How to Research Artists

Jan 4, 2021

No matter how, where, or for what reason you buy art, you should research the artist. This single activity sets apart the art collector from the crowd, allowing them to buy confidently, knowing that they are paying fair prices and getting high quality work.

Research also brings new levels of understanding and appreciation to your collection. Knowing the story and context behind your pieces is one of the greatest joys in art collecting, and all it takes is researching before buying.

But “researching artists” is easier said than done. Where do you look? What are you looking for? Whom do you trust? We’ll cover this and more below.

Why You Have to Do Your Research

Knowing why you are researching is the biggest step toward doing good research. And the reason you are doing it is simple: to avoid buying the wrong artwork or paying the wrong price.

Just because an artist has a name and their work has commanded big price tags doesn’t mean all of their art is valuable. And while you might enjoy a piece, that doesn’t mean you should always pay the asking price, even if it is in your budget.

That’s because artists have periods in their career. In virtually every case, different periods in an artist’s career are valued differently. Further, artists that sell well in one medium don’t necessarily sell well in another. A renowned painter might not be able to sell their graphite on paper. In fact, an artist renown for their oil paintings might not be able to sell their watercolors.

Knowing these details can shift your perspective on a price, and it works in both directions. Doing your research is just as much about finding good deals as avoiding bad ones.

What Information You Are Looking For

Information is crucial if you are buying art as an investment. But even if you aren’t looking to resell, someday you might want to, and you won’t want to take a major loss if that day comes.

On top of that, paying more than you need to on a work of art means less money for buying art in the future.

Your research should focus on several factors to find the market value of a work of art:

  • Who made it?
  • At what point in their career did they make it?
  • What is the value of their work from the same period?
  • What medium is the work in?
  • What has the work sold for before?

These questions will all help you know if a work of art is worth the asking price.

Where to Research

To answer the questions outlined above, you will be searching for information regarding:

  • Artist’s biography
  • Results of auctions and previous sales
  • Reviews and media interest in the artist

When possible, see the artist and their works in person in galleries, private collections, artist studios and art fairs but to really dig deep, you’ll probably be relying heavily on internet sources. The website of the gallery that sells the artwork, the artist’s website, the artist’s social media and any other writing on the artist or the work you can find might be helpful.

There are some things you can glean from basic Googling or searching on social media for the artist, but below we’ve listed reliable sources to include when you research an artist.

Catalogues Raisonnés
These are publications that catalogue all the works of an artist. Not every artist has one, but there are many more than you’d imagine. There are large, free databases of these catalogues online, like the International Foundation for Art Research.

Library Databases
If you live in a large city or are enrolled at a university, you likely have access to many helpful databases like ARTstor. These are great places to search the name of the artist or artwork you are looking into.

Artnet
Artnet has information on a large number of artists, historical and contemporary, and you can use their website for free. They include an artist’s work, auction results, and what work is currently available. Those last three resources will clear up a lot of questions, letting you see where a work lands in the artist’s biography and what that period usually goes for.

Zen and the Art of Artist Research

This might all seem like a lot, but once you get in the groove of things, it is quite manageable. The good news is, it gets easier every time. You’ll get to the point where you know what you need and where to find it by instinct. For now, just take your time and relax.

It is important to note that if an asking price turns out to be too high, you don’t have to give up on the work of art. You can determine what a fair price would be and make an offer. If the dealer or artist accepts, then you’ll know you got an honest deal. If they don’t, at least you know you tried.

Good luck and happy researching!