1. Why does it cost so much?
The answer depends on where you’re looking at the piece you’re considering. Are you in a gallery? Consider the industry practice of 50% that goes to the dealer, the cost of framing, installation that’s sometimes taken out of the artist’s cut, sometimes the dealer covers, marketing and advertising, overhead (electric, rent, phone bill, etc). Are you at an art fair? Consider the insurance premiums, travel, hotel cost, shipping materials, gas/airfare for the artist and the blood, sweat and tears. You’re going to pay a premium but in this case, you may feel a personal connection to the artist and you have an opportunity to meet and learn about his or her work ethic, inspiration and vision. And that’s priceless.
If you’re buying a piece by a “known artist”, which I personally define as someone that has an auction record, studied in academic realms and is being shown in museums, or represented by a reputable gallery, you’re going to pay a premium because they’re sought after no matter what the subject matter, even if they’re considered a conceptual artist. Art prices driven into seven figures has to do with precedent set at auction and high end private transactions. Since auctions account for about a quarter of the art market, you can imagine how much it influences numbers.
If you’re vacationing and in a tourist gallery, you’re going to pay a premium whether the artist is known or unknown. Do not buy things based on what you’re hearing or what returns the dealer tells you are possible in the future. If you go to Hawaii and buy a $5,000 painting of a dolphin jumping out of the water, you better love the hell outta that dolphin. For a long time.
2. Do you shoot Canon or Nikon or something else? And does it matter?
People almost always ask this. Since its origin photography continues to be made more accessible to consumers. Does this mean there are more photographers out there? No, just more people that can take pictures. Photography literally breaks down to “light writing” meaning the ability to control or work with light to capture a scene or moment. Those that feel what you shoot with makes a difference are the same that thought Dippin Dots revolutionized ice cream. Cameras cost different prices so that camera companies can establish multiple markets. Sure, some cameras generate much larger files and/or capture repeatedly much faster than others, and if you have that need then that’s your answer, but realistically the entry level dSLR can achieve the same results, given the knowledge of controlling light.
3. Should I buy that painting?
If you love it/want to support the artist/know that you’re buying it to enjoy yourself and not impress anyone, then yes.
4. Where should I hang it?
Measure the height of the piece and make a note of the midpoint. That mark should hang 60 inches up from the floor. This is general rule of thumb and widely practiced by professionals in the field. If it’s larger than say, 20 inches in any direction, don’t hang it in a hallway where you can’t stand far away to get the full effect. Most people hang art too high and generally on a wall that’s not proportional to the piece. An 8 x 10 inch frame will look awfully lonely on a large wall by itself. A piece that size is better housed on an accent wall, nook or with other pieces around it.
Also consider humidity, how much direct sun and the amount of air conditioning that is directed at the piece. Oil paintings are extremely delicate to extreme changes in temperature and photographs should never be hung in direct sun. If you have the opportunity to, work with a professional framer so they can advise you on what kind of glass each piece should be housed under.
5. Why does the one on top cost more than the one on the bottom?
In an era when upholstery was king in the household, husband and wife team Charles and Ray Eames’s collaboration in answering a previous design flaw (from a competition that Charles had entered with architect and designer Eero Saarinen) resulted in the ubiquitous Eames Lounge Chair Wood or what is known in the industry as LCW. With two separate pieces and particular construction of separate molded wood and rubber mounts, the technology used to create this multi-layer chair was cutting edge at the time.
It was eventually noticed by George Nelson at Herman Miller at continues to be manufactured to their specific material and design plans today. The reason the chair on the top costs so much is because it’s a piece of art even though it’s been replicated many times. It can be resold, although some versions of LCW may resell for more than others depending on demand, quantity of that particular model and condition of each piece. On top of the quality and materials, you’re also paying a premium for the licensing namesake.
The chair on the bottom is a knock-off of the Eames LCW, looks about the same (although the variation in the plywood on the bottom is not nearly as marbled or visually interesting as the Eames), but the construction and design will not be of the same caliber. It will also not resell or appreciate over time.
6. How long should I linger at a piece when I’m at the museum?
Image via History Lines
There’s no simple answer to this but generally, I believe that most people don’t look long enough. Find the ones that speak to you and try to figure out why. What elements draw you to the piece. How do the colors make you feel? Will this stick with you after you leave? Are you intrigued to do some research about this artist after you leave? I hope these few questions may spark your viewing experience the next time you visit a museum.
7. When will it be worth more?
If you’re buying a work by a “known artist” (see #1), generally a decade will yield some sort of return higher or at least slightly higher than what you bought it for. That is, unless you overpaid for it in the first place (again, refer to #1 for a definition of where you might over pay for something). If you’ve been given a certificate of authenticity or promised it’s limited edition, I can sell you the chair I’m sitting in and give you certificate of authenticity for that too…
8. Why can’t I shoot/design/make it myself?
You can! All the credit to you if you do and do it just as well as the professionals!
9. Can I try to negotiate a lower price?
Sometimes you can. But I ask that if you’re at an art fair where you’re dealing with the artist directly, please don’t offend them. They work very hard to travel, create work, pay the booth fee, lug all their work there, sit/stand all day. Maybe ask them to throw in a studio visit or deliver the piece if they’re local. If the piece is less than $500, I urge you not to negotiate at all. A dealer, go for it. But keep in mind they may take the loss out on the artist’s cut.
10. Who should I talk to if I want to buy art?
You should talk to us! We’ve dealt and handled everything from William Merritt Chase to Alexander Calder to Jen Stark. We’ll do the research to make sure that you’re buying what you can’t live without from a reputable source.
Photo of brokered work by Jen Stark, courtesy Carol Jazzar Gallery