Buying art is an entirely personal and subjective endeavour - it's a matter of taste and artistic preference. What you like probably won't ignite anyone else's artistic flame and vice versa. But if you're going to immerse yourself in the art market, chances are you're getting involved for two reasons: firstly, because you have a real passion for art, and secondly because you want to purchase pieces to accumulate some kind of investment.
Image by: Cuba Gallery
There's no shortage of art to buy nowadays, and the market is open to everyone with an interest, from the enthusiastic amateur to the hard-boiled multi-millionaire professional.
It goes without saying that if you're going to buy art then buy what you like and what instinctively compels, excites and enthuses you. So from art galleries to auctions, here are some of the best ways – pros and cons included - to buy art (and hopefully make a few shrewd investments too). By the same token, there's a myriad of avenues for you to explore and purchase art, from galleries and museums to small shops and independent curators to art fairs and pop-up venues.
The familiarity of the art gallery
Forget the image of the fusty art gallery patrolled by a pompous, posh-voiced, leather-elbowed, bespectacled authoritarian. Today's galleries are much more warm and inviting, offering everyone the chance to peruse their exhibitions. Most galleries have rolling exhibitions too, which give you the opportunity to see work by different artists every few weeks.
Art galleries afford you the chance to see works face-to-face, and there will be a variety of different pieces to contrast, compare, mull over and muse over which one you like best. Galleries also let you see which pieces are attracting interest and selling well, perhaps a good indicator of a wise investment.
It's worth remembering, nevertheless, that if you buy any artwork from a high street gallery they'll be taking a hefty slice of the price tag figure for themselves.
The professionalism of the art dealer
The art dealer's key role is to communicate between buyers and artists, acting as a kind of intermediary and matching your criteria by understanding exactly what you're looking for. There's no question that, if you opt for a good dealer, the art buying process can save you a whole lot of time.
And because they're specialists in the art market, they'll be able to anticipate peaks, trends and fluctuations in an ever-changing market and make the right decisions for you, as well as creating a market for particular artists simply by representing them.
Nevertheless you need to consider that a not-so-proficient art dealer could end up costing you time and hard cash, and one that doesn't specialise in the kind of art you're looking for could leave you exasperated and empty-handed.
The opportunities of online art
Online transactions have changed practically every aspect of our daily shopping and perusing experience – and it's no difference in the art world.
Looking for art online is a near-perfect way of sifting through galleries of collected artworks by a variety of artists in a multitude of styles. It gives you the widest possible selection of art in a raft of genres, from landscape to abstract, figurative to still life, and opens your eyes to artists and approaches you may not have even considered before. You can build your own galleries of preferred art and compare styles and prices.
And as with anything online, you can scrutinise everything at your leisure with nobody badgering or pressuring you – and there's no closing time either.
Scouting for art online, however, isn't the same as seeing the real, physical version, hindering size and proportion. It's also easy to get a bit mouse-happy, get carried away and over-step your budget.
The variety of art fairs
Art fairs are the perfect way to mix with an eclectic range of styles and tastes as well as new, upcoming artists and more established ones. And because these events offer a more casual artistic experience, you're under a lot less pressure to buy than you may feel in an art gallery.
Because they run for a limited period, though, their busy, hustle and bustle nature can render spending a lot of time on pieces difficult, and you can get caught up in the fast-paced adrenaline rush it creates and make an impulsive, possibly expensive, purchase you might later regret.
The thrill of the auction
Bonham's, Christie's and Sotheby's might be the most well-known contemporary auction houses, but auctioneering is a practice that dates back to the 17th century. Basically a way of determining the value of a product, pieces can have a maximum or minimum reserve or none at all – if the minimum price isn't hit then there isn't a sale.
Auction houses can be an exciting, dynamic, thrilling and tense environment for art collectors. The proliferation of auction programmes such as Flog It! and Bargain Hunt have also re-energised people's enthusiasm for auctions, and they're currently experiencing a boom period.
You never know when you might stumble across an art-work you like, one that's valuable, or both – but remember values go down as well as up. New and inexperienced art enthusiasts might also feel out their depth in the frenetic, sometime confusing, often intimidating confines of an auction house, or be out-bid by serious collectors prepared to spend serious cash.
The freshness of graduate shows
Every year, a cornucopia of art graduates hold exhibitions of their work – and they’re the ideal opportunity to sample a taste of the next generation's artistic talent. They'll be of a certain standard because they've graduated, and you'll have a chance to talk to them and perhaps some of the talent scouts, representatives and dealers who invariably attend these events. And because it's the work of artists in their infancy, the pieces will be affordable.
Nevertheless it is the work of an amateur whose style and approach will develop and change – and don't be emotionally blackmailed into purchasing a work just because the artist has talked to you.
Ultimately you'll need to follow your own impulses and instincts when it comes to art that satisfies and nourishes you, but these are certainly good places to look for art, regardless of whether you’re a keen amateur or seasoned professional collector.
Have you got any other good tips and recommendations for buying art? Share your suggestions below.