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View on the Alpilles, 1890

View on the Alpilles, 1890
click to enlarge

Pieta, 1889

Pieta, 1889
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Bluffer's guides

Creating art | Selling art | Buying art

From selling art, Vincent crossed the divide to become its creator. Neither proved easy, and here we offer a bluffer's guide to cajoling customers or persuading them you are the next big thing, and as a buyer how to spot that budding genius.

10 essentials for creating art

  1. As with all the arts, the first thing is to find someone generous, in love with you and / or gullible to support you financially while you spend time painting, sculpting or engaged in some other creation.
  2. Have a vision, something higher than yourself – which wouldn't have been too difficult if you were Toulouse Lautrec! Others looked to higher things, such as a ceiling. Michelangelo didn't paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican based on a colour scheme provided in a handy free pullout with his latest issue of Homes Etc Magazine.
  3. Don't expect to be able to force yourself to enjoy it. Remember what German painter and engraver Albrecht Durer said: 'He that would be a painter must have a natural turn thereto. Love and delight are better teachers of the art of painting than compulsion is.'
  4. Get mad. Not annoyed, just mad. Think of the great artists who have been more than a bit mad – Georgia O'Keefe, Jackson Pollack and, of course, Vincent. They can't all have been wrong.
  5. If you are intent on suffering for your art, don't take it too far. Stick to freezing in the garret rather than cutting off body parts, such as your ear.
  6. Decide what sort of artist you want to be. Do you want to be a painter or a sculptor, for example? If you have a small living room, it's best to stick to painting.
  7. Watch out for the Emperor's New Clothes effect. If you can't understand acclaimed artists it may be because you are not really one yourself. Durer, again: 'The art of painting cannot be truly judged save by such as are themselves good painters; from others verily it is hidden even as a strange tongue.'
  8. Decide whether you want to sell your work in your lifetime or be recognised only posthumously as a great artist. You'll probably find the former option more fun.
  9. Buy some decent equipment. If you can't afford it, borrow it. If you don't want to borrow it, make it. And if you can't make it, you're not an artist, so give up and get a job in a bank.
  10. Start work. If you can't think of anything original to create, actively seek out notoriety. But beware the route taken by Jake and Dinos Chapman. In a bid to have their post-modern ironic genius recognised, they defaced a complete set of Goya's 80 Disasters of War etchings – novel then but a little trite now, not to mention illegal.
Wheatfield Under Clouded Skies, 1890

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)

Wheatfield Under Clouded Skies, 1890
Oil on canvas, 50 x 100cm
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

click to enlarge

10 essentials for selling art

  1. Get premises in a rich area. You won't be spotting a hole in the market by opening in a hotspot of unemployment. That is, unless you already have a name. Then the best place would be an area in urban decay set for a hip regeneration. It will then highlight your trendiness.
  2. There can be no better way of selling something than to tell buyers that if they don't appreciate it, they are stupid, unimaginative or insensitive to the arts.
  3. Look at the buyer's clothes. Are they expensive? Estimate how much they cost, say £200. Add one zero if the artist is alive. Add another zero if the artist has been on TV. And another zero if the artist is dead. Then it's simply a case of adding an extra nought for each century since they died.
  4. If you are not sure how much to charge for a piece of art, get a valuation, but make sure the valuer is reputable. If he or she might be interested in buying it, they might be tempted to down value it. If someone tells you something is worthless, but they'll do you a favour and take it off your hands, don't do it.
  5. Make sure that when the punter arrives, you have the right atmosphere. A few quirky items, a stuffed mongoose or two perhaps, and calm elegance will probably do the trick. Oh, and some opera. Not The Three Tenors. The punter will just think of football.
  6. Never underestimate the importance of the right chat. Do say: 'It's an expression of the artist's inner turmoil and the colours flood through your soul.' Don't say: 'You wouldn't believe it's only a print and that you could buy it at WHSmith for £10.' You never own a 'shop', 'lockup' or 'shed', it's always a 'gallery' or a 'studio'.
  7. If you have to visit someone's home, don't drink the tea and make sure you flush the toilet.
  8. If you sell through an auction, set a sensible reserve price. And keep your hands still during the bidding, you don't want to end up buying your own painting.
  9. Once you've sold, don't cheer. At least not until you have the cash.
  10. The second time you sell the same sort of work of art, add another zero to the price. Now you know you have a market.

10 essentials for buying art

  1. Decide what you like before looking.
  2. It's a competitive market out there. Remember you are buying something that will help you commune with the world. It should be truth embodied. Remember what well-known art collector Mary Boon said: 'There are not only more people collecting, there are more people collecting for the wrong reasons, basically as the latest get rich quick scheme. They buy art like lottery tickets.'
  3. If you spot an artist just before they are sought after, you are home and dry. Just hope that Charles Saatchi then spots them too.
  4. Don't try to understand the work of art. There's a good chance the person who created it was a bit unhinged. As Vincent said: 'I am not strictly speaking mad, for my mind is absolutely normal in the intervals, and even more so than before.' Easy for him to say, but he wasn't being asked to part with cash for art.
  5. Whatever the price, don't forget to haggle. Remember they are bluffing too.
  6. If you are searching for art in a junk shop, expect to find junk until you find something more valuable.
  7. If you are buying a sculpture, make sure your car is big enough to take it away.
  8. Ignore dealer warnings not to touch the work, how else will you be able to check if the paint is dry?
  9. Always try to buy direct from the artist, they will be cheaper than a gallery. Then at least if you can't afford anything you can say you met them.
  10. If you don't know what you like, just measure the space you need to fill and buy something to fit.

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