Art buyers


Dear Artist,

Yesterday, Andrea Pratt wrote, “I was wondering just who buys all the art. I came up with a few possible demographics. Then it occurred to me that I should ask my favorite guru — you.”


“Four-footed tiptoe”
acrylic, 20 x 20 inches
by Andrea Pratt

Thanks for the elevation, Andrea. These days there are five main types of art buyer. Some are a combination of more than one type. While it’s not something that you must make a study of, it’s often useful to recognize these birds when you see them in the field. Also, it’s good to know that they have habitats — some dealers attract or generate one type and not another. This can be a factor in a gallery’s, and hence an artist’s success. The main types are collector, investor, decorator, believer and moneyburner.

The collector, perhaps the most precious, is hot-wired for art. He has art in his homes, offices, yachts and closets. While he can sometimes be “sold” things, he loves a chase and a sense of discovery. He may be compulsive, even addicted — it’s in his blood.

The investor, looks at art and sees money. He tries to buy low and sell high. He uses terms like “important” and “flip.” He knows about taxes and regularly asks about values “for insurance purposes.”

The decorator needs something — often anything — to fill a space. Framing is important, as is colour. “Neutral subject matter” often fills the bill. She brings fabric swatches and may travel with a co-conspirator. “Trend” is big in her vocabulary — whether her inclination be period, retro, contemporary or kitsch.

The believer is the most innocent art buyer. He may be new to the game and feels the magic of it all — often sharing his excitement with an equally smitten partner. Art really speaks to them — they have a profound admiration and respect for creators.

The moneyburner has the dough and likes to get rid of it. He expects art to be expensive and reminds his friends of the figures. Because he “doesn’t have the time,” he’s often a dilettante. He exercises his whims, but often asks the advice of those who are ready and willing to give it.

Best regards,


PS: “To love a painting is to feel that its presence is not an object but a voice.” (Andre Malraux)

Esoterica: Among all of the art-buying types you’ll find the entry level, the mid-stream, and the seasoned — and some more mature than others. Incidentally, openly naming them in public is a mistake — while they’re all nice birds, they tend to think that they’re another type than what they are. You don’t want to ruffle their feathers. Just identify them and let them be.


Responsibility of collectors
by Sharon Twigg-Smith

You do a disservice to collectors by not recognizing that one of the responsibilities that comes with collecting is proper documentation. This takes an awful lot of time, effort and research. Maintaining current values for insurance purposes is part of the package. It is absolutely required by insurance companies. It is not a whim of “investor” types. Paying for regular appraisals is a pain in the neck but necessary in order to loan pieces to museums and keep your collection insured against loss.


Art consultants rule
by Katherine McLean

I think you may have underestimated the scope of the decorator art buyer. In my experience, yes that type of decorator exists, but in the main they are more educated about art than your column might indicate and mostly they do know what they are looking for as well as what they are looking at. Would you not say that the decorator category might include Art Consultants, Architects and Corporate Art Buyers as well? I have met a few of such art buyers, but they have included in their client bases Corporate Offices, Hotels, Hospitals, Municipal Buildings, Airports, Events, and those elusive residential clients.


Vacuum cleaner bites the dust
by Ardath Davis, Victoria, BC, Canada


“Mink Crossover”
acrylic, 14 x 20 inches
by Ardath Davis

After reading your description of art buyers, and thinking of many patrons and friends who have purchased paintings over the years, one pair comes to mind. They were very young, with a small baby, and were saving assiduously for a vacuum cleaner. The wife said to the husband, “While I was by myself I saw a painting in the show here that I liked. See if you can pick out the same one.” The husband did in fact pick the same one and they bought the painting. Later they attended many of my shows and on meeting them, they told me the story. When I asked what happened to the vacuum, they said the baby just had to eat her crackers on a rug on the carpet.


Personal connections with art buyers
by Linda Blondheim, Gainesville, FL, USA


“French Vineyard”
oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches
by Linda Blondheim

I would say that my art buyers are in the Believer category. Most of them are middle class professionals who just love art. They collect for the joy of it, not for investment. They are loyal and many of them buy more than one painting. I send out a weekly E-Painting to a huge list of subscribers. They love it. Most of my buyers become friends who keep up with my painting adventures and enjoy the stories. We have a personal connection. I have often felt that it is the artist they are interested in more than the paintings. Their investment is personal.


Big buck brute buyers
by Mary Madsen, Las Vegas, NV, USA

I think you left out one kind of art buyer, or perhaps this particular type of buyer is more prevalent in a town like Las Vegas. They’re the brutes who have made big bucks without any special training, skill, education, or knowledge, and now want to prove they’re civilized animals. If the name of the artist carries some recognition factor, or the gallery is prestigious, these art buyers buy one painting from each wall. This I-ain’t-no-brute mentality extends to all the arts in a town like this. The “intermission stretch” at the symphony has eyes darting this way and that so patrons can see who they’re being seen by. When the lights dim and the music starts again, they go back to enduring the crap so they can get home and scratch themselves wherever it itches.

(RG note) I had a guy like that recently. He said to me: “I think I’ve heard of you.” I told him, “That’s amazing for a logger.”


Who buys art?
by Rhonda Kruithof, Hamburg, Germany

I just got back from a few days in Prague, Czech Republic. I saw a lot of people on the street with really nice pictures to sell. Nobody was buying. I went into a gallery — again, nobody was buying. I’m an artist who is not making art. I feel a part of me is dead, but then, I’m afraid to start again. I wonder who is going to buy it? Perhaps I shouldn’t even be thinking this way. Perhaps it would be better to just make it for art’s sake. When I sold some paintings in the past it was always the best feeling. I guess I always wanted art to be my profession and not my hobby — and this is why I put so much value on sales.


Getty not a moneyburner
by Marvin Petal, Oxnard, CA, USA

It occurs to me that Jean Paul Getty personified all of the categories you mention, save one. And that singular exception may seem surprising. I had a friend named Bela Bloch who was a confidante of Getty’s and who did the actually writing of the articles that appeared in Playboy Magazine under Getty’s byline. Bela insisted that Getty was a true believer and, certainly, an investor and collector, as is aptly testified by the legacy he left behind that evolved into the world-renowned Getty Museum. In private conversations, Bela confided that Getty enjoyed his art immensely. He decorated his Sutton Place mansion in England with works that he would gaze upon with deep appreciation as an almost daily routine. The only type of buyer that Getty distinctly was not was a moneyburner. He was meticulously prudent and made it a point to buy quality and to buy what personally appealed to him.


Gender problems in letter
by Kris Bradley

I was a little surprised today reading your message on the 5 types of art buyers. Is it just coincidence that the decorator is a female? Swatches in hand, she is trying to match a piece of “trendy” art to a living space decor? Hmmm. Now, I’m not female, but even I am put off by your gender selection. You choose “he” to reference the other serious buyers, the buyers with either a passion for real art, or the money to invest or collect. Do women not fall into this category? Perhaps you can be gender-neutral next time, or, expound a little on your reasoning behind such categorizing.

(RG note) Art buyers cross all known genders and many readers took issue with my boo-boo. I apologize.


Believer is in the business
by Carol Hama Chang, Edmonton, AB, Canada


“The Hub, Whyte Avenue”
watercolor, 15 x 22 inches
by Carol Hama Chang

Being a painter in a small city has made it painfully clear that art does not necessarily sell well here. This is not an artsy place nor is it a tourist Mecca. Art moves faster in places like Taos, Mt. Carmel, London, Venice, Paris, Rome — the touristy spots. Indeed, I would never think of buying art in my home town, but yet, when I travel I succumb to the temptation. There are no doubt many others who think like this. I am definitely a believer. I have to be — I’m in the business. But when I look at a painting I always think to myself “I can do better!” I would prefer to “make my own” — unless I come across something that defies “my making it at home” — turtle shell carvings, clay work with interesting glazing, intaglios etc… some things a painter can’t do.


“Magnet buyers” everywhere
by Elin Pendleton, Wildomar, CA, USA


“Indio Polo Ground Morning”
original painting
by Elin Pendleton

Consider the “I love it and want to own it because this particular piece speaks to me” buyer. You might try to lump these folks in with the believers, but they don’t necessarily fit. They buy one painting. Maybe two. They tell their friends, who maybe buy one, or two. They do not buy other’s art, just yours (mine). Because they are so narrow in focus, they fly under the radar. And the neat thing about these folks whom I call “magnet buyers” is that one can find them in any venue!



The spreading of AIDS
by James Kay, Salt Lake City, UT, USA


“Autumn leaves, Utah”
fine art photo
by James Kay

It is not Christianity, but Catholicism that frowns on birth control. Christianity teaches that sex outside of marriage is sin, and not an approved activity. Abstinence from sex outside of the marriage bed would go a long way in the prevention of the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. We have a niece and nephew that are missionaries to an African group and it seems that the biggest problem to accepting what help is available in the area is the influence of the Tribal Elders and the local “medicine men.” The men are being told that “having sex with a virgin” will cleanse them of AIDS. Until the people are educated as to what causes the spread of the disease, the problem will continue to escalate regardless of what medication is available to them.


AIDS Fundraiser
by Melissa DeCarlo, Tyler, TX, USA

I’m on the board of directors of Tyler AIDS Services, a local non-profit dedicated to helping those in our community with HIV/AIDS and providing HIV/AIDS prevention education classes locally. Although the heartbreak of the AIDS epidemic in Africa is overwhelming, don’t forget: AIDS is everywhere and the numbers of new infections in the southern U.S. are increasing — especially among African American women. Although it is true that with access to the right medications AIDS is no longer an automatic death sentence, it remains a chronic, debilitating and eventually fatal disease that causes a great deal of suffering for all of its victims.

I live in northeast Texas, a very socially conservative area, and raising funds for HIV/AIDS is difficult — people around here think of AIDS as someone else’s problem; they’re shocked when you tell them that there are people here who are HIV positive. Currently, I’m in the process of organizing an art auction as a fundraiser for Tyler AIDS Services. I’ve asked several local artists (we are, as a rule, underappreciated here in our own town) to donate pieces of art, and then I’m inviting lots of moneyed folks to come eat/drink and purchase the art. My hope is that we’ll both raise funds for (and awareness of) our organization, and give some of the area artists a chance to get their work in front of people who normally go somewhere else for their art purchases. I have no guarantees that our event, “The ART of Surviving AIDS” will be a success — but I’m working hard trying. It’s a way for me to unite my two passions: Art and HIV/AIDS advocacy. My hope is that everyone will benefit from the event.

(RG note) Thanks, Melissa. I’m sending you an 11 x 14 framed painting to see if any of those good ‘ol Texans might go for someone from out of town. Melissa DeCarlo’s address. Thanks also to those artists who wrote to tell me that they are pledging art-derived cash to support the fight against AIDS through the Red Cross and other agencies.


Take a chill pill
by Charlotte Schuld, Stillwater, MN, USA

Regarding Rita Putatunda’s letter in the last clickback — being passionate and informed about an issue doesn’t have to include being rude and insensitive to the voices and actions of good people. Rita — do your thing and have your voice — but please take a chill pill. Attacking Jim Wooten and Robert Genn really attacks all of us who do what we can, when we can, from wherever we are. Every good action ripples out and creates a positive reaction, growing as it moves from person to person. Just because Wooten’s book doesn’t solve and stop the whole messy AIDS problem, doesn’t mean it isn’t important and doesn’t help.


Nature fighting back?
by Jennifer Hendrickson, New Zealand

It’s not politically correct to say this, but surely AIDS is an attempt by Nature to fight back at the humanity which is smothering it. World overpopulation is causing most of humanity’s problems and nobody is talking about it. This is frightening to broach because any broad discussion of possible solutions must include religious, economic, humanitarian and political considerations, each of which is itself fraught with insoluble conflicts and polarizations. But not talking about how humanity is spiralling out of control won’t make the problems go away, and no amount of compassion and aid will significantly reduce the inevitable famine, suffering and war.


“Deed of Gift” of painting
by Jacqueline Sferra Rada, New York City, NY, USA

As custodian of the estate of my husband, painter George A. Rada, I have been asked by a college to contribute a painting to their permanent collection. I am more than pleased to do this. The Deed of Gift which I am asked to sign includes the following:

Donor hereby irrevocably and unconditionally gives, transfers, and assigns to_____by way of gift, all right, title, and interest (including all copyright, trademark and related interests) in, to and associated with the object(s) described below.

Are these the standard conditions by which colleges, museums and other institutions receive gifts of art? I would appreciate any information you and/or your readers may have

(RG note) The recipient, in this case, is wishing to pick up all ancillary rights to the work. This is common. But nothing is written in stone. In the event that you or your heirs may want at some time to use the image for a Christmas card or some other form of reproduction, you might wish to have the exclusive copyright clause removed. Otherwise that value will go to the college and that indeed may be in keeping with your late husband’s wishes.





St. Tropez

oil painting
by William Berra, Taos, NM, USA


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2004.

That includes Julie Rodriguez Jones of Spanish Springs, NV, USA who wrote, “I just sold my first book cover, Grandfather’s Song, to a believer. Yahoo for believers!”

And also Milton Peasley of Austin, Texas, USA who wrote, “One addition of art-buyer-type I can think of — ‘Friends and Family.’ Especially for the starving artists — artists with day jobs they only just tolerate, etc.”

And also Frank Lang of Ashland, Oregon, USA who wrote, “So where do the ‘I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like’ types fit? A full-blown species of their own, or a subspecies or variety of one of the others?”

(RG note) Perhaps you’re onto something, Frank. Could be a distinct species. But you have to realize that when they say that — they really mean: “I don’t know anything about art, but I like what I know.”




Leave A Reply

No Featured Workshop
No Featured Workshop

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

Subscribe and receive the Twice-Weekly letter on art. You’ll be joining a worldwide community of artists.
Subscription is free.