The summer's abundance of art and craft shows is a great opportunity to find interesting, original art that is very well-priced. It's a chance to stroll around on a sunny day, seeing the work of many artists, without the pressure or the rarefied atmosphere that can sometimes be part of the gallery experience. Whenever I visit these shows, I notice people lingering over paintings or prints, clearly undecided. Is there something better in the next booth? How can they be sure of the quality or value of the piece? Will other people like it?
First things first. Who cares if other people like it? If everyone liked it, it would have to be an impossibly bland image. The first and only rule in buying art is to please yourself. There is no reliable way to affix monetary value to art. The market may value one artist highly and ignore another, only to reverse that opinion ten years later. So there's no sense buying art as an investment. If you are drawn to a painting, and consider it "good," that is the main thing that should influence you.
How to know if something is "good", or if your interest is an authentic feeling, rather than a passing fancy? In other words, what, exactly, is art? My quick definition of art is a piece that allows you to see the world in a new way. It is a small visual revelation, or revolution, really, since it upsets the accepted order of things.
Another way to define art is to decide what it's not. It's not nostalgia, or merely decoration, or something that makes you feel completely comfortable. It is more than that: an image you can't forget, that brings real delight every time you look at it. Because it is beautiful, but also because it has allowed your own vision to expand.
So there you are, wandering from booth to booth, until something catches your eye. You walk by, then return. When you take a closer look, the image becomes even more interesting. It's time to fall in love-- judiciously.
When I am standing in front of a painting that arrests my attention, I try to determine if I simply like it--or if I can't live without it. Think of it as the difference between one date and a marriage. Make sure it's a piece with staying power.
Walk away briefly, and come back to the piece a time or two more. This is not to make you look ridiculous-- it is a good way to surprise your eye. Do you notice something new, or have a deeper appreciation of it, each time? Art, as opposed to a merely pleasing image, invites you to look closely, to get lost in the world of the painting. For me, looking at a captivating painting is like taking a little trip into the realm of the color, image, composition, and vision of the painting, and emerging a bit dazed, but refreshed, and changed for the better.
Don't worry about the size of the piece, and don't worry about where you will put it. You will figure that out. Most people are remarkably consistent in their tastes-- you will probably see all kinds of connections to other objects you like when you bring it home.
If you are asking yourself if there might be something better in another booth, you're not sure enough to buy. It may be gone when you return, but if you check out the entire show and come back to find someone else has snapped it up, talk to the artist. He/ she may very well have something like it that is not on display.
Speaking of the artist, outdoor shows are a rare opportunity to talk with the person who created the art. Asking him/ her about the painting can result in a deeper appreciation and understanding of the piece. Even if you are not in the market to buy that day, it's always a treat for an artist who works alone to hear that you like the work.
If you've come this far, don't second-guess yourself! Grab it before someone else does. Buying art means looking deeply, taking a chance and trusting your own perceptions. For most of us, that's not easy, but the rewards are more than worth the risk.