Posts like this one are reposted here after appearing in my monthly newsletter. Don’t miss another one, sign up right here!
The term plein air is a contested one. Some use plein air only for paintings completed entirely outdoors, while others aren’t as strict. People associate it to impressionism, but it doesn’t always go hand in hand. Many in the art world don’t think plein air paintings should hang in a “serious” gallery. They complain that the subject matter is tired, and that some of the work is not that good. And they do have a point.
But plein air paintings sell. Buyers show up at paintouts, online, at local festivals, in open studios and in galleries. Should you be one of them? Canadian artist Michael Chesley Johnson sent out a survey and discovered certain things about the average buyer. The average buyer is an educated person with college education, who buys one or two paintings a year and likes landscapes. Michael knows, as many of us do, that those who buy do so not based on the artist’s credentials but on the ability of the painting to evoke a mood. So, if you are not buying art purely as a financial investment, the best way to find out if you should buy plein air art is to examine the connection you feel to this artist or their work.
If you are interested because you love the people or places they paint, find out if there are other artists who cover the same subjects. Do you get a sense of excitement from looking at their work? Are they skilled? Try sharing images with close friends or loved ones and listen to what they say.
If you are interested because of the way the painter treats his or her subject, then it is a matter of feeling comfortable enough to buy from that person. If you’ve already checked credentials such as resumés, certificates of authenticity or testimonials, then pay attention to whether they answer all your questions with good cheer. Artists who are good business people make every effort to communicate frequently and clearly. They are available and invested in keeping you happy as a client. Many artists offer to do restoration or repairs to the work should it ever become necessary. Others offer discounts to their loyal customers.
Buying plein air art is like buying any other types of art. It has to be good, you need to feel a connection to it, and the artist needs to support you as a customer. When all of these elements come together, everybody wins.