Why do they buy (art)?

Robert Genn

November 6, 2007

Dear Rodney,

Yesterday, Edward Abela was wondering how many artists are
interested in why people buy their art. Ed wrote: "At a recent
show I found varied reasons: a visitor from England wanted a
painting to take home as a souvenir; a young couple bought a
painting because it fit in with their social ideals; others
needed paintings as wedding or anniversary presents, gifts to
colleagues or community VIPs. As usual, a few regulars just
liked the work." Edward feels this knowledge is an added bonus
to direct selling as opposed to selling through a gallery. He
asked if artists missed this aspect by using galleries.

Thanks, Edward. Some artists don't give a darn about such
mundane thoughts. But, like you, I've always been curious.
Working with dealers, I've found show openings give ample
opportunity to try to read minds and overhear remarks. At a
recent show I asked a woman why she had bought a particular
painting. "I like that spot there," she said, pointing to an
orange brushstroke about the size of an aspirin. A lot to pay
for a spot, I thought. It's been my experience that many folks
are unable to explain their true motivation.

While rationalizations are legion, it's often personal
that connects them with the work. "Climbed those
mountains, seen that condition, felt those feelings," they
sometimes say. There's something totally genuine about these
kinds of sentiments. Also, it's obvious to me that some folks
simply take pleasure in spending money. As well as connection,
their faces tell the joy of money well spent.  

Commerce is full of examples where people say one thing and do
another. Even intended wedding presents may be rationalization.
Many planned gifts go home instead. Reading between the lines,
you might say they buy from an innate human desire to uncover
what they think is uniqueness and quality. Many of us think we
have this perception in shirts and steaks and spouses.
Sometimes we're wrong, of course, but that's the game. The art
game includes connection, friendship, joy, love, sentiment,
experience, taste, honour, acquisitiveness, the collecting
instinct, social acceptability and investment
. That's why the
experience is so rich, varied and, yes, mysterious. When
leaving my openings and heading for the local bar, I often
think of George Bernard Shaw's remark: "When you know the
artist you think less of the art

Best regards,


PS: "Buying is a profound pleasure." (Simone de Beauvoir)
"People will buy anything that is one to a customer." (Sinclair

Esoterica: A significant number of buyers are influenced by the
herd instinct. Sales of popular artists such as Erte, Itzchak
Tarkay, Peter Max and LeRoy Neiman, for example, happen partly
because others are seen to be purchasing. There's safety when
the same art is on other people's walls. Before condemning the
herd phenomenon and the baser instincts of our fellow man,
artists need to realize that small but effective herds thunder
in modest galleries and for "local" artists as well. Andy
Warhol noted, "Success is what sells art."