People purchase art for all sorts of reasons: because the art speaks to them in some way, decorating their personal living space, as a souvenir, supporting artists who are relatives or friends, because they like the subject matter, because the colours will go well with their walls or couch, or as an investment. For those potentially purchasing fine art I offer a few “perspectives”.
Prior to purchasing a piece of art, examine it closely. You must like the piece above all else. If there is something that “bothers you” about the piece, I advise you not to purchase it, as that element will likely annoy you for ever more.
Quite frequently most artists who sell their work through commercial galleries are either fairly well or very well established, or it has been determined by someone with experience and knowledge that their work has the potential to either hold or increase its value over an extended period of time. Reputable commercial galleries sell at prices established or agreed upon by the artists themselves. Many painters sell their works at consistent prices reflecting size and medium rather than composition. Most professional artists have integrity and will not under sell their galleries, which they realize have relentless expenses such as monthly rent, staffing, utilities, promotion, etc. When approached to sell directly to a client, most try to determine where the client recently encountered their work, and will send the gallery its commission if it is one in which the artist’s work is currently being shown. The relationship between gallery and artist, therefore, requires a lot of mutual trust, and this can contribute to the reliability of your purchase.
Often, the purchase of a piece of art is impulsive in nature, which is fine if you like the work, wish to purchase it as a souvenir, or the subject matter has some significance to you, or “just because”. If you decide later on that you would like to purchase more of an artist’s work, perhaps to build a collection of three or more pieces, or as a potential long-term investment, then some homework is desirable. You can “go on line” to see what you can learn about an artist. Is the artist known across a fairly large area? Try to determine the track record of sales by the artist. Has the artist’s work ever sold at fine art auctions? If so, how frequently? Privately owned fine art auctions often suggest pre-sale estimates which can be very conservative relative to the current value of an artist’s work. Possibly this is because some of the works sold at those auctions are “older”, and not entirely representative of the work currently produced by that artist. Alternatively it may be because a corporation is divesting part of its collection in favour of changing decorative trends, or they have recently hired a fine art consultant who has different preferences from his or her predecessors. Quite frequently, however, works of art sell for sums that exceed or far exceed their pre-sale estimates.
Good artwork should consistently reflect the artist’s knowledge and understanding of the creative medium and a good grasp of the seven major principles of unity, balance, emphasis, contrast, movement, pattern, and rhythm. It should also reflect the seven major elements of colour, form, texture, line, shape, space, and value of art and design. In addition, one should consider the over-all longevity of the piece, care taken in its execution, and whether the artist has an established consistent “style” which is not derivative of another’s. With experience, one may be able to look across a room and determine the name of an established artist who painted or otherwise created a particular piece without having seen the signature. This is as true for the recognition of contemporary art as it applies to the recognition of works by the old masters.
Some types of prints are considered original art. These generally refer to those which have been created by hand, rather than having been created by photo-mechanical means. Low production hand-made prints tend to hold or increase in their value. Traditionally, limited edition prints have been signed by the artist, and are numbered with a fraction. The numerator of the fraction indicates the number of your print, and the denominator represents the total number of that print which has been released. APs (artist proofs) are traditionally “test” prints which are probably inferior to the regular edition. APs tend to be low in number, and have less value than the prints in the edition itself. In contrast, photomechanically produced APs are no different from the prints in the “regular” edition. Some companies have taken advantage of the lower number associated with APs, and charge slightly more for them. Some companies have promoted “time-limited” releases for prints. They would produce the number of prints ordered within a specific time, such as 90 days. Purchasers don’t know how many prints will be in the edition until after that period of time has elapsed. Therefore, I generally advise against purchasing under these circumstances.
Another reproduction method which has become popular over the past several years is the giclee. One of the advantages to artists is that they can be produced one or two at a time, without having to lay out a large sum of money for hundreds up front. These are also commonly numbered as a limited edition. Some artists add varying degrees of paint to giclees. These are known as “enhanced” giclees, and often the artist charges more for them under the guise that they are “more original”. Giclees do have their place, largely as decorative works, because they are often difficult to tell apart from an original. However, they are only rarely accepted at fine art auctions.
Some artists have been known to have more than one limited edition of the same image produced. Subsequent editions vary only because of their size. I suggest that you avoid purchasing prints with editions that exceed 150 in number. I have encountered so-called limited edition prints which have been produced in the thousands. An artist who neatly signs his/her name 25,000 times wouldn’t have a whole lot of time to paint. By the way, signing machines do exist. Fine art auctions do not generally accept limited edition photo-mechanically produced prints as they rarely hold their initial value.
About Investment Art:
Several sources which can be verified on-line indicate that the purchase of contemporary art has resulted in higher than average return over other types of investments throughout past 20 years. Commonly quoted average returns are in the 12% to 15 % range over the past 2 decades. There can be additional tax benefits to purchasing Canadian art if you are running a business from your home, or operate out of an office or other commercial venue which has public access to view the works. As long as the value of the piece exceeds $200.00, will be placed in an area visible to the public, has been painted by a Canadian artist or a permanent resident of Canada, and is not over 100 years old, the whole cost of the work can be written off against taxes over a period of time, commonly 5 years. GST associated with the initial purchase can also be claimed back as an ITC. I recommend that you consult a professional accountant regarding the current benefits of purchasing Canadian art.
Good art can be appreciated and collected by people from all walks of life. For centuries art has enhanced surroundings, offered viewing pleasure, provided comfort and serenity, enlivened atmospheres, encouraged creativity and discussions, and enriched our lives in numerous other ways.
Errol Brimacombe is an experienced artist and galleries in the Fraser Valley.