An EAST Buyer's Guide
Tips for purchasing artwork on the East Austin Studio Tour
The East Austin Studio Tour is here again. In addition to giving us all a chance to experience art in the city's eastern neighborhoods, this annual art showcase offers a ripe opportunity to buy work from local artists. With open studio doors and artistic demonstrations this weekend and next, audiences can take a peek at how artists craft their work and even take some of that work home. Whether you're a first-time buyer or a seasoned patron, here are some tips to make your EAST purchases worthwhile.
Shop your budget
With more than 300 artists showing their work, EAST can be a bit of a whirlwind, so it's best to know precisely what you're looking to spend on any given piece (or pieces) during your weekend jaunt. Don't feel intimidated if you have only a few bucks. EAST offers art to fit any budget – in fact, many artists in town make their yearly art purchases (or trades) during EAST due to how expansive the offerings are. If you have more than a few bucks, don't be afraid to make a big purchase out of a studio. The important thing is to be prepared with a budget in mind as you consider the next addition to your art collection.
Speak to the artist
How the piece looks hanging on a wall is only one part of the artwork's value. Speak to the artist directly to learn how the piece was made and what conceptual and aesthetic decisions went into its creation. If you plan to hold on to the work for several years, ask the artist about the work's archivalness – in other words, how it will stand the test of time. If you feel unprepared to take on the responsibility of maintaining a less than perfectly archival work, consider making a repair/replacement agreement with the artist.
Bargaining etiquette: Know the limits
Buying art is not like buying a car, where a certain amount of haggling may be expected. That said, if you really need a discount, don't hesitate to ask for one. Just keep in mind that there is an etiquette to such transactions. These artists have put more than just time and craftsmanship into their work; they have exposed a deep side of themselves through their art. So to ask for more than a small discount will be read by many artists as insulting. To request 10-15% off the asking price is reasonable, though never be offended if the request is declined. If you're determined to take the piece home even though it's beyond your budget, ask the artist about paying for the work in installments. Many artists already have layaway plans designed for their buyers.
Consider installation costs
Unless the piece is preframed and ready to hang (and even if it is), always ask the artist about best installation practices. And keep these in mind when making your budget. Framing, hardware, and lighting are frequently overlooked in the excitement of the purchase. Installing the work right the first time will insure your EAST investment will stay in pristine form and optimal viewing conditions for years to come.
Don't hesitate to buy something that immediately speaks to you. Art is intended to be emotive. Find a piece that makes a statement or, better yet, that resonates with you but that your parents or your square friends would question. Push your tastes, and consider the merits of an installation-based work (yes, you can buy these, too!), nontraditional media like video or software, or even an ephemeral piece with a clear expiration date.
Above all, don't get hung up on the details. EAST, at its best, is more about the community and the moment than anything you'll be able to take home. Take advantage of the opportunity to interact with the arts community and immerse yourself in the experience. And if something jumps out at you, seize the chance to make a meaningful purchase that could stitch a part of the EAST experience into your daily life. When you do, know that your purchase has strengthened the local visual arts scene, directly enabled the artist to continue his or her practice, and encouraged the unique thinking and experimentation that has shaped Austin's creative landscape.
The East Austin Studio Tour runs Nov. 14-22, Sat. & Sun., 11am-6pm, at venues across East Austin. For more information, visit www.east.bigmedium.org.