If you’ve ever read anything about art collecting – How To Collect Art, Getting Started In Art Collecting, The Essentials of Art Collecting, et cetera – you’ve been told that emerging artists offer amazing opportunities to get great art from as-yet-undiscovered rising stars. That is said a lot because it’s true. As with all things easily said though, it is not easily done.
Of course, if you like the art you should buy it. The differentiating factor is price/value. I have an annual art budget. You should too. A part of my budget is set aside for art under a certain price point that I just like. My number is two thousand dollars. If you employ this strategy, your number might be different. The point is that, for me, any acquisition over $2000 is looked at as an investment. Those artworks are expected to rise in value over time. That’s the price point where the future value analysis begins.
The definition of “emerging artist” is not carved in stone. There’s a lot of space between unheard of and emerging, although there is a good bit of overlap. So, how can you assess whether an artist is emerging or just unknown, and whether the actual emerging artist is going to emerge or revert to simply unheard of? It's nearly impossible to be certain, but there are things to look for.
Fancy Book Learn'n…
Formal education is one. Outsider Artists (generally those who haven’t attended a fine arts program at a recognized university arts program) are a legitimate category, but if you’re looking at buying art as a value investment strategy unheard of outsiders are a mega risk. The artist you’re looking for attended a school with a top rung Fine Arts program. A fine arts education isn’t important because they teach you how to paint, or to sculpt, or to take photographs, or the intricate workings of a hot glue gun. One can learn all of those things at University, but far more important are the future prospects for working and networking in the art world. Artists need to earn a living. The kinds of careers that allow artists to develop their talent and work on their craft, and be in the company of like-minded people, are careers best facilitated by a BFA or an MFA. Teaching art at the university level or working at museums is not just a viable living. Those are professions that allow artists to practice their craft while working in a supportive, constructively critical environment, to asses their growth and progress and to see in real-time how their work measures against other working artists whose work they respect.
Where Have You Been, and What Did You Do There, and Who Saw You..?
Have a look at the artists' exhibition history. Are they showing at galleries? Which galleries? Solo exhibitions or just group shows? With which other artists are they showing? What other artists show or have shown at the galleries where your emerging-artist-in-question is showing? Maybe more important than gallery shows are public exhibitions at museums or larger foundations. An artist selected to appear in a show like that is starting to get recognized for the quality of their work. Because non-profit arts institutions have different motives than galleries, you’ll get a different sense of where the artist fits in a historical context. Once that happens though, the prices for the art have likely started to rise already. If you’re a bargain hunter, you may have already missed your opportunity. If you are more cautious about how your art dollars are spent, waiting for a museum show might be the more prudent move.
Intentional career management will be important to an artist's prospects for future recognition. A desirable Curriculum Vitae (CV; an artist's or creative academic's resume, if you will) does not develop itself. The CV will list shows and exhibitions, but it will also list art related academic experiences; lectures, classes taught, symposiums, et cetera. Residencies, artists' grants and awards they’ve won will be shown there too. Other collectors who own their work, individuals and institutions, as well as major auctions, public and/or private commissions, and significant secondary market transactions will be listed there. A collector will be looking for a well rounded, comprehensive CV when trying to identify a potential break-out artist. Artists want to show and sell art. Young or early career artists will want to jump at every opportunity to do so. Artists want to earn a living from their art. There is nothing ignoble about that. At some point though, an artist who intends to have a long, meaningful, impactful career, will decide to be more selective in the opportunities they pursue – or at least the exhibitions they choose to record on their CV.
Reading art journals and publications in the serious fine arts space is a good way to see which names are coming up repeatedly. An internet search can show you how many times an artist has been mentioned or featured over the past two years in Black Art in America, Culture Type, Urban Mindz, Artsy.net, IRAAA+, American Fine Art Magazine, Juxtapoz, Arts.Black, et cetera. When consuming art information in the media, sources are important. If your Google search brings up a lot of local media, where the art critic is the same person covering the town’s PTA meeting, you’ll want to take that with a grain of salt. Even if your artist is mentioned in the right publications, you still need to read further. In media, it’s cool to do what the other cool kids are doing. Your artist may be just having her moment. Upon further reading, what is actually being said, and by whom? Fame is fleeting. Good art and successful careers persist.
Respect The Hustle (Just don’t expect reciprocity)
There are a lot of ways for an artist to earn money making and selling art. Ironically, many of those money earning endeavors are detrimental to a collector’s long-term price appreciation prospects. An example is really good art sold inexpensively at low-budget art fairs, community art galleries, on the street at public markets, and on the internet. Two-hundred and fifty dollars for a great painting by an extremely talented and well-practiced painter is nothing to turn your nose at. I certainly don’t. There’s a bunch of them in my collection. Sell ten of those a day, four days a week, and the artist is earning impressive coin. For collectors, it’s a safe bet that those lovely paintings will bring you much joy but zero dollars in value appreciation.
Another example is the licensing of easily digested images and illustrations; like Black Man Atlas or the rose on the piano keys with the champagne flute, or Barak Obama and The Revered Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr and Jesus playing basketball… Those artists earn a more than respectable living doing that sort of thing. But even if you have the original Barak Obama and The Revered Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr, and Jesus Playing Basketball, it will never sell at Sotheby's or the Swann for seven figures. Never, ever. I am not knocking the artists or the art. (Maybe I’m knocking the art. Probably I’m knocking the art.) As a patron, I fully believe in and support artists earning a living and then some, but if we’re talking about collecting you want to avoid works by artists who are on that track. Most artists don’t reap any immediate monetary benefit from secondary art market transactions, so they may not care about recognition or future value at all. That’s fair. For those that care about their legacy and impact as artists, this is where we circle back to the Fine Arts degrees, academic employability and career management.
You can get all of this right and still have spent good money on art by emerging artists who just will not ever emerge. If you don’t do your research and analysis due diligence though, you can be sure you’re not buying “the next big thing”. That’s art-ing and that’s cool as long as you love your acquisitions and you haven’t spent your “art collecting budget” on non investment grade art.
If you are interested in knowing more about collecting works by emerging artists, or anything else discussed in this blog, check out the hyperlinks and the books featured here.
William S Jiggetts