Buying Art on eBay - the easy way.

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eBay is a great place to become a collector of original art: nowhere else can you choose from such a wide range of styles, talents and prices. But where to start? The art world can seem elitist, difficult and snobbish! That's where eBay is so useful - it removes all the barriers between collectors (that's you) and the artist. In this guide I want to encourage you to start collecting contemporary art. I want to show you how to start a collection that will enhance your home with some of the best art your budget can buy.
Why eBay?
Ten years ago, if you wanted to buy an original painting, you had to find a gallery. Galleries charged high prices and displayed the work in very intimidating, very exclusive galleries. I remember visiting a gallery in London many years ago and having to ring a bell to gain access from the street. Once inside the gallery I had to wait for a lift attendadnt to bring the lift down to the ground floor, the lift then took me to the first floor, where I was met by an attendant who followed me round the whole gallery. I felt completely intimidated, and didn't spend long looking at the painiting. maybe the gallery staff had identified me as a penniless artist, rather than a rich collector, and just wanted to get rid of me!
Then came the internet and eBay, and nothing has been the same since. Yes, the galleries are still there, but the advantage is now with the collectors and the artists who have been brought together by the new technology.
Where to Start?
First, decide what kind of art you like:
  • Are you a traditionalist - do you like landscapes that look like real places, portraits that look like the real person, or seascapes that remind you of your holidays?
  • Are you a fan of more contemporary art - do you like your art to make a statement and 'pack a visual punch', perhaps you like art that is more urban in its subject matter, less pretty and more edgy?
  • What's you opinion of abstract art? Do you want to include prints or photographs in your collection?
  • How about drawings and sculptures?
  • Do you want to develop a theme? For example, maybe you'd like to collect just watercolours, or maybe just paintings of animals.

Where are you going to display your art?

If you have limited wall space, you'll either want to collect smaller works or limit yourself to just two or three larger works. If you live in a 17th century cottage you might want to collect small english watercolours, if you live in an inner city loft apartment you might want to collect large-scale urban contemporary canvases. Some art create a bold individual statement, some art creates a cosy small-scale impact. Look round your house and buy art that you can live with. That 2 metre high nude painting of a lap dancer might look great in your living room, but what will you do with it when your 6-year old neices come round for tea? A jewel-like miniature landscape will be lost on a 3 metre by 6 metre wall.
How much will you pay?
eBay art is cheap, very cheap. But don't expect to get something for nothing. To create a work of real quality takes time and skills. Artists are as vulnerable to market forces as plumbers, solicitors and office workers. Sooner or later an artist has to factor in their time taken to create a painting, and many artists find that they earn less than the minimum wage. Expect your artists to pay themselves at least the minimum wage. So if your canvas took 10 hours to complete, you should expect to pay the artist at least £50. I'm not saying you can't pick up good art cheaper than this rate, but if your artist wants to make any kind of a career, then he or she must charge a realistic price.
Of course, pricing art is much more complex than this and the only true judge of the worth of a painting is how much a customer is willing to pay. How much you are willing to pay probably depends on two thinks: how good an investment you think the art is, and how much artistic skill the painting shows.
Is art a good investment?
Art is always a risky investment, via eBay or via a traditional gallery. You are best recommended to by the art for its own sake, rather than for any future investment value.
How do you identify 'good' art?
Whole books have been written to answer this question, but here are a few pointers:
  • Does is make you appreciate a familiar object more?
  • Is it a beautiful object in its own right (the subject of the painting might be very ugly, but the painting can be beautiful)
  • Does the artist show any special skills in the painting? 
  • Is the painting decepively simple? 
  • Does the painting evoke special memories for you?
  • Finally, will it look good on your wall, with your furniture and alongside your other paintings?
Buyer Beware
Watch out for a few sharp practices:
Paintings that havn't been painted yet. Some sellers aren't selling an actual painting. When you place your order they will then paint a replica of the painting you see displayed. You might be OK with this, but check the small print.
Paintings on unstretched canvas. Most canvases are sold with stretchers. A stretcher is the wooden frame that the canvas is 'stretched' over. Without a stretcher, all you'll get is a roll of canvas and you'll have to pay someone to insert a new one before the paintng can be framed.
Paintings by famous names. Unscrupulous sellers will often use very careful wording to suggest that an artwork might be by someone famous - without actually saying anything that could hold them to account if the painting turn out to be a fake.
Paintings from factories. Some 'artists' are actually large factories (often based in China) where paintings are created in industrial quantities and where the artist is paid an appallingly low wage.
Do become a collector of art. Its a very rewarding hobby, and you'll be part of a long tradition of art patronage that goes back to the renaissance, and even further back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. Appreciation of the arts has a vital function as a barometer of a healthy society. You won't change the world by collecting art, but you will help make the world a better place to live in.
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