I have spent the last six months as a Fine Art Auctioneer aboard cruise ships sailing in Northern Europe, the Caribbean, and Alaska. The crowds at my auctions were a mix of veteran art collectors, newbie art collectors, the curious,the bored,and the lost. Some of them bought art, but most did not. Those that did not buy had a similar refrain: they were not comfortable enough in their knowledge of art to confidently make a purchase.
Yet, all of these folks had some sort of art on their walls at home. Perhaps not art, per se; what was on their walls might better be described as posters. Many were interested in collecting original art; they just didn’t know how to begin. The purpose of this article is to offer a primer on how to begin to collect original art. We will accomplish three things: 1. You will understand the relationship between the artist, the medium and the price; 2. You will have an understanding of your current art collection, and how to go to the next level; 3. You will know how to safely and confidently expand your art collection.
To collect art confidently, you must know four things: 1. Who is the artist? 2. Is the work original? 3. How rare is the artwork? 4. Where did the work come from? Let us examine each of these points in greater detail.
The price of an artwork is impacted the most by the name of the artist. For the sake of this discussion, think of the artist as if he was a branded commercial product. Consider cars and watches. Which car is the more desirable brand; Mercedes or Ford? Which watch is more desirable, Rolex or Timex? What makes Mercedes and Rolex more desirable? The materials and workmanship that goes into the product. What makes an artist the best? Artistic skill, content, and creativity. Some artists are Rolex, and some are Timex. Who determines which artist is a Rolex and which is a Timex? Usually the critics decide. If the critics make a fuss about a particular artist, the buzz creates demand for the artists work. The physical constraints of producing a lot of one-of-a-kind artwork keeps the supply low. When demand outstrips supply, prices go up. You will pay more for a Picasso than you will for a similar LeKinff, because the supply of available Picassos is low, and his name is the stronger artistic brand.
Let us next consider what constitutes original artwork. The popular misconception is that the term original means one-of-a-kind, or the first one produced. That’s not the case. The root of the word original is origin. Original artwork is any artwork that originates with the artist. The artwork does not have to be the only copy to be original; the term original applies to art prints as well as paintings. If an artist creates a limited edition print set, the set still originates with the artist and every print in the set is original artwork. When Marcel Mouly created a set of lithographs, his artistic intention was to create a lithographic set. Each color was laid onto a separate stone, and colors were laid from the stone onto the paper one color at a time. When he was finished, the stones were destroyed, and the paper prints remained. Mouly created the set. The set originated with Mouly. Each print in the set is original artwork.
The third factor in determining the price of an artwork is rarity. As mentioned above, supply and demand play a big role in determining the selling price of an artwork. The more rare a type of artwork is, the more expensive it will be. For purposes of collecting, there are four established levels of collectibles, based on the rarity of the type of artwork. I will designate these levels A, B, C, and D.
The A level of collectibles is one-of-a-kind artwork. Paintings, drawings, etc. that are one of a kind will bring the highest price relative to the particular artist. A painting by Picasso sells for more than a limited edition print by Picasso. A drawing by Norman Rockwell will sell for more than a Norman Rockwell print of the same drawing.
The B level of collectibles is relatively new to the art scene: embellished works. An embellished work starts out as a limited edition print, and then the artist over paints the print. Each over paint is slightly different, so the each is considered to be an original variation. Embellished works generally look like a painting and feel like a painting, but sell for considerably less than a one-of-a-kind painting.
The C level of collecting is signed and numbered graphic works, commonly called limited edition art prints. Most folks who are new to art collecting will begin with limited edition art prints. Art prints have been around for hundreds of years. The Japanese were producing art print woodcuts in the eleventh century, and the German Albrecht Durer’s wood cuts and Rembrandt’s etchings are unrivaled hundreds of years after the works were created. You will find five types of collectible art prints on the market today: woodcuts, etchings, lithographs, serigraphs,and giclees. It is outside of the scope of this article to discuss the techniques involved in each type of print. Suffice it to say that these print techniques are taught in major art schools all over the world and are accepted as original works of art.
The D level of collecting is open edition art, commonly called poster art. Poster art is created in print shops, not art studios. The posters are printed until no one buys them anymore. They usually sell for a few dollars unframed. Such prints are commonly found in department stores and furniture stores.
The fourth consideration in valuing art is provenance, or proof that the artwork is genuine. These days, it is easy to use technology to duplicate artwork on a large scale. It’s tough to tell the fakes from the real thing. So, if you are buying original artwork it is important to know where it came from. Is there a bill of sale? Was it purchased from the artist himself, or from a reputable art dealer? Art passes from generation to generation. The artworks documentation should follow the artwork, so that it will be easy to establish that it is genuine. Without reliable documentation that proves the work is original, the value plummets. Provenance is to artwork what pedigree is to a dog. You expect to pay more for a dog with pedigree papers, and you should expect to pay more for artwork with provenance.
With the above information, you should be able to walk into an art gallery and get a sense of the relative value of the artworks. You know that one-of-a-kind works will be more expensive than prints, but that prints are still original artwork. You know that artists with the greatest demand bring the highest prices. A print by a famous artist may cost more than a painting by a less famous artist. It’s all relative. Above all, your guiding consideration should be that you like to look at it.
Originally posted 2009-11-09 17:21:00.