For new art collectors, it’s hard to know where to begin when choosing pieces for the home. Questions of size, style, artistic medium, budget, colour, investment and aesthetics abound. Below are some guidelines for how to go about buying art that you’ll love — and want to live with — for years to come.
Spend more time looking at art
Don’t know where to start when it comes to buying art? There are plenty of fun and free studio tours and art festivals in the region that feature dozens of artists at a time, including the Pontiac Artists’ Studio Tour, the Artists in Their Environment Tour in Chelsea and Wakefield and Chinatown Remixed. Upcoming events include Festival X (Sept 20–30), the inaugural edition of Nuit Blanche Ottawa (Sept 22), the West End Studio Tour (Sept 22–30) and the Enriched Bread Artists open house (Oct 18–28). SAW Gallery and La Petite Mort Gallery are also good local year-round spaces to visit if you’re looking for edgy, politicized, queer or transgressive work.
Think about placement before buying
Before you buy a piece of art, consider the purpose of the room you’re buying it for and how the space is used. What do you do in that room? What sort of feeling do you want the room to evoke for you and your guests? Would it work to have contemplative artwork in the space, for example, or are you looking for something that’s more invigorating and challenging? Also consider whether the physical space and lighting will showcase the art or limit its visibility and aesthetic appeal. “There’s no point in buying an original piece of art if it’s obscured by the space,” says Marika Jemma, a queer visual artist and art teacher and the administrator for Enriched Bread Artists here in Ottawa. What it comes down to is: ensure the space supports the art and vice versa.
Don’t assume art is too expensive
If you’re looking to acquire art on a limited budget, consider buying a multiple (a mass-produced piece of art) or something from a limited edition series rather than a one-of-a-kind work. Work by art students is also an affordable option. Note that some galleries are willing to discuss payment plans, so it’s always worth asking about your options for bigger-ticket items. “If you fall in love with something that’s slightly or even overly out of your price range, have an open conversation with the gallerist,” says Guy Bérubé, the founder and curator of La Petite Mort Gallery. Also keep your eye out for popular gallery fundraisers such as SAW Gallery’s Sketch or Gallery 101’s 101 Frames. “I have maybe 25 works of art that I’ve purchased over the years through these types of fundraisers, and I paid less than $1,000 for that entire collection,” says Jason St-Laurent, curator of SAW Gallery. “I don’t recommend that people troll fundraisers like this just to get their hands on cheap art, but it does open a door into the art market — it gives you a taste. Eventually, you may be able to buy a more significant piece by [the same] artist.”
Listen to your gut
You’re going to be living with your art every day. When choosing a piece, it’s important to trust your own taste and go with what you think is beautiful or meaningful — even if you can’t explain why you like it. “Start to develop and trust your sense of what works and what you like,” Jemma says. “What colours do you like? What shapes do you respond to? What ideas are exciting to you?” Images, textures and colours evoke different responses from different people, so it’s important to listen to what the art actually says to you. “If you’re collecting art for your home, your starting point has to be something that grabs you from the gut,” St-Laurent says. “What I really like, too, is looking at it from a grassroots, local perspective. Buying local work, for example. Cara Tierney is a good example of a local queer artist who is getting a lot of buzz.” Bérubé invites people to really take risks in their art choices: “Buy things that make you react. Don’t be afraid of nudity. Don’t be afraid of sexuality and sensuality. Don’t be afraid of anything.”
Buy for appreciation, not for investment
People often assume that collecting art is about making a financial investment in pieces whose financial value will appreciate over time, but that misses the point. “If people are buying art to live with, they shouldn’t really be seeing their first art purchases as investments,” St-Laurent says. “They should be seeing them as things that are going to make their lives better every day.” That includes arty furniture and beautiful, functional objects like wine carafes, water pitchers, kettles, teapots, hand-crafted crockery and artfully made kitchen tools. They can add to the artfulness of a space in their own way, Jemma says. And remember not to be too picky about whether your art matches your furniture or walls. If you want to tie a piece of art into your colour scheme, aim to match the matting or the frame to the rest of the room, rather than the art itself. “You have to let the art breathe and be its own thing,” St-Laurent says.
Pontiac Artists’ Studio Tour: artpontiac.com/studiotour
Artists in Their Environment Tour in Chelsea and Wakefield: tourcw.com
Chinatown Remixed: chinatownremixed.ca
Festival X: festivalx.ca
Nuit Blanche: nuitblancheottawa.ca
West End Studio Tour: westendstudiotour.ca
Enriched Bread Artists Open House: enrichedbreadartists.com