Look who’s buying art now

Dear Artist, Visiting last night with one of my really wealthy friends and wandering once more among his many art acquisitions, including a few I’d not seen before, I was once more catching the drift of his habits. He insisted on telling me how much he’d paid for this and that. They seemed big prices for big mediocrity from big names. That’s only my opinion — apart from his bad art, he’s got some of mine too, so I didn’t say a word. He also told me he’d flipped a few, “even in this bad market.” My friend fits the profile of many collectors. They’re in it for the game, the name and the fame. Investment is a factor. As well, many collected works are bequeathed to museums where a tax receipt gives year-end relief to the wealthy donor. For some reason, all of my collector friends who fit this profile are men. Recent studies are showing a sea change in earning power and discretionary spending. In the USA, among couples where both partners work, 40% of the women now earn more than the men. The stats on university attendance are also telling. Sixty percent of students enrolled in higher education are now women. If present trends continue, in twenty-five years women will outnumber men in medicine and law. Physics, engineering and professorships will not be far behind. In studies of families where the male still maintained a higher income than his spouse, discretionary spending decisions are nearly equal. On the other hand, in families where the wife’s income is higher, it’s the female who makes most of the big decisions. The persistent scenario, frightening to some of the blokes, is that CEO mom goes shopping after work while dad is home feeding crackers to the kids and watching Barney. And what particular art are these rich gals buying? In my observation, they’re not so much interested in the game, name or fame. In the last few years I’ve not heard one single active female art buyer utter the word “investment.” They’re more interested in connection, shared experience, life enhancement, tailored quality, nest-and-nurture, soul-polishing, and yes, décor and colour-coordination. Funnily, while women do more measuring than men, big size is not so important. I would be really interested in what gallery owners have to say about this, but women seem often to be making art decisions based on lofty ideals, genuine emotions and high sensibilities. Is it that women have better values than men? More imagination? Better taste? More sense? Or is it just less testosterone? Best regards, Robert PS: “Women are asking what privileges their own breadwinning buys.” (Liza Mundy) Esoterica: In what I call FABE (the Female Art Buying Explosion), women have less hesitancy in collecting women artists. This may be partly because female-run and female-owned galleries have risen dramatically. In the years I’ve been painting, the percentage of female artists in galleries has slowly crept up. A few galleries now represent more women than men. Considering female artists outnumber male artists 80/20, there is still a way to go.   Thrilling sea change by Naida Hyde, Victoria, BC, Canada   The sea change you write about thrills me. Not before its time! A few years ago I went to a high-end gallery in Yorkville, Toronto to see one of my favourite artist’s shows. As I am a woman, I was invisible to the owner who paid no attention to me, not even greeting me. I only buy art that speaks to my soul. One painting, more expensive than I could really afford, did want to leave that soul-less place and come home with me. And so, we are living happily ever after, together. Thanks, Robert, for your marvelous, thought-provoking letters. There are 2 comments for Thrilling sea change by Naida Hyde
From: P. Y. Duthie — Mar 28, 2012

When I visit a gallery with my husband I am usually ignored which is nice because I like to take my time and look at the art in peace. I guess I’m viewed as the dumb wife even though I have not said a word. This was really apparent when we visited a gallery in Kona, Hawaii. The gallerista constantly pestered my husband who didn’t even want to be there. I’m an artist and a collector with money to spend, money that I didn’t spend there.

From: don — Mar 30, 2012

This is hard to believe that only men get the attention. As one who is tired of the gallery scene, I do nearly all of my own promotion now and I find that the majority of my collectors are now women, thankfully. They are less businesslike and certainly seem more passionate toward the art that really speaks to them. It’s the reason I buy art – it has to speak to me in some way.

  Good enough reasons by Daniela Andersen, Sydney, Australia  

“Leap of Joy”
white pencil on black paper
by Daniela Andersen

Just as your letter was seriously leaving me depressed and empty with all the stuff that leaves me seriously unimpressed and empty like “the name and the fame,” “high profile,” “investment art,” “CEO,” you inform us that women are coming into their own and buying: “connection, shared experience, life enhancement, tailored quality, nest-and-nurture, soul-polishing” — thank God, a balm to the soul this news is, and good enough reasons to keep working.         Criteria for buying by Chris Blom, Benson, AZ and Monterey County, CA, USA   As a female collector myself, with multiple female friends who also collect art, I can say we buy art based on 2 criteria: 1. Do I love it? And, incidentally, different pieces may be loved for different reasons. 2. Does it enhance my house? Because after all, a room is just a larger-scale work of art itself and anything put in it must contribute to its aesthetic. I would only buy art without reference to its setting if I had a neutral gallery space in the home that had no identity of its own. And wouldn’t that be a nice thing to have? I don’t particularly care whether the artist is a “name” and as a matter of fact I get particular pleasure buying from a little-known artist whose work I love.   Women are women — by nature by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA  

“Girl in kimono”
oil painting
by Rick Rotante

This is an interesting, though foreseeable phenomenon. We have to look at this from a distant perspective to understand what is happening. Men, traditionally being the bread winners as well as the movers and shakers in the formation of society and industry, saw art as just one more ‘commodity’ to be traded. They treated art as another item in which to make money, if any money were there to be made. Art is and has always been an effeminate pursuit regardless of the fact so many men dominated the field. But this can be attributed only to the fact that men once ruled the world — albeit through force and domination. Because art it isn’t coffee or mercantile goods or nails and hammers — tangible items necessary for sustaining life — it was one more item to be bought and sold to gain wealth. It would be safe to assume bankers and Industrialists never bought or sold art for its esthetics. It was commerce with little or no intrinsic emotional or spiritual content. Women on the other hand — and by nature — are more in touch with their emotions and tend to attach emotion to art objects, and it would stand to reason they would approach art less as commerce and more for the esthetic and emotional qualities present within. Given the opportunity, such as we find today; where economic freedom is leveling the playing field, women are exercising their personal feelings when it comes to art. They see what was there all the time in its ability to nurture, appease, appeal, comfort, inform and move people; to elevate ones conscience and moral value; to instruct without preaching. In effect, to transport us to places real life cannot. I don’t believe their choices are a result of economic freedom but were always there. Women, by nature, are women no matter their ability to have money and power. It is becoming more apparent now that women are taking more control of not only their lives but life in general where it also concerns humanity. They can and are making personal art choices openly separate from what men would do. I believe they would have made these same personal choices if they had had economic freedom and power earlier in previous generations. There are 2 comments for Women are women — by nature by Rick Rotante
From: Dottie Dracos — Mar 30, 2012

Very perceptive, very well said.

From: Anonymous — Mar 30, 2012

For Rick… you had a chance to help that poor girl have a nice nose… what happened?

  Will you still like it in the morning? by Ortrud K. Tyler, Oak Island, NC, USA  

“21st Century”
original painting
by Ortrud K. Tyler

From my experience of selling my paintings for over 30 years, having a small gallery for a few years and being in galleries, it seems in general you are right. Men seem (the operative here is seem) to buy more for investment, bragging rights and like reasons. Women seem to be able to step back some and first and foremost buy to enhance their life and their surroundings. Nobody complains if they are complimented, too, and the value of their purchase rises. I find many times when a couple considers a purchase they both get their say and then compromise. I always point out they should be sure they like it when they look at it in the morning. Just like you want to like what you see across from you over your first cup of coffee. There are 2 comments for Will you still like it in the morning? by Ortrud K. Tyler
From: Kathleen Knight — Mar 30, 2012

I very much like your painting, as well as your commentary.

From: Marie Pinschmidt — Mar 31, 2012

Ortrud, how nice to see you’re still making beautiful art and beautiful sense with your words. I’ve had that same experience.I still am enjoying your “shrimp” paintings.

  Out of character by Pauline Lazzarini, Rohnert Park, CA, USA  

“Dropped in for tea”
acrylic painting, 7 x 5 inches
by Pauline Lazzarini

I found this article to be so out of character for you. It sounds like you are stuck in the middle ages. Women have been buying art for many years. Aren’t you familiar with Gertrude Stein? I know women with much less income who splurge on art, myself included. What I have found is that more artists buy art than non-artists. I don’t see a connection to our sex but more to our appeal. The highest percentage of buyers of my own work are females. Even men who make more money than their spouses have been buying art for their wives for years. I find this article ridiculous. (RG note) Thanks, Pauline. I thought someone would mention Gertrude Stein. As the current (until June 3, 2012), show “The Steins Collect” at the Metropolitan in NY shows, it was Gertrude’s brother Leo Stein who got started collecting first, and it was he who built the largest collection. An earlier female patron was Catherine the Great (1762-1796) of Russia. She imported her art. She also imported her artists. There are 9 comments for Out of character by Pauline Lazzarini
From: Anonymous — Mar 29, 2012

Drinking tea served by rabbits is known to cause errors in judgement

From: Andrea Pottyondy — Mar 30, 2012

…and don’t forget Peggy Guggenheim!

From: Artist — Mar 30, 2012

And Electra Havemeyer Webb – what an eye for the creative!

From: Anonymous — Mar 30, 2012
From: Laurel Alanna McBrine — Mar 30, 2012

For me, Isabella Gardner Stewart immediately came to mind – her collection and beautiful palazzo which houses same, in Boston, has left an indelible impression on my soul. I think she would have been fun to hang out with!

From: Laurel Alanna McBrine — Mar 30, 2012

Oops, sorry, that is Isabella Stewart Gardner, I can never remember the order of that name!

From: Ron Ruble — Apr 01, 2012
From: Ron Ruble — Apr 01, 2012

P.S. Men have sensitivity also. We are not all just money driven.

From: LD Tennessee — Apr 03, 2012

The new Crystal Bridges Art Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas (yes Arkansas) is the brain child of Alice Walton (of the Walmart Waltons). Worth the trip…

  Crazy Tiki Art Show by Trey Surtees, North Shore, Haleiwa, HI, USAi  

“Serenity at sunset”
oil painting
by Trey Surtees

It’s pretty amazing how the art market is changing. Thanks to the younger generations and the sub-cultures they have created, everything from fashion to art has been affected. The crazier the better they say… “Seascapes?… That is something my parents or grandparents would hang on their wall, not me. I want something that is crazy and a conversation piece.” Seems like almost anything sells now. Galleries are also starting to carry work that appeals to the younger crowd and that means the work is getting a little more “off the wall.” It’s an interesting phenomenon.       Ready collectors by Joseph Yos Tany  

“Sweet Pacific”
oil painting, 16 x 16 inches
by Joseph Yos Tany

Usually, I am not impressed by general observations about anything, yet, as I am trying to find a new gallery to buy of me, I indeed took a glance into your contribution. My general “knowledge” is ordering my experiences at selling or failing through time. In different places and circumstances and those mean nothing that can be concluded or point anywhere. I have sold over 200 originals in person and 300 through galleries and agents add about 50 or so stolen or disappeared while in someone’s hands and I take those as “compliments.” One thing I usually say about collectors is that I know when a person is about to buy and I can help complete a purchase. Today I sent a letter to a gallery — my hopes are pretty moderated — wish me well.   Gender differences by Laurel Redmond, New Westminster, BC, Canada   This article /ad for Lumosity’s Brain-training/research Games arrived the same day as yours, and explains a lot in your observation. Also a in a recent interview (on CBC radio) of an Olympic athlete-daughter of one of the women leaders in the OKA crisis, pointed out that the warriors were criticised in media for being blocked and pulled back from a gunfight with RCMP, by unarmed women. She said that people don’t understand how important female judgment is in native societies, and is highly respected for strategic safety and survival decisions during a crisis. I think most people acknowledge the value of women’s careful judgment, even if only at a gut level, thus the high rate of women’s preferences no matter who the wage earner is. Lumosity Newsletter: Men and women make different decisions under stress Decision Making Under Stress If an important decision looms but your mind is consumed with the fear that you’ve lost your wallet, better save decision making for later. Multiple studies show that stress significantly affects decision making. What’s more, men and women react differently to stress. A 2009 study by Lighthall et al. from the University of Southern California gives a good overview of how sex differences manifest. Researchers had 45 subjects play a balloon game that was really a risk-reward evaluation in disguise: the goal was to win the most money by pumping the balloon. But as the balloon’s value grew, so too did the risk of it popping. Males and females performed similarly in unstressed scenarios, but when they played after a stressful situation (having their hands dunked in cold water), results shifted. Males responded to stress by taking more risks (12.5% more balloon pumps), while stressed females took fewer risks (21% fewer pumps). How does the model of risk avoidance transfer to real life? A 2011 study from the University of California Davis looked at one real-life task –investing — with a measurable high-risk activity (trades). Out of 27,000 investors, men made 45% more trades on their portfolios. The high trading rates led to worse performance, causing male investors to lose more value on their portfolios than female investors. Further studies must be done to seek out the possible gender biases in other occupations, but the University of Davis research is an interesting start. As scientists learn more about the processes involved in decision making, there are steps you can take to ensure that your decisions are made clearly and calmly. Tips for clear, calm decision making Think through each consequence before you make a decision. Reward yourself for good choices. And try training with a few Lumosity games. Speed Match is great practice for staying accurate and calm in time-sensitive situations. Or try Route to Sproute, which may help with strategic planning and problem solving. Unlock full access and stay calm and clear-headed in all your decision making. There is 1 comment for Gender differences by Laurel Redmond
From: Tatjana — Mar 29, 2012

It’s obvious that male and female decision making strategies complement each other. In the best case scenario, one side will save what we have from destruction and the other will take risks that can bring in big leaps of progress. Those are two different halves of the whole.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Look who’s buying art now

From: Naida Hyde — Mar 26, 2012

The sea change you write about thrills me. Not before its time! A few years ago I went to a high-end gallery in Yorkville, Toronto to see one of my favourite artist’s shows. As I am a woman, I was invisible to the owner who paid no attention to me, not even greeting me. I only buy art that speaks to my soul. One painting, more expensive than I could really afford, did want to leave that soul-less place and come home with me. And so, we are living happily ever after, together. Thanks, Robert for your marvellous, thought-provoking letters.

From: Daniela — Mar 26, 2012

Just as your letter was seriously leaving me depressed and empty with all the stuff that leaves me seriously unimpressed and empty like “the name and the fame”, “high profile”, “investment art” “ceo”, you inform us that women are coming into their own and buying: “connection, shared experience, life enhancement, tailored quality, nest-and-nurture, soul-polishing”…. thank God, a balm to the soul, this news is, and, good enough good reasons to keep working.

From: DM — Mar 27, 2012

Big Value In Bad Art ! Speaking of bad art, I sometimes retry to understand the continuing (and increasing) “value” of Andy Warhol ! It is my contention that his real talent was in marketing. I think he was a mediocre artist. He was great at “street theatre”, but that doesn’t explain why his pieces still “make the year” for some auction houses. Admittedly, sixty years or so is not a long period in art history, but it’s a pretty good run for a fad ! I keep holding to my fantasy that, after most of us “old hippies” die off, Andy’s name will fade with our “democratic arts” concepts. And, yes, I was also a fan of his, once upon a time. It must be the marketing ! I knew artists from that period. And knew of others. Some still alive, and some actually make a decent living from their production. At least one will probably be a remembered American sculptor. But, you can see the talent and the work and the growth in their achievements. Even many — many many — street level artists often display a greater capacity for statement, by any standards, than I can see in Warhol. Meanwhile, some of the world’s finest musicians play for sidewalk tips on street corners and subway platforms, while the “corporate monkeys”, who can barely scrape three valid chords together, get delivered to their next gigs in private jets and limos. I think I’m gonna go open a few cans of house paint, and sling the contents at a sheet of plywood, or maybe plaster board ! Any buyers interested ??? ~DM

From: JÉRÉMIE GILES — Mar 27, 2012

Dear Robert, Your article has got to be the most honest analysis I have read in recent years. Many of us who are artists, observing the art scene, think very much as you do. The difference———you said it and loudly at that———-top of the hat to you friend !

From: Jackie Knott — Mar 27, 2012
From: Suzette Fram — Mar 27, 2012

Is it that women have better values than men? More imagination? Better taste? More sense? Or is it just less testosterone? Yes to all of the above. LOL.

From: John F. Burk — Mar 27, 2012

Good observations. I’ve noticed the gender change in my modest buying public. Thankfully, I seem to appeal to them. The wise artist will work in that direction. Subject selection and (believe it or not), the naming of your painting seems to be a part of the appeal. Mixed with good color judgments and elegant execution and you’re cooking on all burners, just waiting for the economy to open up a little. (I’m working on all of that.)

From: Sophia Moore — Mar 27, 2012

Damn…I really, really, REALLY liked your letter today!

From: Carol Lyons — Mar 27, 2012
From: Jane R. Dell — Mar 27, 2012

I’ve been well aware of this happening and this article really confirms this trend!

From: Suzanne Frazier — Mar 27, 2012

Your comments are refreshing. Maybe art will be valued for the quality of work and inspiration instead of the “game”. I am delighted that you recognize how the male psyche sometimes skews reality to meet competitive needs. How sad. I hope this era of male dominance is over.

From: Sally Yardley — Mar 27, 2012
From: Ann Rutherford Pass — Mar 27, 2012

I loved this article. I am an artist, a woman, but I buy art also. Not for resale, first and foremost, it has to be a wonderful piece of art, but color does matter, it definitely has to have some emotion to it. Go Girls, buy that art.

From: Kathryn Ragan — Mar 27, 2012

That was an extremely interesting post today. I hope that trend manifests; I think we would definitely see huge changes in “style”.

From: Sandy — Mar 27, 2012
From: Sharon Cory — Mar 28, 2012

Women connect everything to their emotions….they imagine living with this new thing, how it will fit into their space, how they will feel when they see it in the morning. This is true of a frying pan, a new painting, even a man.

From: Lori Woodward — Mar 28, 2012

These stats are interesting. I’ve noticed that shows like “cowgirl up” in AZ is growing in popularity. Women can’t join Cowboy Artists of America, so they have their own show. There is a rich variety of work, sales are brisk, and prices are more reasonable for similar quality to the guys’ works. Perhaps invitational womens’ shows are selling well because, like you point out, more women are “bringing home the bacon” and making decisions about discretionary income. Whoo Hoo!

From: Penny Eder — Mar 28, 2012

After last night’s letter, 4 of my artists have forwarded it to me. I read with great delight the fact that I have based my business plan on exactly what you are saying. Recently I have opened a studio gallery, in the popular Function Area of Whistler, home to many artists and design stores. The emphasis is on a working studio gallery with lots of demos, classes and pure and simple enjoyment of the art, my idea is that there will always be an artist at work. The doors have been open for 4 days now, and everything points to success. A large portion of the sales I have made at other galleries are to women, and that holds true here as well, this gives me the opportunity to focus on the art that women want. Thanks for all the great work you both do in keeping us all informed.

From: Inga Poslitur — Mar 28, 2012

I found that it’s much harder to sell art to a woman than to a man. Guys just do it. Women need more “massaging” into it. I wouldn’t worry too much that women will outnumber men in the arts soon. Women still make babies and creating art does require a lot of life altering decisions.

From: Peter Adams — Mar 28, 2012

I too enjoy observing the habits of art buyers. I think your comments on gender differences are right on the money. I prefer that people buy my paintings because they connect with them, but I don’t mind if a collector considers them a good investment too!

From: Ed Anderson — Mar 28, 2012

As a male artist, who has participated in numerous group shows, I can unreservedly confirm the validity of Robert’s observations. The majority of artists exhibiting are women, and the majority of purchasers are women. What I object to are the generalized gender stereotypes applied to both men and women. Women “not interested in the game, name or fame….women have better values than men? More imagination? Better taste? More sense? “. Come on, Robert, you can do better than that! Isn’t the most important thing to paint with passion and commitment, regardless of gender, race or creed? In a world of 7 billion people you will find your market.

From: Cindy — Mar 30, 2012

Ed, ditto your objection to “women have better values than men? More imagination? Better taste? More sense? ” How those traits are expressed may vary between the sexes but the traits themselves are there in both. The bulk of my sales seems to come from women as well. While I know women who have bought art for investment purposes the bulk of them seem to buy from a perspective of personal preference and emotion versus perceived or eventual worth. It’s deeply rewarding to know that your work is being bought because someone loves it and must have it. That said I’m appreciative of anyone who spends their money on my work, male or female.

From: H Margret — Mar 30, 2012

In the world of $$$$, what’s really going on is a sea change through the complete devaluation of the dollar and other major currencies. Stocks are over-valued, gold and other commodities are becoming the top investments. Art is better than holding cash. Women buyers have always been valuable for the artist, but there weren’t enough of them! I’ve personally had many passionate men collectors who bought for their own taste. What’s leaving the game is the “new rich” collector who bought for the tertiary market.

From: Darren Meader — Mar 30, 2012

I am what they would call an “emerging” artist and like most artists in this current economic climate are finding sales few and far between. I was encouraged by this letter “Look who’s buying art now” as I have also come across these stories of richer men buying art purely for the game of prestige. Sometimes I think that my atmospheric traditional scenes don’t stand a chance against some of these high flying contemporary art practitioners who seem to rake in the cash. Hopefully with the trend you are suggesting with art buying women and a future where the economic world pulls its head out of it’s collective butt I might see more success. I will also try some abstract style landscape/streetscape as I do believe that artistic versatility is also warranted.

     Featured Workshop: Charles Reid
033012_robert-gennCharles Reid workshops   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

Road to Waterton

oil painting, 40 x 60 inches by Gordon Lewis, Regina, SK, Canada

  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, 2013. That includes Karla Pearce of Kamloops, BC, Canada, who wrote, “Most of the clients in my gallery are women, students or artists. I haven’t taken a poll but I would say 90%.” And also James Fox of Fredericksburg, TX, USA, who wrote, “A man’s opinion: the answer to the last questions in the letter are all yes. Women are smarter.” And also Anonymous art dealer who wrote, “Over the last few years there have been more and more women buying in my gallery. Their price point is often lower, but they tend to buy from the heart.” And another anonymous gallery owner who wrote, “They came in with their husbands, now they are coming in on their own. But I do often hear, ‘I’ll take it and see what my husband thinks.’ I’m not sure this remark is for real. Maybe you better add ‘devious’ to your adjectives about women.”    

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.