Tips on Buying Art for Home or Office Abstract Paintings

Learn About the Artist, Then Buy the Art

Q: I was at an art auction preview last week and overheard two people talking about a painting in the sale. One said to the other that the painting was a late work and not worth bidding on. What is a late work, and are late works not worth buying or bidding on?

A: A late work refers to a work of art completed toward the end of an artist’s career. Whether or not a late work is “worth bidding on” depends on the artist. Late works can sometimes be commercial in nature, second-rate repeats of earlier successes, or may be inferior in other ways due to an artist’s advanced age. In general, collectors prefer early or mid-career works of art, but not always. Late works by Grandma Moses, for example, are highly collectible and definitely worth bidding on. Abstract Paintings for Home or Office.

You raise a broader question, though, which is what makes a particular piece of art, as you put it, worth bidding on? In other words, what about a work of art makes it great or good or noteworthy in any respect? The answer, in large part, involves understanding the life and art of the artist who made it.

One of the most common errors inexperienced art buyers make is buying without knowing much more than the names of the artists whose art they buy. They assume that just because an artist is well-known, any work of art signed by that artist is valuable, and that the signature alone is adequate justification for buying the art. Do you think, for example, that any piece of art with Chagall’s or Dali’s signature on it is automatically collectible, valuable, and good quality? If you do, you have no business buying art because some slick dealer’s gonna nail your ass. Plenty of Chagalls and Dalis are so insignificant that no informed buyer would ever buy them, no matter how cheap they are.

People overpay for inferior art all the time because they don’t have enough experience looking at art, and don’t know enough about the artists who made it to tell whether or not it’s any good. In fact, the main reason why poor quality art has any market at all is that people who have no idea what they’re doing buy it.

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All artists, even the most famous, make great art, good art, not so good art, and art that just plain sucks. If you want to buy good and avoid sucks, you better learn how to tell the difference BEFORE YOU EVEN THINK ABOUT BUYING PIECE NUMBER ONE. Here’s how to do it:

* Look through books, catalogues, articles, and reviews about the artist– as many as you can get your hands on, and from as many different sources as possible. Pay special attention to the illustrations because those are usually better quality examples.

* Talk with collectors who are familiar with the artist, dealers who deal in the artist, and even curators or critics– whenever and wherever you can. Have them explain to you what makes the good art good and why.

* Look at plenty of art by the artist– as much as you can and wherever you find it. Learn why one piece is more desirable or expensive, and the next one is not.

* Shop around. Get MULTIPLE opinions from MULTIPLE dealers BEFORE you buy. Do not settle exclusively on one dealer, no matter how compelling he or she is, until you have a good feel for the overall market.

* Don’t try to be clever and beat the bushes for bargains until you know what you’re doing (if you only think you know what you’re doing, then you’re not ready either). Rest assured that you will be taken to the cleaners if you do.

Getting your basic art education may sound like all work and no play, but quite the contrary. If you like art, learning about it by going places and looking at it, reading about it, and meeting interesting art people in the process is pure pleasure. And the fringe benefits are that the more you do, the better informed you get, and the more discriminating you become as a buyer.

Back to your original question, all artists have periods in their careers when the art they create is generally considered to be better than the art they create during other periods. The more you know about an artist, the easier you can identify which periods those are, what art produced during those periods looks like, where the best places are to find it, and what prices are fair to pay. Use this knowledge, which, to repeat, you acquire BEFORE YOU EVEN THINK ABOUT BUYING PIECE NUMBER ONE, when you shop from dealer to dealer and gallery to gallery. Not only will you eventually find the art that’s perfect for you, but you’ll have plenty of fun and adventure in the meantime.

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