The art of buying art

The Art of Buying Art

Story by Sarah Gonzales

The English poet, John Keats, originally penned the phrase, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever." He was writing about the immortality of art and how ideas inspired by something beautiful are everlasting. Those of us who enjoy art already know this – whether serious collectors or casual appreciators; we all look at art for the joy of seeing something beautiful, thought provoking or inspiring.

Collecting art for love is one of life's great pleasures. But how do you start? What should you look for when buying art? And, for those who already know the joys of owning art, why (and how) do they keep on collecting? We spoke with two experienced gallerists and one passionate collector to learn more about the art of buying art.

Art Collecting 101

The secret to buying art is that there is no secret. Instead, it's often based on sheer attraction. In fact, it's a lot like making a new friend or even falling in love. "I believe in the emotional reaction a person has to a work is very important," explains Asia Freeman, executive artistic director at Bunnell Street Arts Center in Homer. "You're going to live with it and it'll be a personality in your own home."

Alaska is widely considered to be an intimate arts community and this means that art buyers have the unique opportunity to know the artist, and for the artist to know where her work is going. "I'm interested in relationships and conversations – artist to artist and artist to community," Freeman says, explaining how part of her role is to facilitate these personal interactions that can add a lot to a purchase transaction.

Art lovers and potential patrons can usually meet artists at their openings or at First Friday exhibits throughout Alaska. Learning about new works and exhibits is as simple as joining a gallery's or an artist's email list, and then showing up to the exhibit space to look around and to speak with those in the know.

Tennys Owens, president and owner of Artique, Ltd. in Anchorage, says that owning art is all about "joy and pleasure" and she encourages anyone new to buying art to look at as much art as possible to learn what they like. "Find a gallery that is inviting and friendly," she says, then ask questions about the different kinds of art displayed there. "Some people are intimidated by a gallery," she says, but they shouldn't be. "The fact is that no one knows something until they ask about it. So come in and ask questions."

Growing a Collection

As the owner of the first gallery in the state, Owens has been helping her clients select art since 1970, and in this time she's watched many an art lover grow their collections that, often, will have begun with a single reproduction print. "A lot of people start with prints," she says, then explains how many collectors will next upgrade to a giclée print, and then later they may purchase an original.

Art doesn't have to be expensive, points out Freeman. "If you feel like it's within reach, compare it to a few dinners out," she offers. "But it's something that will last a lot longer. These are the things that will outlive you and become part of your legacy."

Donna Goldsmith is an Anchorage attorney and a passionate art "acquirer" (which she prefers to "collector"). Her first purchase was at 8 years old and today, she says, "every corner of every room" in the home she shares with her husband, John Letourneau, who is also a collector, is "filled with art."

Goldsmith explains that she buys art for a variety of reasons. "Sometimes it really moves me and sometimes it brings back a memory, or it's something that challenges me… and sometimes it makes me laugh," she says of the pieces she has brought home over the past 25 years. "I think the rule is: Buy what you like," she says, demystifying the process of how she has grown her own collection. "I buy art when I see it – if I like it and if I can afford it, I buy it."

Affording Art

Freeman says that the art market in Alaska is not inflated whatsoever, especially in comparison to art markets down south or in larger cities like New York or Los Angeles. "I can reassure people that they are rarely paying for more than (the artist's) time and materials," she says. "Typically you can walk into this gallery and find good works of art for under $1000. You can spend as much on a designer pair of shoes or clothing."

For unsure buyers, Owens says that Artique will allow those considering larger purchases to take the piece home for a two- to three-day trial run. "Does it fit in your home? Do you feel good when you look at it?" She says these are the essential questions that can be more easily assessed when actually viewing a piece in your own space.

In a state as artistically rich as Alaska with a plethora of working artists, and with many galleries showing their art at reasonable prices, potential collectors and those who've been acquiring art for years can rejoice at the variety and depth of talent available here. After all (and as the poets have written for millennia), living with beautiful things stirs our own sense of wonder and creativity. "It's a soul thing," says Owens of those who are drawn to art. "We're all creative beings if we allow ourselves to be."