Buying The Artist

“People don’t buy art, they buy the artist.”

Christine Tierney painting

©Christine Tierney, Tea and Poetry. Oil on canvas, 14 x 18 inches. Used with permission.

Deep Thought Thursday

Discuss the above quote.

Is it true in all cases?

Some cases?

Or is it outright false?

When is it true and when is it false?

What does it mean to “buy the artist”?

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42 comments to Buying The Artist

  • Jim

    Collectors buy the artist, people buy the art.

  • There is definitely such thing as “buying the artist”. In fact, I was so fascinated with this topic I whipped up a little blog post about it… Hope u enjoy it! http://oilandink.blogspot.ca/2012/05/what-is-one-supposed-to-do-if-they.html?m=1

  • I think Jim has it dead on above, although I think the artist can work to make the “people” aspect move towards the “collector” aspect simply by being available to the buying public. Sometimes “people buy the art” simply because that is all they have access to – there is no statement telling them about the art, there is no access to the artist to learn more about who that artist is and why they do what they do.

    I also believe that there are two levels to “buying the artist” – the one where the serious collector is buying based on the reputation and the name, and one where the collector is buying based on a personal knowledge of the artist due to interactions with the artist and having supported the artist throughout his or her career.

  • One of my favorite quotes is from Cesanne, “The most seductive thing about any art is the personality of the artist.” That is what sells the art it is the core of the connection between the viewer/buyer and the art/artist

  • Joseph Murray

    Hello Alyson!
    This is a interesting subject . As with anything in life generalizations do not fit every niche or category of thought processes . My experiences with the art public has been to inform them as much as possible about my art philosophy (artist statement), bio information, style, etc. without gettting them too bored . If they are thirsty for what I am about– I give it to them . If they are the type of art collectors that look at the art first and then want to talk about the person behind the art–. I do that. As Jack White has put it -“Play ball in their court” . Tell them about “Why” not so much about “How” . The sophisticated collectors seem to be more interested in the artist’s background, dedication, etc. The casual art collectors can be led to a purchase if the art strikes them . There is kind of a dichotomy with different types of collectors. It is actually very interesting to see which end of the spectrum that the viewer fits into and how to approach them successfully . Whether they purchase a art piece with or without the artist’s information however–they are buying a piece of the artist if he or she has their profound emotions in the art piece. The soul aspect goes with the piece intuitively . That is a great event !

  • I think that those who “buy the artist” are really buying the idea of the artist. It is the story of the artist – either the one told to them or the one they make up in their own minds – that the customer/client is enamored with. I much prefer to have customers/clients who buy the art. There’s less chance of accidentally alienating them and a higher probability that the art I make will make them truly happy.

    • I also very much prefer people who ‘buy the art’, for the same reasons. They are also much less likely to ask me if I ‘can do that again with a bit more blue in it’ kind of questions.

    • Agreed – from the point of view of the artist, those who buy the art seem much easier to please.

  • Each artist ha something unique in both their technique and the message behind their art. More often then not, the message behind the art is what draws people in to the work because it means something to them. They buy the message and the message is the artist.

  • I think as you meet your collectors and establish relationships with them, then they end up buying the artist AND the art.

  • If all art is autobiographical then we are always buying a little piece of the artist. I just bought a piece this week and I initially fell in love with the images and then fell in love with the artist behind them. Ultimately we should buy work that we can love for a long time whether we are a ‘collector’ or just ‘regular people’ because there is always risk involved with such an investment unless we can afford to buy in an already well-established secondary market.

  • I agree with Jim. There are those who have purchased my work mainly because they met me and I was able to engage them with the work on a deeper level. They often become collectors of my art. I have also had people who barely talk to me, but see a piece they love and buy it. Indeed, even those people are getting a small piece of me.

  • The validity of the quote is dependent on the level of collector and artist. On a local level certainly I’ve established collectors because of a personal rapport. On the other hand I doubt they purchased as an investment-with the exception of the pleasure derived from having the piece in their home.

    The first post by Jim is spot on in my experience.

  • I think that when someone likes a piece of artwork for its color, or subject or whatever it is that draws the person to it, that’s step one. At this point they may or may not purchase the piece. If they can have a relationship with the artist, whether it is just reading a bio, artist statement, or actually speaking and getting to know the artist…that’s step two. If the potential buyer can feel that they have a connection to the artist, they are much more likely to purchase the art. Plus when they feel they know the artist, the artwork becomes much more personal. The art doesn’t always sell itself. The artist must sell themselves and create a “relationship” to the audience.

  • There’s an old saw about people buying from those they know, like and trust. If you know an artist, you have a chance to like them. Good advice for any business owner.

  • I think generally people buy the art and buying the artist can be a swaying point. They may like a work and then hearing the story behind it (which inevitably will be the artist’s perspective of a story, so part of the artist) may get them more interested or create a deeper meaning for them. Or they simply may like the artist as a person then and it makes them happier to then buy the art.

    But yes, people do buy the artist too. I’d think this happens more at the investment/auction house level. I admit I “buy the artist” a bit – I do buy art for investment and sometimes start with the artist, then find a piece of theirs I like. I’ve never bought a piece I didn’t like just for the artist name, but can perfectly understand how some people would. In future I might, because if I had the funds I would like to buy art purely as a pension fund. (For all the criticism this brings me, and some artists get very angry about it, I figure it’s gotta be better than giving all my money to the investment bankers.)

  • I have been a webmaster since before people knew what html was. The first and foremost rule I had was “Make It Easy to Navigate.” The second “suggestion” (people hate rules) was “Tell Them Who You Are.” That includes photos, a bio, a statement of your intention/purpose, anecdotes, anything that will make the visitor to your site feel like you are their neighbor, their soon-to-be new friend, a person they want to know more about, etc. No matter what you are selling, art or belly dance, they truly do want to know the man behind the curtain. And be honest. Tell only what you want the whole world to know, because once it is out there, everyone has access to the information. No matter where in the world you live and make art, your neighbors include everyone who visits your internet presence, be it Facebook, Web Site, Art Blog, whatever. I like chatting with the guy who owns my local vegan health food restaurant. He makes the food, stocks the shelves and serves me my lunch. Be accessible to your fans. I have had my phone number and email on the web for 15 years on all of my sites. So far I have not gotten one obscene phone call. You could be the first. 626 345 1753. Please be sensible and do not put your address out there, unless it’s a PO box, but be reachable via email and telephone. Just my 2 cents. PennyPaints on Facebook.

  • Clearly the quote is true in several ways. One way that it isn’t, comes from the fact that (according to every gallerist I’ve ever heard of) people don’t keep buying work regardless of what an artist does. They want the artist to stay true to form, and someone who keep experimenting runs the risk of losing their fans — and their galleries. But what’s an artist without experimentation? Repetition brings you close to the line between art and well-executed craft. Or execution so fine and demanding (but repetitive) that it dazzles people so they don’t ask if there’s any artistry there.

  • This is why it is very important to include a slip of paper with artist bio/statement with each sale and also available to pass out among interested visitors to your booth or gallery.

  • I can only hope that people buy my art because they like it, enjoy it and it means something more to them than just a name brand to show off to their friends. The idea/story, the composition, the colors, the craftsmanship and the time and effort I put to create it is what that should compell them to buy it. Not because it is made by me and that it would be worth more some day. The idea or thought that one can buy an Artist is revolting.

  • Alyson told us to tell our stories because that is what draws the public in. A bio is OK, but true buyers of art (not collectors for investment) want stories, especially when they relate to the work(s). I have an artist friend, Patti Erickson, here in Costa Rica. She is a master at telling stories when she talks about her paintings and her work flies out of her hands! I try to remember Patti’s skill at storytelling when I paint. Not only do I want to create a story within the painting, but around it, too! It also keeps the artist fascinated with the work during the creative process.

    • I have yet to begin doing narrative art, and yes it sounds fascinating. I can see why your friends art flies out the door. People love good stories or ones they can relate to. If you were a narrative artist then your work would have a lot of depth to it and it could be what attracts people to you. Look at Salvatore Dali, his art is all narrative.

  • I used to live in Sarasota, FL which is fortunate to have the Ringling School of Art. As a result, there is a strong appreciation for art in that town and fosters developing local artists. I had been appreciating one graduate from afar who was beginning to gain a national reputation. Annually, Sarasota offers a gallery tour of the local talent and this artist participated. I found out he actually lived in my neighborhood. I ended up buying a piece that day; both because I loved the piece but also because I felt connected to the artist.

  • Before the purchase there is inspiration, before inspiration there is an emotional connection. Lacking that connection the act becomes an investment. Investments are made with the anticipation of prestige or financial gain. The evolution of an artist’s life becomes a conduit of their unique expression. Some are ordinary and others engaging. A creative work is never enhanced solely by a name or bio but by the character and insight it reveals.

    • Let’s hope that is the case Roy. I am disturbed to learn how many people have commented that they buy an Artist when they buy their Art…as if the Artist is a “Slave” of some kind or an “Object” that can be purchased. I am a collector too and I have bought a lot of pieces from the same Artists because I like those paintings and they mean something to mean and I enjoy looking at those paintings and talking about those paintings when I have guests over for Tea or Dinner. I like to purchase ART which is after all a “craft” one-of-a kind one, not the Artist. There are many works of the same Artists that I am not too crazy about. I am an Artist myself and I sure do hope that people are buying my art because they like what they see and it brings joy in their life. It is my craft that I love to do for sale, not me.

  • I’m a people-story person. I buy art from artists where I’ve made some sort of emotional connection. If it’s not in person, it’s because I’ve connected to the artist’s printed bio/statement, description or website story. Having that personal connection to the art and artist is important to me. It super-charges the art and makes it more compelling.

    From my experience, my collectors are buying a piece of “Frances” : my story and my personality which shines through to the art that I create.

    • I do exactly the same. I rarely buy art of any type without first knowing the artist – even if just for a few minutes. And I have rarely sold art without meeting the buyer first. I suppose that has a downside in this internet age.

  • from my personal buyers perspective and not the artists, i strictly buy art that i have an emotional connection with. if i perchance get to know that artist i will eventually buy again from them but only if i love the piece.

    from the artist’s perspective i have had repeat buyers from clients i have gotten to know.

  • I believe that art should be appreciated on the art alone. But I also know that if an artist has a particular style that shows up in their pieces and is acknowledged for that particular style, they then become the subject of interest. But good art should be able to stand alone, without the identification of the artist. With that being said the artist is presenting to a world that is personal today and its understandable that a personal touch connected to the art should only enhance it.

  • I feel that the connection from an artistic piece speaks more to the person than if the person was talking to you. People have their own inner voices and sometimes an artist may spoil a connection that someone has because to that person it was something different.

  • I’m afraid I think it’s a little bit of both. I am both and artist and a collector of art. I buy what I like best from any given artist. Some artists I buy because I know and love them. Some I buy because I love their work. Some I buy because I love the work I am looking at at that moment in time! I NEVER by a piece simply for the sake of owning something by that artist, however.

  • Of course, its always the painting that sells itself, however there is that association of buying a piece from your favourite artist, particularly if its someone really special. Paintings do a tremendous job of selling themselves, however, I think the incentive to buy is so much stronger when the artist is stood in front of you, smiling and enthusiastic, eager to tell you about his work. A dedicated and hard working creator helps the buyer to understand just how special a piece of art is, and just like a book, you like to know about the author first.

    At exhibitions, it is the artist’s job to sell himself, as well as his work.

    I myself have written several similar posts related selling and promoting art on my blog, for those who are interested….I am always eager to hear and share new ideas and opinions! http://www.canidaeart.blogspot.com

  • I think it depends on the client. There seem to be some clients who are really interested in working with you collaboratively to get what they want- (perhaps the art lover who would really like to be an artist) — they are living though you vicariously. There are clearly also clients who want to support you and they do so by buying a painting. And definitely there are others who want a certain look for their homes or their collections and buy a piece without knowing you….

  • This is such a good blog. Your posts always provide food for thought. Thanks!

  • Sometimes I purchase a work of art work because I’m in awe of its technical qualities. Other times, because its theme, material base or process of creation touches me in some way. In rare cases, I feel like I’ve bought the art work and also an intangible part of the artist – some aspect of their lifestyle/outlook/experience I’m also totally in sync with. For me, this last case scenario is the ultimate art purchasing experience – it means I feel what I have in my possession is priceless; it’s also part of an intimate connection I share with the artist… this is how I interpret “buying the artist”.

  • Singhal

    My past experience as a gallery owner tells me that buying art goes through certain phases. phase 1 when the artist is new, his art is bought only for its direct appeal. phase 2 is when the artist matures and is able to convey his feelings and thought process to the interested buyers. Here the art is bought as a mix of art and artist.
    Phase 3 is when the artist is well known. His art is bought for its signature and value, not necessarily for its appeal.
    I just wish that art would be bought first for art and then for the artist. All artist, young and established would gain and the quality of art would improve!

  • In my experience as a muralist and decorative artist it is both the artwork and the joint creative experience the client and I get a charge out of. Since art comes out of the artist it is the expression of who they are so in essence everyone is buying the artist.

  • good point, this applies in a similar way for people buying brands instead of products…those who want to pretend showing something without really understanding. that’s the same with art.