Insecurity, fear, distrust

These and other reasons why people fear buying original art

For some people, it’s hard to leave a gallery or online art site empty handed. For others, however, making an art purchase can be a daunting, even debilitating task. I have a friend who has lived for over five (!) years with a succulent, sweeping swath of blank wall above her couch. Some might find this inability to find a suitable piece of art for her living room shocking, but there are actually quite a few barriers presenting perfectly capable, intelligent and likeable people from buying art.

Never underestimate how insecure buyers are about contemporary art, and how much they always need reassurance,”

says the $12 Million Stuffed Shark author Don Thompson, quoting Howard Rutkowski. People confuse really easily around art and are easily intimidated, particularly when they don’t have an art background. The overwhelming majority of people know little or nothing about art. No one wants to feel like they’re not a worthy customer, and they don’t want to worry that people will make fun of their taste. Sometimes buyers don’t even know what they like; they can find it hard to articulate their preferences. Buyers often have no idea if a piece of art is “worth the price” as there are no clear guidelines for pricing art. They fear spending money on something that will make their life worse, because they overpaid, the purchase reflects badly on them, or the work is too controversial. Perhaps they can’t visualize where they’d put it or how it might change the appearance of their homes or offices. Or, as it is a discretionary expenditure, they decide to spend their money elsewhere.

Even if ready to commit to a purchase, there is the question of authenticity. Is it original? Is it really what it’s claimed to be? Lack of trust can be a factor. If buying through a gallery, dealer, or even artist, a buyer may not feel they’re getting objective information because the seller has a bias. Then there are the buyers who focus exclusively on investment value. People who are just buying art as an investment are going to be particularly challenged as most art doesn’t appreciate in value to the point where they will make enough money in the secondary market to cover original investment, opportunity cost, commissions, shipping, taxes, etc., so they may not pull the trigger on the purchase.

Art consultant and advisor Alan Bamberger observes that many inexperienced buyers make the mistake of buying art without comparison shopping because of the “uniqueness myth.” A work of art may be unique, but it happens to be similar to plenty of other works of art. Whatever works of art specifically attract someone, one can always find a number of other pieces out there that look approximately (and remarkably) the same. Beginners mistake initial attraction for everlasting love. They believe no other art can ever provide them with as much satisfaction and enjoyment. And with many galleries discouraging comparison shopping, it’s not surprising many buyers continue to buy impulsively.

Top 10 reasons people are scared to buy original art

  1. Insecurity. People confuse really easily around art and are easily intimidated, particularly when they don’t have an art background. The overwhelming majority of people know little or nothing about art. No one wants to feel like they’re not a worthy customer, and they don’t want to worry that people will make fun of their taste.
  2. Uncertainty. Buyers often have no idea if a piece of art is “worth the price” as there are no clear guidelines for pricing art. Diamonds have a central rating authority, eliminating confusion, but no such thing exists for limited editions or art. In fact, consumers often don’t have the confidence to determine if art is “good”, worrying that they will be judged for liking a piece that others don’t.
  3. Fear. Fear of spending money on something that will make their life worse, either because they overpaid or because the purchase reflects badly on them. Fear, too, that a work may be too controversial.
  4. Lack of trust. If buying through a gallery, dealer, or even artist, a buyer may not feel they’re getting objective information because the seller has a bias. Or how do they know they’re getting the best price for the piece?
  5. Authenticity. Is the artwork original? Is it really what it is claimed to be? This can prevent buyers from pulling the trigger.
  6. Not knowing what they like. Buyers can find it hard to articulate their preferences. The best collectors have a clear understanding of why they respond to certain kinds of work and can clearly articulate these ideas.
  7. Unable to visualize its placement. People who don’t own art often have difficulty imagining how they would display it if they bought it, where they’d put it, or how it might change the appearance of their homes or offices.
  8. The finality of the decision. What if I buy it, put it in my space and decide then that it doesn’t work? Can it be returned?
  9. Discretionary expenditure. Spending on art is almost entirely discretionary, and the more expensive it gets, the more it takes on the characteristics of a luxury item. Art gratifies or satisfies in terms of desire, not need. Also, it is often the last item purchased when decorating a home, and the items preceding it are big ticket.
  10. Exclusive focus on investment value. People who are just buying art as an investment are going to be particularly challenged as most art doesn’t appreciate in value to the point where they will make enough money in the secondary market to cover original investment, opportunity cost, commissions, shipping, taxes, etc.

The role of a good seller of art, therefore, is to mitigate the barriers and fears that accompany an art purchase. The art you buy should bring your joy, and so should the process.

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