A work of art is one of the most wonderful gifts you can give – unique and personal, it brings everyday pleasure and can last forever - travelling with its owner finding its place in new homes and different places as they live their life. And chosen well, it retains a deep personal value beyond its original or future price. It’s hard to think of much else that can do the same.
But whilst we may like the idea of gifting a piece of art, it can feel like a daunting prospect. How do you choose something so personal? I’m scared it will be hideously expensive. How do I know it’s ‘good’? These are just some of things people have said to me when they’ve asked me for help. More often than not, they’ve turned their angst into excitement and anticipation by thinking about the following… Otherwise known as my top tips. Answer the questions below then review your answers as a whole and you’ll set off in a much clearer and more fruitful direction!
1) LOOK FOR THE RIGHT CLUES
Just like buying any other gift, you need to look for clues about what people will love. Think about the following:What do you know about their taste in art?
Do they own any art already? If so, is there a style or medium they seem more attracted to – abstracts or realistic, paintings or photography, minimalist or more intense? If they have a favourite artist, ask them what draws them to their work. This way, you can understand what they like at a deeper level without constraining yourself to one particular artist.
If they don’t own any art yet you can still get clues on their art taste. For example, do they have any particular types of art books, or get excited about certain exhibitions? What’s their taste in decorative objects? Do they have any favourite famous artists?What’s their style when it comes to interiors?
Be careful here – this is only relevant if they’re in charge of it. If their partner takes charge of home décor and design, or they’re not in charge of how their workplace looks, it won’t be relevant at all. But if they are, it can give you some useful pointers. For example, do they use bold bright colours around their space, or are they more conservative in colour use? Is their space meticulously colour coordinated (if so, take note of the colours), is it more organic, or more eclectic? Are there splashes of favourite colour around their space - have they painted a key wall red, or do they have lots of green accessories. Be careful not to be too literal (just because they have green cushions, doesn’t mean they love green paintings!), rather think about all this is the context of the person you know.
2) SUBJECT MATTER AND THEMES
Broad themes for your search can be helpful – like wildlife, water, urban, portraits, etc. But, when I’m helping people find a piece of art to gift, they sometimes come to me with a specific subject matter in mind. Generally, this is something I warn against because it can severely limit your ability to find the perfect piece. People are much more than their hobby or their job, and looking for an artwork that’s about ‘love’ because it’s a wedding gift is pretty constraining. So try not to be too literal about subject matter – a beautiful landscape or a vibrant abstract can be just as appropriate for a wedding gift.
If you definitely want a specific subject matter, a particular town for example, consider commissioning a piece of work. It’s not as extravagant as it may sound, and many good artists consider commissions so long as it fits with their artistic principles. Start by looking for artists whose work and style you like, and then approach them either directly or through their gallery. But remember, it will take a little more time than buying an existing piece of work.
3) SPACE & SIZE
There’s no limit on how small your piece of art can be, but there will be limits on how large. There’s no point in buying a large painting for someone who doesn’t have the space to hang it. Think about the environment of the person you’re buying for and make sure you look for a piece that’s a practical size. It’s obvious, but important!
Ah yes, money! Firstly, you don’t have to have a huge budget to buy a piece of art. A small original drawing from a quality artist can cost less than $100. For smaller price tags, limited editions and photography are also good options –signed and numbered by the artist they are personal and have a rarity value. Watercolours can also be a good option – the nature of the medium means they tend to be smaller and are usually quicker to create than oil or acrylic paintings, so can cost less.
Though artwork isn’t priced by the square foot (it’s not a carpet!), generally speaking larger works cost more. And big isn’t necessarily better - a good quality smaller work will be more appreciated and loved than an average quality larger work though they may cost the same.
Whatever your limitations, set a realistic budget and stick to it. If want to give the artwork framed, remember to factor that in too. Personally, I prefer to give (and receive!) unframed art so it can be framed to suit the individual. And framing for works on canvas already on wooden stretchers isn’t necessary as they can be hung straight on the wall.
You may already have a gallery or artist in mind, in which case great. If not, you need see what’s out there and get some inspiration. Art fairs and online are very good places to stimulate your imagination and start to build a shortlist. (As well as online galleries, most traditional galleries and artists now have websites.) Take photos or save links to works and artists you like so that you can go back and review. You can then look up particular artists online to find out more about them – their inspirations and the thinking behind their work, shows they’ve done in the past, reviews of their work and so on. Ideally, you’re looking for a consistent and interesting story behind their work which gives the art a depth beyond all important aesthetics. If their work has had some recognition – awards, media coverage and critical assessment, that’s a good sign too, even if it’s at a local level.The purchase
Now you’ve done your research and found the right artist / piece of artwork for your gift, you need to buy it. If you’ve seen the work at a fair, you may choose to buy it there and then. If the artist has a good website or studio you can visit and you feel confident in them, you can contact them directly. There’s something very satisfying about buying a piece of work direct from its creator. However, that’s not always possible – they may be difficult to get hold of, or may be they’re in a different country. In these cases it’s best to go through an intermediary – a gallery, be it online or traditional is the most common option. Either way, you should check they offer the following before handing over your cash:
- Knowledge about the artist and their work
- Proof of authenticity of the artwork – good galleries will offer a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist
- The option to return the work / exchange it if necessary
- Delivery timings that work for you, and insurance for the work while it is in transit.
If you’re still not sure, consider gift certificates – it’s increasingly an option, especially through online galleries.
6) TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
Finally, buying a piece of art is a personal endeavour – whether for yourself or as a gift. Try not to solicit too many opinions – I guarantee everyone will have a different point of view, and it can be more frustrating more than it is helpful. If you’re drawn to something, trust your instincts – they’re likely to be good!
Kiran Wood is a co-founder and director of Full Picture Art; the international online gallery which focuses on high quality Indian contemporary art. She spends her days hand-selecting contemporary artists from across India and helps international buyers access their work. She also provides a personal advisory and buying service. For more information, get in touch with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.