I don’t know how to buy art (but I’m learning)

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Truth be told, and I hate to admit it, but I don’t really know how to buy art. I’ve been on the other side of it for a while now, and that I kind of get. So when you buy something from me at a market or from my site, I’m a little in awe. Of all the beautiful art in the world, you made a decision about one piece and invested in it. And, let’s be honest, you invested in yourself. Paintings aren’t groceries or car insurance. I imagine we could live happy, secure lives without them. But you– you saw something and thought, I like that. I want to look at it more. I want to own it. Not because it could fill your belly or reorganize your life but because you value your own perception of beauty, your own power to just behold something. You rock.

I want to be like you, I really do. But I get squirmy trying to decide what art I will buy and where it will go and if I will still like it a decade from now. I feel uneasy and awkward making that transition from appreciating a work of art to making an investment in it. I want to buy a lot of art but since both wall space and finances are limited, I put pressure on myself to buy the “right” art. Enter my son Ezra who, at six years old, bought his first piece of art at a market several months ago. We were strolling along when we came upon a booth with a large display of wooden sculptures. Ezra, who in the last couple of years has developed an interest/obsession with fishing, saw a sculpture of a redfish that he immediately wanted to take home. The artist talked to us about the wood he used to make the base, driftwood from Katrina. I listened with fascination as Ezra tugged on my arm asking me on repeat if we could buy it. I told him we’d have to really think about it, so we walked away on another errand and chatted about it for a while. Did he really want to use the money from his savings account? Did he think he would put the sculpture in his own home one day, the first of a bigger collection?

We ended up detouring to the bank and made a withdrawal from his account to pay for the artwork. That was back in March, and he still loves his purchase, proudly showing it to anyone who comes through our front door. 

Ezra’s taught me a lot over the years, and this was no exception. I’ve tried to follow his example and become more of an art buyer not just appreciator. I still find myself strangely nervous about it, not quite sure how exactly to go about it smartly, but, recently, when an artist I admire, Leslie Duke, posted that she still had select limited edition prints available in her online store, I pulled the trigger and bought one. It took some debating, some back and forth. I love all her work and had trouble choosing. I thought of Ezra, how he picked the fish that first caught his eye, the one one that made him tug at my sleeve, the one that pulled him in. 

When my print arrived in the mail, I knew I’d made a great choice. Now framed, it hangs proudly in my living room, not all that far from an old wooden display table that holds a carefully carved sculpture of a redfish. 

At the end of the day, art buying scares me because I don’t think I quite trust myself — as though I’m at a blind wine tasting, and I will choose as my favorite the grocery store box wine instead of the expensive ten year old French Bordeaux. But Ezra’s helped me start to trust myself, to look for what speaks to me, for what I can’t stop thinking about. And should my taste change, and I sure hope it doesn’t stay stagnant but evolves, my collection will simply grow. I don’t really want a house full of one type of art anyway. I want each piece to become part of my story– one that speaks of a person who trusts her own perceptions of beauty, her own ability to behold. 

I am so curious about your experiences buying art. Any advice, regrets, revelations, fears, joys? What makes you want to own something? What artists’ work do you own? I’d love to check them out. 

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Picture of Denise Hopkins

Denise Hopkins

July 31, 2019

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