An Art Buying Guide – it’s not all about the wine.

Technically, I swiped this blog post from the StutzArtSpace blog. But, is it really stealing when I wrote it for them?

I wanted to share the wisdom of art buying with my audience as well as their’s because, well, I’m tired of people telling me they’re only at a show for the wine and cheese.

I get it. Most of us are cheap or poor or both, but can you at least pretend you’re interested in the art before you empty the snack tray?

If you’re really interested in starting your art collection, I can’t recommend a better how-to than the Be Indypendent Art Buying Guide.

Hope to see you this weekend at the Open House. If you see something you like (besides the wine), ask about it.



With the Raymond James Stutz Artists Open House fast approaching – as in  THIS WEEKEND – we like to remind visitors, patrons and party-goers that while the free wine and cheese is, well, awesome, the Stutz Artists would also like to sell you some art. This can be an intimidating prospect for any buyer, new or seasoned.

We want it to be an enjoyable experience for all and so what follows is a handy-dandy guide to purchasing art and maybe adding to your collection or getting it rolling. This art buying guide comes from our friends at the Arts Council of Indianapolis and the Be Indypendent Movement. Yay, local!


Nothing says, “I collect art” like actually collecting art. Ask the walls in your home or office. They know. But here’s the thing: You’re new to buying art. You know next to nothing about what’s good, how to shop for it, even how much you should pay for it.

Or you’re not. Maybe you’ve already made the scene and hit the galleries a few times. Now you’re ready for the fine art of buying art and ready to learn about sophisticatedtopics like negotiating, payment plans and acquiring as an investment.

Great – you’re in the right place. Because this very guide will help answer many of your questions whether you’re a newbie or a (mildly) seasoned veteran.

Let’s start with the rules for building an art collection. The first rule in building an art collection is this: There are no rules. None. The truth is, good art is what you like. It’s kind of like when your mom used to say, “You’re the one that’s going to have to wear it.” And you are – you live with the art you buy every day. So buy what you like. Trust yourself. Go ahead.

Still, art has its own “world”. And if you’re going to be a part of it (think of the perks – the wine, the cheese, the wine), learning the language and understanding the customs will make everything that much more meaningful (not to mention, fun).

 FAQs For Beginners

1. How much will I need to spend to buy local art?

Okay, so here’s where the rubber meets the road. Or better, the canvas hits the wall. How much does local art cost? And how much should you spend?

There is locally created artwork that fits nearly every budget. Start first by giving yourself a budget that works for you. If you want to test the waters with your first purchase, works on paper (drawings, mixed media, photography, prints) can range from $50 to $200. Also, purchasing something unframed will cost less than if the work is framed. Keep in mind that works by emerging artists will be considerably less as they are trying to build their careers and clientele.

The bottom line is – whether you have $50 or $15,000 – there is no shortage of styles and price ranges. If you find an artist that you like, but the price for the work is beyond your budget, ask the artist if they have anything (maybe a print or smaller work) that is within your specific range. There’s no harm in asking!

2. What are the benefits of buying directly from an artist?

Buying directly from the artist may mean you’ll learn more about the work. And in Indianapolis, there are hundreds of artists that aren’t represented by a local gallery so you will need to find them and contact them directly. They’re still easy to find (the Arts Council of Indianapolis’ artist database is a great place to start. IDADA -Indianapolis Artist and Dealers Association is another good place to start).

If you find an artist whose work appeals to you, contact the artist to arrange for a studio visit. Most artists understand that a studio visit means you are interested in their work and that you would like to see more of it. This can really be fun. Take your time and feel confident that while the artist would like to make a sale, they fully understand that you may not purchase anything during your visit.

Many emerging artists do not have commercial gallery representation either. So what does “being represented” mean? It means the artist has been chosen by a gallery to be on their “roster”. It also means the artist has agreed to a contract that regulates the price of their work, the gallery’s commission and sales of the artist’s work in the region. But you may not be comfortable seeking an individual artist on your own, especially if you’re really new to art. If you’re unsure about what you want or the process, it’s nice to bring in a professional from a gallery. The gallery rep will be able to explain things to you and walk you through the process if it is your first art purchase.

3. What are the benefits of buying through a gallery?
Buying art is an investment of your time, money and in many ways, yourself. And working with individual artists and studios the first time out may not be for everyone. Working with a gallery can make you feel more at ease with the entire process. Plus, a gallery representative will discuss your likes and dislikes, your price range, your space requirements or limitations and more. Like anything else, if you work with a gallery over a period of time you’ll develop a relationship – one where they have a chance to learn about what you want and like. Invitations to artist’s lectures, and chances to meet the artists. The personal touches that make buying art even more enjoyable and meaningful. The gallery can also take care of the logistics of framing the work, delivery, installation, proper lighting and so on.

4. Should I buy for pleasure or investment?
Let’s just start with pleasure for now, okay? Buy just one piece of art and chances are you’ll enjoy it far more than you thought possible. Plus, it will become a focal point and conversation starter you can share with your family and friends at your home or office.

Still, if you do choose to invest in art, and are contemplating making a substantial investment then you’ll need to do some research and ideally, seek the advice of a professional art consultant. Besides books covering the topic that are readily available, you’ll find tips at, art expert “Dr. Lori” at, or a downloadable, helpful guide from the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) at

5. Can I talk to the artist?
Let me check to see if he’s available. May I say who’s calling? Of course you can talk to the artist, and you really should in order to learn more about the artwork – the concept of the work and the process used to create it.

6. What questions should I ask the artist?
What do you want to know? You might start with topics like inspiration and influences. Or if there’s a work you’re drawn to but don’t quite understand, ask the artist to describe the work and why they made it. Ask if it’s typical of their work, or a departure, and if so, why? Sometimes asking the artist to talk about the work reveals a deeper meaning or sometimes, like music, it reveals the work is as much about rhythm and energy and really doesn’t require an additional explanation.

7. Will the artist think I’m stupid if I ask a lot of questions?
No, the artist will think you are interested in their work and want to have a deeper understanding of the piece.

8. So what’s with the dots?
In an exhibition or show where the artwork is for sale the red dot on the label beside a work indicates that the piece is sold. The half red dot indicates that the piece is on reserve, but if you really like it, go ahead and ask about the reserved piece. If the original sale does not go through you may have an opportunity to purchase the work (you might also visit the artist’s studio to see other pieces).

9. Can I bring my children to an art opening?
Sure. Most galleries in Indy are family friendly, and it’s a great experience for many children. On the other hand, their attention spans are shorter which means they may get restless – and no one wants that. And if you do bring your kids, there may be expensive artworks within arms’ reach. Check before you go, though, because some venues offer special activities for kids, or a more family-friendly day or timeframe.

10. Besides galleries, where can I go to see and purchase artwork?
There are plenty of options in Indy. Pick up a free copy at the Artsgarden downtown (or download one) of the Arts Council’s Visual Art Indianapolis: Your Guide to the City’s Galleries, Museums and Public Art for a comprehensive list.

Can’t wait that long? Try these:

Artist studio buildings (many of which have regular open studio nights involving multiple artists, music and a really fun atmosphere) such as:

Harrison Center for the Arts

Wheeler Arts Community

Murphy Art Center

Stutz Building (Stutz Artist’s Association) <– Hey, that’s us!

Alternative, nee, Indypendent Spaces

Coffee shops, cafes, restaurants and the like are great spots to check out work from area artists, especially emerging ones. If the work doesn’t have a price, ask a staff person about the artist. A brochure or card should be available. Exposure to a broader public is usually why artists show in alternative spaces – so look around next time you’re in your favorite coffee shop – you never know what you might find.

Arts Council of Indianapolis Artist Database

Here you’ll find samples from more than 400 visual artists working in the area (plus information on another 200 performing artists). The database includes links to many websites for individual artists; in some cases you may be able to purchase work directly from those sites. You may also receive an invitation from the artist to visit their studio to look at past and current work. When buying artwork, there is no substitute for seeing the work in person – often on a computer screen or even in a photograph you can lose the sense of scale, texture, color – or more. Tour the studio and ask to be put on the artist’s mailing list to learn about new or upcoming exhibitions.

FAQs for (Mildly) Seasoned Buyers

1. How is artwork priced?

How artwork is priced has always been a bit of a mystery. But there really is a method, and before you give up and head for the nearest discount store because you think real art costs too much, try to understand it. You’ll feel better.

First, there’s the artist. Work from an accomplished artist whose work shows up in prominent collections is more highly valued and simply costs more than work from an up-and-comer. Along with pricing based upon their past sales, many artists factor in how much time they’ve spent on a particular work, accounting for various phases including concept, drawings or models all the way to completion. So there’s that.

Then there’s the overhead that goes into the work itself, which includes:

  • Studio rent, utilities and insurance
  • Materials like paint, brushes and canvas
  • Property (inventory) insurance
  • Phone, Internet, website
  • Healthcare
  • Marketing
  • Retirement accounts, etc.
  • Years of education and training
  • It all costs money.

Although this may vary from artist to artist, some use a formula that factors the costs listed above into a singular number that is multiplied by the square inches of the work. (Of course there are exceptions such as: If a painting on canvas and drawing on paper are the same size, generally the drawing costs less). This formula or other variations makes their prices consistent and if the artist sells work at the same price point on a regular basis, expect the price to increase from 5-10 percent annually.

Now that you know the secret, you’ve got to ask yourself what the value of the work really is to you. That formula should look like this: Piece of happening original art, $X. Piece of happening original art your neighbor doesn’t have (nor ever will): Priceless.

2. Can I pay in installments?
Most galleries and many individual artists will allow you to pay for a work in installments or on some type of payment plan – just ask.

3. Can I negotiate a price with the artist and/or gallery?
It is not uncommon to negotiate for any major purchase and artists who sell their work for a living understand that art is a business and with that some negotiation may need to take place now and again. Although these artists are usually eager to sell their work, the price they have chosen is based on a specific formula as we saw earlier (see # 1) and is what they have determined to be the appropriate and fair price for that particular piece. With that said, some artists are more willing to negotiate than others and depending upon your comfort level with the artist,
it is not considered disrespectful to ask. Most artists would like to make a sale and will try to work with you. If they are unable to negotiate on the price they will offer a similar piece that fits your budget or offer a payment plan.

If the artist is represented by a gallery the price of the work sold from their studio should be consistent with the work when it’s sold from the gallery. As for negotiating directly with a gallery, discounts are typically reserved for repeat clients – and those who purchase several pieces at a time.

If you’re really brave (and have a true marketable skill or trade) some artists will barter with you. Like most of us, they’re commonly in need of legal, medical, dental and other types of assistance and may in fact be willing to trade their work for yours – if there’s a specific value involved that the artist needs. Of course, this may be more useful when buying from emerging artists.

4. When buying through a gallery, what percentage does the artist receive and what effect does it have on the price of the work?

Galleries and artists typically negotiate a percentage of the sale price. Some split the sale down the middle, and for good reason. The gallery provides the venue, security for the work, the marketing, an opening reception and most importantly the audience. The gallery is responsible for building the reputation and furthering the careers of the artists it represents. Over time, this increases the demand and value of the work and creates more opportunities for the artist to exhibit and sell. As a rule, galleries do not mark up the price, but take a percentage of the established selling price.

Percentages for alternative spaces such as coffee shops and cafés are often very little or nothing at all as the venue benefits from having the artwork in their spaces and are not obligated to market and/or sell it, only display it. Many sales happen through these alternative spaces and are usually a good place to find work from emerging artists. Most non-profit venues will take a smaller percentage as well, usually in the 15 – 35 percentage range.

5. Will I get a certificate of authenticity? A receipt? A lock of hair?
Your artwork should always come with a receipt or bill of sale and possibly an artist’s statement (a general statement about the artist’s work, why they do what they do, the material (medium/mediapl.) they use and what they are exploring or trying to achieve with their work). If you purchase a limited edition or another “multiple” of some sort, be sure to request a certificate of authenticity. Keep all this paperwork together along with any other information you may have such as a postcard or brochure from the exhibition for your own interest and the authenticity of your collection – or in case a descendant ends up on Antiques Road Show someday.

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