A letter to potential art patrons -
If you know anything about the art world, you know that buying art is often seen as a "good investment". The image that pops into my head is that of the gavel banging at Sotheby's auctions, "SOLD FOR $44.5 MILLION!". And that's a real price, paid for Georgia O'Keefe's Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1. But the mentality that all purchases need to somehow monetarily benefit the purchaser at some point and the insane price tags on most art intimidates most people out of the art scene altogether. I will be the first to admit that even local art scenes are exclusionary and formidable to most people. The language is esoteric, galleries and museums are sterile and echo-y, and outrageous price tags for art make people feel as though they don't belong.
How can we combat this so that we have a thriving art community? I believe it starts with reframing your thinking about what a "return on investment" really is when it comes to purchasing art.
When you attend art shows for local artists or visit galleries that exhibit small artists you are already making an investment in art, that you will immediately see a return on. Going to these events will make it so they continue to happen. The most important part of an artist's work is sharing their art with an audience. By being an audience, you are already contributing powerfully to an artist's career. The return for you is that you get to see more of this artist's art. Because of you physically showing up to see their work, they can grow. It's also important to spend time looking at the art and engaging with the artists at shows. Ask us questions, tell us your insights about our art, offer a critique if you dare. What does it mean to you? What are your thoughts? Allowing us to share our thoughts with you and sharing yours with us are the reasons why we show our work. Don't be a passive observer, engage!
The next step to take is to support the artists that you love with your money. So many artists are struggling to create art while working full-time jobs, going to school, or taking care of their families. They buy expensive art supplies and stay up late creating art that communicates their unique experience in the world. If you see a piece of art that resonates with you, why not purchase it to help support the artist in a more tangible way? Art IS expensive. The price reflects the time, effort, materials, and perception put into the artist's work. The prices can also be completely arbitrary. Buying art through a gallery is going to be inherently more expensive than buying directly from the artist because galleries take a commission. However, mass-produced wall art can be expensive too as well as wasteful and ultimately environmentally harmful. This boring wall art (which you could easily DIY) is $80. For maybe two to three times more, you could have something that is unique, made by someone's own hand, something that deeply resonates with you, and supports the artist with your investment. I know that spending $200 on a piece of art seems like a lot, and it is, but an original piece of art will age with you and become more important over the years, unlike the mass-produced wall art at Target. I have collected a lot of art over the last couple of years and every time I see it, I'm reminded of something to think about, question, or just something that makes me smile. The act of viewing the art and contemplating it is pleasurable and I gain new insights all the time. My home is also a unique expression of myself and what I like and who I admire, not a cookie-cutter space. Express yourself in which art you purchase, it is the best creative symbiosis there is!
If you can't afford the price of one-of-a-kind art, many artists create prints of their art or smaller objects such as pins, t-shirts, or stickers that you can buy. Zines are also a great way to support local artists for cheap. Artists have found many ways to transform their art into products that people can afford. Many artists also struggle to have extra income to spend on art, so they have found ways to make their work more affordable for everyone. An artist might also be willing to negotiate a price with you. If you have services you can offer, why not see if an artist is willing to trade? There are many ways you can show support for an artist's work. I have countless zines, pins, t-shirts, pins, posters, etc. from artists that I love. Someday, I hope I can walk into an art gallery and buy anything that I want, but for right now, I buy what I can. I'm thankful that I can own original art this way. Every bit helps and every piece is an artist's expression and hard work.
So what is your return on investment with purchasing art? I think this mentality is so unique to the visual art world because of what kinds of conversations have been had surrounding the ownership of art over the last 30-40 years. You wouldn't really ever think about buying a record as an "investment" or going to see a performance of your favorite band or even a play as "diversifying". The experience is an investment in yourself and the artist you like. In the art world, you have to collect the right artists' work and those pieces have to appreciate in value. I think that you can reframe this thinking toward art. Buy art because you are investing in someone else, someone's vision that you see as important and complementary to your own. Find something that is visually, intellectually, or emotionally challenging. Find artists to represent that aren't getting their work shown. Buy art that you like, buy art that you don't understand, buy art that is made by someone completely different from you. Buying this art makes it so that it can continue to exist and grow. Think of how amazing it would be to patronize a small artist over the course of 20 years and see how their career grows and changes and is able to be because of your monetary support. This is the return on investment you should be considering. However, it's also about investing in yourself. Buying art ensures that you can continue to do the things you like to do, like going to art shows, and be surrounded by things you like seeing.
Not only showing up to shows but supporting artists by showing up with money will ensure that these artists and the communities they build can continue to grow. Stop buying art at Ikea. Buy art from people in your community. Buy art from people you can talk to in real life. Buy art when you travel to new places. Invest in the real life experience of art and your place in the art world. All artists need patrons, all artists need audiences, all artists need critics. You are an integral part of making sure art survives. We need you!