It’s springtime, and artworks seem to be blossoming all over the place along with newborn greenery in the sunlight—from installations at TRAX stops to coffee shops and local galleries teeming with artistic life like greenhouses of creativity. But, while strolling through galleries is often inspiring, have you ever thought of taking it to the next level: purchasing a work of art to take home and make it part of your space and your life? I’m not talking about some cheesy concert posters taped to the wall, but actual works of art, from paintings to fine-art prints.
It’s not as daunting as you might think. Buying art might not make the top of your shopping list in a difficult economy, but local gallery managers say it’s especially important now. “No matter your income, to have a well-rounded life, you have to consider more than just your physical well-being,” says Ruth Lubbers, director of nonprofit Art Access Gallery. “It’s a time to look for emotionally and spiritually nurturing experiences.”
Attending Salt Lake City’s Gallery Stroll can be a “gateway drug” into making your first art purchase. On the third Friday of every month, the evening is a social event, with most galleries providing light food and drink. Different galleries specialize in different types of art: Art Access highlights work created by people with disabilities; Signed & Numbered sells prints, including indie-rock concert posters; Saltgrass Printmakers exclusively deals with prints; and there are many more. “The whole time you’re looking, you are growing as a person, learning about aesthetics, whether you’re conscious of it or not,” says Lubbers.
“Walking into a gallery space alone can be intimidating, and the crowd during Gallery Stroll helps people feel at ease,” adds Phillips Gallery director Meri DeCaria.
Don’t be self-conscious about your knowledge of art. Ask questions of gallery owners about anything that intrigues you about the work. Who ars the artists, and what experiences shaped their mode of artistic creation? How was a certain work of art created? Don’t worry about what a work of art “means,” but just try to encounter each work on its own terms.
Many galleries provide an artist statement, with a short bio of the artist and a few paragraphs about the artist’s purpose in creating the work. In addition, artists are usually on hand during Gallery Stroll and at opening receptions to talk and answer questions. “You’d be surprised how friendly and excited artists are to talk to you,” says Laura Durham, the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll’s program director. “It’s refreshing for them to talk to people who aren’t necessarily critics but just want to know about them and their work.” Another casual setting to view art is the Utah Arts Festival in June, where featured “artists of the day” demonstrate their wares.
Once you’ve had an opportunity to look at a lot of different art, in the end, just go with what moves you. But take time to absorb its impression on you, rather than just flitting from one to the next. “Original art brings life to your space,” says Durham. “It represents you just as much as the artist, because you chose it. It’s like a symbol of who you are and what speaks to you.” Art can also make a wonderful gift, if you know the recipient’s tastes.
Art doesn’t have to be expensive; smaller pieces, especially by younger artists, can be found in the $50 range. “Prints such as woodcuts, etchings and photographs that are printed in a limited edition are a good thing to start with,” notes Durham.
Paintings are one-of-a-kind and tend to be pricier. Leave art as an investment to the big collectors, unless you have millions to spend. Utah has a varied and diverse artistic history; a great place to learn about it, although the art there isn’t for sale, is the collection at the Salt Lake County Complex on 2100 S. State.
Purchasing art can be more than just a way to enhance your life; it can also be a way to support local artists, businesses and the local economy in general. “The wonderful thing about buying local art is the money stays local,” says DeCaria. Aside from the tourist trade in Park City, the Salt Lake City art market isn’t exactly booming, and many local artists are forced to sell out of state. Buyers in larger art markets are discovering Utah artists more and more. “Art in Utah isn’t just sliced white bread,” says Lubbers. “It’s actually spicy, flavored by the backgrounds, experiences and communities of people who have come here to live. With all the influx of new people, we appreciate their contribution; it enlivens us.”