Written by established artist, Warren Keating, this is a primer for the beginning collector who wants to know how and what to look for when buying original artwork. This guide will also examine the exciting world of art acquisition on ebay. Some art terms will be defined, and Art World myths will be demystified.
Most people have no problem with asserting their individual taste when choosing a piece of furniture or a car, but are scared to approach artwork with the same confidence. My advice is to use your taste consistently; stay true to your individual likes and dislikes, and all of the art displayed in your house will look coordinated. Even if some of your guests disagree with your choices, they will be able to sense your personality in the things in your home, and that is the true evidence of “sophisticated taste.”
First, decide whether subject matter or style is more important. Some people want pastel versions of every type of subject to complement their furniture and architecture, and other people want an eclectic mix of paintings of teapots. Again, it goes back to taste, assert YOUR opinions and viewpoints in your art choices while choosing paintings that show mastery of the medium, and you can’t go wrong. Decide if you want the art to create a mood, make a statement, or represent the good things in life. Hundreds of years ago, noblemen commissioned paintings of their best horse, best buffet, best spoils of the hunt, etc. to show their guests the prestige they possessed in owning the “best” things without taking them out to the barn and showing them the real horse.
A lot of work falls in this category. Usually soft-edged as a result of the layered brush strokes, this popular style began in the late 1800’s by Monet, Renoir, Cassatt, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Degas, etc. Realism. Pretty self-explanatory, realism can be very stylized or very photo-realistic. Narrative, or realistic art is more popular today than 20 or 30 years ago, or even 40 years ago at the height of Abstract Art’s popularity. However, many Photo Realists evolve to a less realistic style over the years; one of the most notable is Chuck Close. Google his work if you are unfamiliar with the name.
Surrealism. Strange and often very detailed, Surrealist works are mostly narrative in that they usually depict things, but they do so in impossible ways, often with a weird bent. The most noted Surrealist was Salvador Dali.
This category is very broad also, but is typically artwork of a narrative or somewhat realistic nature, but depicting fantastical subject matter be it fairies or science fiction.
Basic art history states that the cubists Picasso and Braque painted the first abstract paintings in the 1920’s and 30’s, but, actually, the great Impressionist, Cezanne, painted some paintings in the 1890’s that followed abstract form. Abstract Art can be Expressionistic, that is, thick speeding brushstrokes of paint passionately applied, (Abstract Expressionism, William De Kooning) or flat, rational smooth shapes of color.
Finding a great piece of artwork for your home is like falling in love, you’ll know it when it happens. When it does, believe in your instincts and don’t be afraid to purchase. Remember, a pieces of art can be in your family for generations; don’t choose to purchase artwork because it looks like art that you’re supposed to buy, choose it because you love it. When buying art online, make sure that you have an accurate perception of what you’re making the bid on. Remember that colors look different on every monitor. Don’t be afraid to e-mail the seller to see more photos of the artwork if you are unsure, a good ebayer will be happy to oblige. When looking at paintings on ebay, cut out a piece of cardboard the size of the painting and/or the size of the framed painting and place it in the area where the art will hang. This helps tremendously when assessing whether or not the artwork is the right size for the spot you have in mind.
Sometimes you fall in love with a piece of art that your wall or wallet can’t fully support. Don’t be afraid to inquire about prints. Many artists have fine art gicleés, limited edition prints or even posters of their most popular works available. Often there are a variety of sizes to chose from, which can solve the constraints of your available wall space as well as budgetary concerns. For this kind of solution, I recommend Turning Art, a Netflix style art subscription. With a number of artist’s works to choose from (some of my own work is represented here as well), Turning Art sends you a framed print and when you are ready, you send the print back in a tube and they send the next piece on your list.
When it comes to collecting paintings, size is an important choice. Generally, more modern, loftier homes have larger pieces; and detailed, charming, intimate spaces have smaller pieces, but that’s a huge generalization. Again, it’s important to cut a piece of cardboard to the size of the painting that you’re considering to make sure it will work in the space for which it is intended.
Oil or Acrylic? Canvas or paper? Board or stretched? Generally, stretched canvases can be hung unframed or framed. Usually the artist “finishes” the sides in some fashion, either by continuing the image on the sides, or keeping them a clean white. Gallery wrap refers to the canvas being stapled on the back, so that the fasteners are not visible on the sides. The desirable depth of a stretched canvas is at least 1.5 inches.
Works on board or paper have to be framed. A good frame shop (those connected to art galleries are usually the best) can help you choose the right frame and/or matte combination for the piece. Water media (Acrylic, Watercolor) on paper is generally framed under glass. Thicker acrylic paintings and oil paintings do not use glass.
Oil paintings have a more traditional look and generally are more respected in the low to mid-range art markets. However, in higher-priced, more sophisticated markets that is not the case; often times acrylic paintings are more expensive. Properly prepared, oil paintings can last for generations and are often perceived as the medium with the most longevity, but acrylic is probably the more stable medium. Time will tell. In any medium, a painting is something that will last for generations. Mixed media pieces can involve any number of material too numerous to cover in this primer.
Most art is valued based on the experience of the artist, the size of the artwork and previous sales. Research the career of the artist if you want to make sure that you’re getting a good deal. In a brick-and-mortar gallery, the artist only gets 50% of the sale price; the dealer retains 50%. So, theoretically, buying art directly from the artist on ebay should save you a lot of money as the artist doesn’t have to pay out a substantial commission. However, be aware that the artist has to cover his ebay, bookkeeping and fulfillment costs, so don’t expect to pay half, but saving 30-40% over gallery prices is in the realm of possibilities, maybe even more, if the artist is moving some inventory he doesn’t want to sell in galleries for one reason or another.
Personally, I offer different art on ebay than I sell in galleries. If I did it any other way, the galleries would drop me because you could get the same art cheaper on line. When I have an exhibit at a gallery, my work goes from $2000.00 to $4000.00; the art I list on ebay goes from $800.00 to 2000.00, and sometimes I do no reserve auctions where someone could get my art starting at $100! So, yes, there are deals to be had on art on ebay.
Most ebay sellers prefer PayPal. I offer a money back guarantee, but shipping is non-refundable. Potential art buyers should know that the artist still retains the reproduction rights to the artwork after the piece has been sold. That is, owning an original painting or drawing does not give one the rights to make posters, gicleés or limited edition prints from that artwork.
Art as an investment.
It’s a good practice to keep your contact information up to date with the artist, so you can receive press releases and invitations to exhibits. Send him or her a change of address when you move or change e-mails. If the value of his or her art goes up in value significantly; you’ll want to know it. If the artist has a retrospective exhibit in a museum, he may ask to borrow the piece from you. This is entirely optional for the owner of the piece, but how exciting it is for him or her to be able to tell the guests in their home that the painting on the wall was in a museum exhibit of the artist’s works.
-Warren Keating Warren Keating’s work has been published in national magazines, commissioned by celebrities and sponsored by the Governor of Oaxaca, Mexico. He is represented by galleries in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Wailea on Maui, London, England and Oaxaca, Mexico, but reserves some of his work to sell directly to collectors on ebay. For more information, please see Warren Keating Art Gallery.