10 essential tips to consider when buying art for your home
By Daniel Lee-Jacobs I 8 min read
For many people, the art world can seem like a confusing and mysterious realm synonymous with long words, hushed voices and high price tags. With multi-million pound auction sales grabbing headlines, you’d be forgiven for thinking that buying art was reserved only for the rich. However, the truth is, that there is plenty of great affordable art out there which can transform and personalise your home.
We’ve reviewed the advice of art collectors, leaders in the industry and interior designers to give you our top 10 essential tips on buying art for your home. These will help you on your journey from discovery to purchase, and ultimately placing in your home or workspace.
1) Get to know your style
- Most people’s biggest fear when buying art is that they will appear ignorant when trying to explain what they like. Art has its own special language which can take some getting used to. It often helps to get to grips with the basic art movements, styles and mediums so you can start to understand the art you’re typically drawn to.
- A great way of doing this is by visiting museums or public galleries and seeing what catches your eye. That way you can determine whether you might be a fan of ‘figurative’ or ‘cubist’ art or whether oil or watercolours are more your style. Don’t overlook sculpture or ceramics either! The internet is also a great tool for browsing through enormous online galleries where work catalogued by style or medium can help you identify what style suits you.
- Don’t worry if you find that you have an eclectic taste and are drawn to numerous different art forms and styles. However, try to identify the themes which are cross-cutting i.e. an appreciation for detail, an attraction to sweeping scenery or an affinity for bright bold colour?
- Check out our continually growing ‘Simple Guide to Common Art Terms’, to get a plain-english explanation of the movements and styles you may come across (with helpful pictures!)
2) Have a space in mind
- Perhaps there’s a wall in your house which looks particularly bare or a certain room which is yearning for some colour to bring it to life; having a space in mind allows you to narrow down your search based on basic requirements such as size at the very least. Without making too many generalisations, a modern home with more whites and neutrals can often accommodate bolder more colourful works or abstracts. In contrast a 19th century home with more woods and darker wallpapers, may well be more attuned to more muted colour tones or watercolours to maintain an intimate homely feel. (If you want this look check out this great article.)
- Don’t always fall into the trap of thinking you need to fill a large wall with a large piece of artwork. Consider perhaps making a gallery wall or hanging a number of small and medium sized works in an organised cluster to add depth and detail.
- Talk to some of our friendly personal shopping team if you need some help getting inspiration for your space (it’s free!).
3. Set a Budget
- A high price tag doesn’t always signify higher quality or ‘better’ art. Pricing is a complex subject which I won’t go into depth about here; but for the most part, market demand determines the valuation. This is why you’ll discover work by emerging or local artists priced much more affordably than even a simple sketch by the likes of Matisse or Peter Blake.
- So, be realistic about what you can afford and whether you prefer owning art by a known-name. However small your budget, gallery owners and artists will still appreciate your interest and custom (but don’t walk into the big names like Pace or Gagosian expecting such a bargain!) With local galleries even larger scale works can be found below the £1,000 mark and limited-edition prints are always a great option for those on a budget. University graduate shows can also be a brilliant place to pick up cheaper work. And don’t be afraid to discuss flexibility on price - if a gallery owner or artist knows you’re serious about the purchase, usually a small discount can be negotiated.
4. Shop around
- Physically or virtually it’s best to check what’s available from a number of vendors. Not necessarily for reasons of price comparison, but because there’s just so much choice! When you find something you love you’ll know! The benefit of online browsing is the ability to quickly look through lots of work and filter your search based on your budget or size constraints. You might even find an artist you like and be able to see the work they have available across multiple galleries or dealers.
- Although it’s not always easy or possible, seeing the art up close before you buy is recommended, as pictures are not always the best representations of the colour or texture of an artwork and what might catch your eye online, might not be the same in person. Visiting a gallery and talking to an owner can also give a whole new perspective. Gallery owners, artists or art dealers love talking about art (obviously) so taking the time to converse with them or other art collectors can provide insights which you might not get online.
5. Be open-minded!
- There is constant ongoing innovation in terms of the mediums and techniques being employed by artists nowadays. Lightboxes, metalwork, blown glass, collage, resin, videography, the list goes on - you can find a whole host of interesting mediums out there beyond simple paintings and prints.
- We’ve come across artists using masking tape overlaid on lightboxes to create amazing film noir scenes; hot filaments to burn and etch paper to create intricate drawings; even woven threadwork over canvas to create 3D abstractions. You may be surprised what you find, even in the most unlikely of places. And you may even be surprised to find that a large sculpture or a beautiful piece of blown glass may be more suited to your space than a piece of wall-art.
- You often find certain galleries have a style and collection that you immediately identify with; and so it’s just a matter of finding which piece, independent of the medium which really stands out for you.
6. Investigate the story behind the art or artist
- If you’re not buying from the artist directly, it’s always pertinent to ask about them or read up about their career, positions held (resident artist / professor / lecturer etc.) exhibition history, awards / prizes / honors or existing public or private collectors. This will give you an idea of the quality of the artist and the significance of their work, which will allow you to understand whether the price you are paying is fair. In his book ‘The Art of Buying Art’, Alan Bamberger says ‘this exercise is not only fascinating and educational, but it also gives you greater insight into what the art is all about and, incidentally, how much the seller knows (or cares) about whatever he or she is selling’.
- By finding out more about the artist or their artwork, you might be amazed to hear how it was produced or the inspiration behind it which gives new meaning. You may attach greater significance to the work due to this understanding or appreciation of the skill which went into making it.
7. Fully understand your potential purchase
- ‘Original artworks’ are fairly straight forward in that they are unique pieces of art for which no copies exist. They are more expensive as they are handcrafted by the artist and are truly one of a kind. If the piece was not produced in the last decade, the condition of the work will play a role in its price and therefore signs of wear should be investigated.
- When buying prints on the other hand, things can become more complicated. Nowadays, the word ‘print’ is used generically to describe both digitally reproduced and hand-printed work and it is not always made clear which process has been used in the prints production. Reproductions are digital copies, often of another art form. For example, an artist may produce an original watercolour painting and reproductions of that work (most often ‘giclées’) are made by capturing a high resolution image of the original, which is then printed using advanced inkjet printers onto a medium such as archival cotton rag paper. Due to the high quality of inks and surfaces available today, this can give them the look and textural feel of original art. However, they are not originals, even if they are hand signed or part of a limited edition. Only hand-printed works that have been manually produced by the artist through traditional print-making processes (such as linocut, etching, woodcut, screen-printing, collograph or monoprint) can be called original prints. (Digital artwork and photography are the only exception to this rule, where the very first digital print is the so-called ‘original’).
- Finally, keep safe any receipt, certificate, invoice and documentation you are given when you purchase any artwork as this is what is used to authenticate and value it. All reputable galleries will offer a certificate of authenticity.
Hand-Printing on Linen
8. Buy art for investment or pleasure, not both
- Buying art for your home and buying art for investment are often two different pursuits. Of course there are instances where buying art for your home may turn out to be a great investment. The profile and stature of the artist may increase, making your artwork intrinsically more valuable, but don’t rely on that happening. Some even suggest that buying art you don’t like can make the best investment - as you are not blinded by your attraction to the artwork and can more rigorously assess the future potential of the artist.
- Furthermore, buying for investment is not a simple task and is dependent on a huge multitude of factors relating to the artist and the individual piece of artwork in consideration. It is also typically a long-term investment; which requires buying early on in the artists career and usually waiting a significant period until the artist gets exhibition space at well-known or public galleries (or even dies!) before their work can command significant prices and resale opportunities. If you’re looking for a short-term investment maybe go for that bitcoin*! (*This is not investment advice)
9. Treat it like a long-term asset
- Trends in interior design come and go, but a piece of artwork can become a lifelong partner that is kept and passed down from your generation to the next. Find something you will enjoy looking at frequently if not daily and don’t be afraid to make a statement with your style. You don’t have to follow the crowd and buy from only well-known artists, there are hidden gems everywhere.
- And once you’ve found something you connect with, don’t pass up on the opportunity to buy it. Originals are one of a kind and once they’re gone, they’re gone. Ask any art collector and they will tell you of an artwork they sold or passed on the opportunity to buy that they still think about today.
- The famous Spanish painter Joan Miró said that “in a picture, it should be possible to discover new things every time you see it . . . you can look at a picture every day for a week and never think of it again. You can also look at a picture for a second and think of it all your life.”
- Nowadays, a number of galleries offer the ‘Buy Art’ scheme, which allows you to pay for a piece of artwork over a series of equal monthly installments with no interest. This can make a large upfront investment a lot more manageable.
10. Don’t overlook the finishing touches
- Congratulations! You found something amazing that you cherish and adore. Now, make sure you do the little things to make it really stand out. With paintings and prints, framing and hanging is an important business. A common mistake is to hang the artwork too high - it should be at eye level when standing and less than a foot higher than the top of your sofa. Unless you are creating a gallery wall, it’s also advisable to leave a fair amount of wall space around the artwork to allow it to shine in its own right. (Our Trends & Inspiration Articles have more great tips on these Interior Design topics)
- Additionally, whilst the frame can make an artwork stand out, it can also take over. Thick or thin, bold or restrained, metal or wooden, take the time to pick wisely with the help of a framer and if it’s an original, consider using UV-protected glass or placing out of direct sunlight to avoid fading. Similarly for a sculpture - placing on a mount or stand rather than on the floor can give it greater presence.
That’s everything folks! Happy hunting and thanks for reading!
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