all, but deals have been made and broken over this one detail. Even if you are uninterested in reselling your art, it can help when dealing with insurance and related issues.

Don’t #1. Drag Your Feet

This rule connects to all the others. Researching artists, finding what you love, and knowing what your particular needs are all take time. But once you find a piece that matches your criteria, buy it!

The art world is not filled with mass produced items. When you see a sculpture in a gallery, it’s likely one of a kind. And if it fits your budget, tastes, and needs, then it’s probably a good fit for other collectors.

If you drag your feet and wait to buy, the work could sell — and you’ll almost never get another chance to buy it.

This isn’t a green light to make impulsive purchases. You should never buy before you’re ready. Rather, once you have done your homework and know you want a piece, don’t hesitate.

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