Five Guidelines for Purchasing Art

Art doesn’t have many rules, but it’s just how you talk about it and buy it. Based on some frequently asked questions by collectors, here is some basic etiquette for talking to and working with artists.

Can I approach an artist directly and ask them to purchase an artwork I saw in a gallery?

Rule 1: If you discovered something you like at a gallery, show, or through a self-sufficient art dealer, you should do business there. Respect the artist-gallery relationship when working with art galleries.

WHY: When collectors avoid the gallery, usually because they believe they can get a better deal by cutting out the middleman, they are endangering the artist’s business.

When unfaithful artists are discovered, they are usually kicked out of the gallery. Losing this relationship can hurt an artist’s career even though they lose the consistency and advantages of having someone portray them and describe their work and the pricing system.

“Many artists have left galleries and gone on their own to sell their artwork.” “I’ve learned that having a long-standing relationship with a respected photo album and keeping solid prices for your work go hand in hand,” said painter Billyo O’Donnell.

TIP: Collaborate with the dealer. Be open and honest. Ask as many questions as possible; their job is to educate and guide you through the process. Furthermore, if meeting the artist is essential to you and, in my opinion, should be part of your final decision, have the dealer facilitate. 

What if you view art at a show and it does not sell after the show is over? If you buy it, who gets the commission?

Rule 2: People can argue this point, but in my opinion, if you saw something you liked but didn’t buy at the show venue, it’s still considered proper to either run the selling through the exhibition or put the artist forward to the commission to the show for a reasonable amount of time after the show’s close.

WHY: Artists require shows, and shows require dependable artists. When everything is going well, it’s a fantastic relationship. Collectors contribute to the peace by recognizing and supporting this vital business relationship.

TIP: Both juried and open tournament shows have an end date. So, truthfully, if it has been a month or prolonged if the artwork has been sent to a gallery—the commission, not the show, would be taken. National exhibitions are frequently established to benefit a specific cause; probably support the case regardless of whether you decide to purchase a work from the show.

When is it appropriate to request a discount on artwork from an art gallery?

Rule 3: Discounts are given to devoted customers who work with a dealer almost exclusively and purchase significant amounts of art from that dealer at once.

WHY: Before trying to dismiss art became commonplace, dealers used it as a perk for their finest collectors. Traditionally, 10% was and still is split between the gallery and the artist, for each side absorbing 5%.

The biggest issue with frequent discounts is that they devalue the artist’s work across the board, implying that everybody who bought a piece without a deal overpaid.

TIP: Before requesting a discount, collectors should understand how prices are set.

Painting prices are frequently calculated by the square inch; for example, 1620 is 320 sq in, at $10 per, and the artwork will be priced at $3,200. The price of an auditioned work is determined by the size, the complexity of the work—how many plates for a hand-pulled print, for example—and importance or relevance, especially with photography.

When I commission an artwork, how much say do I have? Can I participate in the creative process?

Rule 4: The artist is not a carbon copy of you.

WHY: Commissioning an artist does not give you free rein to specify anything other than the size, medium, and subject matter you wish to acquire. When beginning the commission process, remember that the artist does not live in your head and that you are not doing the work they do for a living.

Here are some dos and don’ts when commissioning artwork:

  • Sign a contract once you agree on a notion, price, and completion date. Sample commission contracts can be found here.
  • Allow the artist to create without any preconceived notions.
  • You can request updates throughout the process, but that’s it—no unexpected studio visits, no emailing color recommendations, or photos of your dog for the artist to incorporate.
  • Many artists decline commissions, so don’t expect everybody to jump at the opportunity.
  • Almost every artist I know has a scary story about a client who decided to dictate changes and cure the artist like a servant in the middle of a project. As a result, either the client was fired, or the completed work was rushed to get rid of the client.
  • Consider hiring a dealer or advisor to oversee the process; they can work through issues and keep the project on track.
  • Expect to pay 50% of the total cost before the artist begins work. Enter this relationship knowing that you won’t get your money back if you don’t like the finished product.
  • Do not commission an artist to recreate an existing work of art, especially one by a different artist! Original art, whether created or not, is precise: original and one-of-a-kind.
  • One final point about commissions: if you want a particular vision that is not in the style of the artist you have been commissioning, think about taking art lessons. Who knows, maybe you’re an artist trying to get out!

What should I expect from a studio visit?

Rule 5: Never arrive unannounced. You should always confirm your appointment. Do not presume you can buy anything at the studio or that the work you see is available at “wholesale.”

WHY: Studios are holy places. They are both unique and creative, as well as professional work environments. So, prepare for an incredible behind-the-scenes experience by investigating the artist ahead of time. You’ll have a foundation of knowledge and will be able to dive right in.

TIP: Keep your opinions to yourself. Art will be in various stages of completion in a studio. The artist has a view, whether they have been struggling through a job, trying something different, or attempting to make something work that has been resisting them all along. 

Pose inquiries. If you don’t know something, ask. If the author creates a term or refers to an aspect of the work you’re unfamiliar with, ask them to explain. Artists enjoy talking about what they know best—their work.

Tell the artist what you enjoy and what piques your interest in the work. This is an excellent way to learn more about the method and what inspired it. Alternatively, if there is a work that you dislike, you could inquire about it without passing judgment to learn why the artist believes it is effective.

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