11th January 2019 About Art & Discussion

The Truth About Buying Art - 5 Myths Debunked

Woman Buying Art

It's time to set the record straight. What's fact and what's fluff when it comes to buying art?

Melissa-Galley-Avatar-Profile-Pic.jpg#asset:26753:icon114By Chelsea Moore | 6 minute read

The art world.

What comes to mind when someone utters these words?

Is it glitz and glamour? The rich and famous congregating at show openings to sip champagne and talk business? Perhaps the dizzying figures spent at auction battles?

It's true that there is a certain allure and mystery to the art world, but how much of this image holds true to reality?

Whilst life in the art market is a constantly evolving, pulled by trends and traditions, torn between culture and commerce, there are a few things that remain the same - namely the mistaken views of people regarding how it all works.

We asked the public what assumptions they had when it came to buying art, here are 5 common answers - and the truth about them.

David Bowie's Art captivates collectors at Sotheby's.

1) 'You have to be rich to buy art'

'Art is reserved for the top 1% of the population who can actually afford to buy useless items like art'.

Of course, having a sizeable stash of disposable income doesn't hurt, but the truth is that art really is like any other purchase - there's plenty of different options at different price points, spend what you can afford and if it's more, save up.

Yes, buying artwork isn't for those living on a shoestring, but you don't have to be a person of high status to own artwork. Whilst in the past it was only the noblemen or the aristocrats who commissioned paintings (usually of themselves) - nowadays the low cost manufacture of the materials required to make art has made it more affordable to produce and hence, to own.

Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, by Lemuel Francis Abbott

If you look for them, there are some real bargains to be had - original prints and photography for example can be the best value - with pieces to be found for under £200!

You can find affordable art in places like art fairs and online marketplaces which are just a click away. Whilst if you fancy a more hands on approach, you can find great artwork from emerging artists at your nearest Degree show.

By going on the University's website you can look at what to expect from the current art students, as well as looking at previous shows where the artists contact details can be found.

Plymouth Collage of Art - Degree show

If you chose to visit a gallery it is worth a note that they may have more artists than the ones on display - ask if they have any earlier career artists in stock as these may be more affordable than the more well-known ones on display.

Artists prices may vary, while you may have to save up to buy the painting you want, some galleries allow you to buy on finance, meaning you can pay in segments - just like a car, sometimes even with no interest!

The importance of artwork being available to all has become more apparent in the past few years, and this scheme allows the chance for someone to own their dream painting for a small fee each month.

I think it's always important to stress however, that it shouldn't be a race to the bottom! The aim isn't to find 'the best price'. It's finding something you love.

When you are purchasing an art work you are investing in the skills an artist has, as well as materials, reputation and their on going development. Some artists are self taught, whilst others went through years of vigorous training at Art Schools.

However they chose to start their careers, a large amount of time and effort has taken place for the artist to perfect their craft and create the single piece you see in front of you today.

Don't know where to start? Take a look at our new and emerging artists for example.

Image result for support living artists

2) 'Galleries make lots of money'

'So, we might not have to be rich to buy art, but surely the people selling it are rich! They're selling paintings of coloured squares for thousands of pounds!'

Despite the posturing and the pretence, the seductive image of running an art gallery can often bear about as much resemblance to reality as giraffes do to hamsters.

The art world is tough, the rules are mysterious to the uninitiated, and only a lucky few make money.

The Global Art Gallery report for 2016 by Magnus Resch was the largest survey ever done on Art Galleries, collecting information from 8,000 galleries across the UK, USA and Germany.

By asking questions such as 'how much profit do galleries generate' and 'how many employees does it hold' he discovered as much as 30% of galleries actually run at a loss! And only 18% make a profit margin over 20% - with one in four galleries making 20% or more of their yearly revenue at Art Fairs.

Average Profit Margin discovered by Magnus Resch, Phaidon

Selling artwork is a speculative endeavour. Commercial galleries exhibit artists work with no money exchanging hands - the artist provides the artwork and the artwork is hung in hopes they will make a sale. Only upon the successful sale of a piece will the galleries make any money.

Their commission could range anywhere from 10% to 50% based on the artists reputation, the medium and the gallery location. In Resch's research 55% of galleries generated less than 200,000 dollars annually, with only 16% of galleries exceeding the million dollar mark in 2016.

In many cases galleries might not sell an artwork for weeks, and while there is no money coming in, there are fixed expenses going out - such as rent, insurance, security, advertising, staff etc. This is maybe why 40% of galleries have no full time employees with as much as 11% of galleries having no staff at all.

Urbane Art Gallery - Edinburgh

3) 'Dealers just try to sell you artwork they want to sell'

'If it it's so tough for galleries - they'll just try to sell me their most expensive piece!'

Maybe there is a painting thats been in storage for 1 year too many, or they personally don't like the style you're going for. They will try to inflict their style on you because 'they know better'.

True that the gallery or dealer will only represent the art that they respect - that's just how it is. But a professional Art Consultant or Gallery owner will not force you to buy something you do not like.

Most realise that it is not possible to "sell" art - clients either love a piece or they don't, it is an emotional or other kind of trigger which starts a client liking a piece and then deciding to buy it. The dealers job is to present the work well, inform visitors about the artists and their work and let the art speak for itself.

Gallerist describing a piece to a potential client. Source: Art Business News

A professional consultant will help you decide on the artwork of your choice through professional opinion not personal! These employees will know the in's and out's of the artist and the artwork you have in mind, so any question you have, you should feel assured that you are getting the correct information you need.

Staff can even give advice on placement in your home, either by viewing pictures of your home to get a rough idea of the space available, or home approval where consultants bring a number of artworks to the clients home to try out.

They want to see you happy at the end of the day because buying art is an experience, and if you have a memorable one, you're going to return and buy from them again!

4) 'You have to know your Monet from your Manet'

'I don't know anything about art. How can I possibly spend so much money on something I don't understand!'

Argenteuil by Claude Monet vs Bank of Siene at Argenteuil by Edouard Manet, Steemit

If you don't know anything about art - how can you be sure you're paying a fair price? People think they need to know a lot about art so they aren't hoodwinked - so they don't pay over the odds.

Galleries and dealers tend to monitor prices of artworks on a regular basis to ensure what they are charging is the right price. It is not in the galleries interest to hike up the price of an artwork as this actually damages the artists reputation.

By increasing the price of an artwork to more than it's worth is poor judgement on the galleries behalf as seasonal collectors and even first time buyers won't buy. Having to lower the price again is not good for the artists career and they'll promptly find someone else to represent them.

Artwork by Wu Yu from Akartasia


Knowing about art doesn't necessarily mean having a degree in Art History.

Understanding some of the basics is just as important. Brush up on common art terms, research tips for first time art buyers and get advice on what is best to avoid when buying artwork.

The common phrase 'trust your instinct' plays a major role in buying artwork. You might not know what impressionist art is when you arrive and you may have come to the gallery with a completely different choice in mind. But that doesn't make your choice wrong and the gallery staff certainly wont be judging you if you change your mind.

You can understand more by simply getting out there and going to museums or shows or even following an artist you like on social media. You don't need to be an art buff, you just need to take an interest!


5) 'It should be an investment'

'What if I change my mind and want to sell? I ought to buy something that will go up in value!'

It really is best to buy artwork without imagining that you will be able to re-sell it later on. The art world is often at the whim of trends and what is hot in that moment, might not be so hot in the years to come.

Whilst art does have the power to accumulate value over time - the average return of investment grade artwork is around 4% according to Melanie Gerlis, author of Art as an Investment? - but without the help of a professional (and a fair bit of money) it's not easy to make those returns, especially on contemporary work.

Basquiat Painting sells at Sotheby's Auction

There's not many guarantees especially at the lower end of the contemporary market, that any art you purchase will appreciate value over time. Art Critic Brian Sewell even went so far to state that “no one should buy works of art for investment” as art is for “pleasure and enlightenment”.

We recommend that it should really be treated as an 'investment' of another kind. An investment in yourself and an investment into the artist you have patronised! An artwork is enjoyed more when you have an emotional reaction or connection with it, and this usually comes from your love for the artwork not the love for money.

You are essentially investing in yourself as art is a way to express yourself. It should pay dividends in terms of the visual pleasure it will give you each time you see it!

Bronze Sculpture by Carol Peace

We said 5 - but there's just so many we had to add a few little extras!

Artists have to go to a well-known art school to be any good.

Some of the worlds most famous artists were self taught, Vincent Van Gogh, Frida Khalo and Yoko Ono! Although having attended an established art school will certainly help with their training, the quality of their artwork isn't directly related to who has taught them.

Expensive art = good art.

Leonardo da Vinci's artwork Salvator Mundi recently became the most expensive painting in the world, selling for $460.3 million. Is it the best painting in the world? Probably not.

Do I like other less expensive paintings more? Definitely. It's all about context. An artist at the beginning of their career can produce fantastic art at a cheap price. Leonardo da Vinci sells for millions because, well, everyone's heard of Leonardo da Vinci.

Image result for salvator mundi price

The art world is like a little exclusive club and you can't get in.

Anyone who is interested or involved in art knows how much their arty contemporaries love to natter on about the art world and everything in it. Whether you are completely oblivious or have little knowledge, people within the art world love to impress new people and educate in a manner that is friendly and exciting. It's not all secret handshakes and under the table deals and we're not all snobs!

Artists don’t buy art.

Artists love to patronise other artists. Obviously they know the pain of producing art and can deeply appreciate the work of another.

One of the more famous artists who's known for buying a lot of art is Damien Hirst. He opened up his own private gallery in London in 2015 where he boasts a 3,000 piece collection. Hirst isn't the only artist with a private gallery, Thomas Schutte, Wim Delvoye and Zeng Fanzhi all own galleries for their collections.

Londons National Gallery hosted an exhibition in 2015 called Painters' Paintings featuring 80 artworks from a variety of artists collections.

Most artists gain art through trading or swapping with their peers, where the value is more sentimental and intimate than about the financial gain.

Newport Street Gallery © 2015 Caruso St John Architects. Pharmacy 2 exterior_Prudence Cuming Associates © 2H Restaurant Ltd.

Selling art is easy to do.

See above - If it were so easy then more galleries might make a profit!