A meditation for newcomers to buying art

 Use your mind
By JEFF INGLIS  |  December 4, 2013


Buying art can be intimidating. It can involve Galleries and Dealers and Other Important People whose Opinions Matter. Or it can just be you (and perhaps a loved one) seeing something you like and buying it. Which is much simpler. But still, it’s an emotional and psychological process with a few important things to think about.

In fact, art buying is — or can be — a lot like meditation. For starters, it’s best to approach it with a relaxed body and mind.

Then you need to throw away all conventions and social norms. Buying art is a very personal thing, and it’s not up to anybody else to decide it for you. Beauty is, as the ancient adage goes, in the eye of the beholder. If you don’t like a piece of art, it doesn’t matter if it’s a piece beloved by The Art World or Culture In General, or even if it’s a masterpiece by Picasso or Calder. Similarly, if you like a piece of art, what it “looks like” or depicts, or what someone else sees in it, doesn’t matter a whit. You need to connect with the art you’re going to buy in some sort of important emotional way. What that is, and what that feels like, is also up to you.

But you should want to look at it every day, forever. Unlike partners or children or pets, it won’t change itself — only your meaning for it can. But just like partners and children and pets, it can represent — and serve as a constant reminder of — a moment, or a feeling, or a belief, that lasts a lifetime. (Fortunately, medical research has shown that viewing art activates parts of the brain called the “reward circuit,” bringing pleasure and encouraging the person to view more art. So the more you look at art, the more you’ll want to look at art. Accompanying this piece are some works I’ve purchased and enjoy looking at daily.)

Next, observe what’s in front of you. This doesn’t necessarily take a long time. It can certainly involve books and online research (see sidebar, “Online Galleries”), but the best way to experience art — whether you’re buying or not — is in person. Portland makes this process extremely easy, and free: On First Fridays, find a few galleries you visit every time, and then mix in a few other new ones each month. Walk in, look around — make sure you put your eyes on every item there — and see what happens. If you like something, look at it longer. If you don’t see anything that just plain grabs you, thank the gallery owner and leave.

Fourth, reflect on yourself. If you’re drawn to a piece of art (sorry for the bad pun), there’s a reason. You don’t have to know or articulate the reason, but you do need to acknowledge it exists, and that its existence is valid and meaningful.

Fifth, let it go. Once you’ve had a good look at a piece of art, from many angles, walk away. Go look at some other art (again, First Friday is fantastic for this). If you find yourself still thinking about that one piece, observe that, and perhaps indulge that feeling’s persistence by going back to take another look. If you don’t want to expend the effort to even do that, then you don’t really want to buy the work, do you?

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