By Roy Elmer
Why Buy Original Art? Well, most people don't. Americans especially stay away from original artwork in droves. It's not surprising, I suppose - we are used to getting stuff cheap. Stuff that is mass produced. Made by machines or by poor people all over the world for a little rice. (oh boy, you hit the nail on the head with that one! How very, very true!)
Original artwork is sweated over, worked on by the hand and mind of an artist, and that costs something. Sometimes surprisingly little to the buyer - but still something. Original artwork should be bought because it excites, entices, stimulates. It should not be bought because it is a good investment. Any dealer or artist that tells you that art is an investment should be forced to go to art purgatory and look at bad art for eternity.
No dealer knows what the future will be for art prices. The darling of the art world today may be considered a hack in 10 years time. The painting by an unknown hack may become the darling of the future art world. But more likely an unknown artist will remain unknown. And the famous artist can totter from his pedestal. In other words if an art dealer sounds like a huckster - he is a huckster - no matter what kind of art he is selling.
When you purchase art, it should be because you love the work. It should speak to you. And if you choose wisely, the piece will continue to speak to you for decades. If I choose poorly, the piece becomes a piece of expendable stuff. Fodder for the land fill or some future yard sale. (once again, you said it perfectly, Roy!)
So don't choose artwork to cover your walls and match your decor. If that reflects your requirements, buy a poster. There are lots of great ones out there. Put it in a stylish frame. It will probably fade or yellow with time. But you can replace it easily and cheaply when you get tired of it.
If, however, you want to collect things that reflect the touch of humanity - a reflection of the artist's soul - you will find yourself collecting fine arts or crafts. If you yearn for an environment that includes work that was built by hand - layer by layer - one of a kind and unique. If you do not want your entire life to be composed of regulation mass produced automata, then original art is your cup of tea.
So What is Original Art?
The first thing you need to know is what makes something original art, and why you should spend your hard-earned money for it.
First things first. Original art work is original. This means that it is a one of a kind creation. An artist may do a series of similar paintings, but should not be painting the same painting over and over again. Original art is not a copy of a famous or not so famous painting - that is not original.
Original art does not have to be avante-garde (an old term by now) or abstract. It does have to be an original vision created by the artist. That includes traditional, impressionist, expressionist, conceptualist, and all of the other -ist visions. If you don't know what these terms mean, it doesn't matter - if you are interested, you will learn. But the first thing you need to know is what is in your heart. What speaks and is important to you.
Original Art and the "Art Community"
The art community has spent a lot of time and money trying to tell people what is good and bad art, and occasionally they know what they are talking about. But too often art critics, curators, and other art movers and shakers are people who love art, but especially love THEIR kind of art, and ONLY their kind of art. They are frequently unkind to art that they do not appreciate or cannot linearly link from "art movement A" to "art movement B". The real world does not really work in linear lines - influences fan out, become divers, coalesce and reformulate into both new and old. (very well said!)
Art works this way too. In other art forms this is easy to recognize. In music, we recognize many different genres like classic, jazz, country, easy listening etc. When concerts and recordings are reviewed, most media outlets have a knowledgeable jazz critic to review jazz, or rock and roll critic to review rock. If it is well known that a critic hates Mahler, it would be unwise to have this critic review a Mahler-athon. In the art world, exhibits that do not reflect the latest trend tend not to be reviewed, or to be reviewed by a hostile critic - the equivalent of sending a Mahler-hater to a Maher-athon. The mainstream press barely reviews art at all except for the biggest and most spectacular exhibits. When they do review exhibits, they can appear confusing or childish to the uninitiated. You have to rely on yourself. Go to art shows. If there are national or regional art competitions in your area, go see what is exhibited. Take your time. This is how you learn what work is important to you. It is not necessarily important that you follow the latest trends. That is just fashion. Original art should transcend fashion - but often doesn't - the art establishment seldom allows this. And quality isn't always expensive. A collector with an experienced eye can find quality whether at an outdoor street fair or in expensive galleries. You may be surprised at what great quality work you can get without having to take a second mortgage on your house.
Don't expect to become an expert overnight. Talk to artists. Most artists that I know are good at telling you why to buy their work. An artist with the gift of gab doesn't reflect on the overall quality of his work, but it can help you know more about the artist and where he is going or where he has been. You should like to collect work by an artist who is going to continue to work and grow; who produces consistently high quality work, not just occasional gems that often happen in spite of ones abilities. Don't be afraid to ask questions. The only stupid question is the one you were too afraid to ask. We artists love to tell you about what we are doing ...so please ask!
Roy Elmer is a watercolor artist who works out of his winter art studio in Milan, TN and his summer art studio in St. Albans West Virginia. His works are currently being sold through the Dickson Gallery of Fine Art, Jackson, TN; Serendipity Gallery in Boca Grande, FL; Good Earth in New York; and New Orleans Art Services in New Orleans. The above article is copied here by permission from Roy Elmer.