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Where to discover + buy art: a first-timer's guide

For new collectors and those just beginning to explore the world of art and artists, much about the art world can seem like a mystery -- opaque, aloof, and exclusive. This can certainly be the case in some circles, but like anything so broad and diverse as a term like “art,” the experience of appreciating and collecting art can vary wildly. Even commercial art galleries, the most obvious choice, are a spectrum: of artistic philosophy or vision, style, subject matter, and of course, price. For those with a newfound craving for artistic stimulation looking to immerse themselves in the world of art - the kind of art they can bring home, not just what's exhibited at museums - there are a variety of places to begin their hunt, each offering an experience as unique and diverse as the art itself.

Begin your adventure of discovery by browsing online dealers, galleries and websites

A variety of digital platforms have cropped up in recent years to help make it easier to discover, buy and sell art online. Saatchi Art is particularly well known for providing a single, searchable platform and community - with curators and art advisory services for guidance and structure - to discover a range of art and artists at a variety of price points. Spend some time viewing and reading about art online, then observing what you respond to. 

Up your odds of falling in love at fairs, group shows and art events

Any event in which a group of artists show their work together gives you greater odds of seeing something you'll enjoy. This kind of event can range from the ultra-tony, high-end Art Basel fairs to scrappy group shows organized and bootstrapped by the artists themselves. To find out about these shows, seek out local art nonprofits, artist-run collectives, and art fairs coming to your city -- then follow them on social media or via their email lists.

Get personalized, informed guidance via art galleries and art dealers

Galleries and dealers provide a service as much as a physical good or retail space: curating work around a certain philosophy or aesthetic vision; educating the community about art in a macro sense; and helping individual collectors identify and articulate what kind of art they are most drawn to. Finding a gallery whose mission you connect with aesthetically and philosophically is as important for collectors as it is for artists seeking representation.

You must physically go to art galleries and experience the space to understand this accurately. The opening night of a new exhibition is often a paradox; with the crowds and bustle of the evening, it's typically the worst environment to experience art. However, most galleries will coordinate their opening nights with other nearby galleries, giving you the opportunity to see a lot of art in one evening. And many do make an evening of it, taking advantage of the complimentary wine (and often, hors d'oeuvres) as they hop from gallery to gallery. Even though you may begin your journey of art-seeking online, seeing art in person is the best way to learn more about art. There is simply no substitute for standing in front of a piece and soaking it in, letting it slowly unfold and reveal itself. Take time with the art, ask honest questions, and stay open-minded.

Get on the email lists of galleries that look interesting to you to find out about openings and new exhibitions. To find galleries in your city, in addition to searching the usual places online (Google, Facebook), you can also check out the local gallery or art dealers' association for a full list of galleries (for example, in Dallas this is called the Contemporary Art Dealers of Dallas, or CADD).

Galleries, if they’re good, work hard on behalf of their artists to sell their work. They allow their artists to reach new audiences, they validate an artists' work by virtue of representing them commercially, and they provide a venue and exhibition space for work in a format that is sales-centric. And opening and running a gallery is no easy feat -- it is certainly no safe bet financially. With high overhead costs and unpredictable sales, many gallerists struggle just as much as their artists. Those who become gallerists or curators do so out of a passion for art, and follow their calling as bravely as any artist. For these reasons, it is standard practice for galleries to retain 50% of the price of any work of art sold. Many new art enthusiasts are surprised to first learn this, but a worthwhile gallery earns every cent.

This model, however, can sometimes make it difficult to price work in a way that is accessible to a wide range of collectors and also economically viable for either the artist or the gallery. Everyone’s familiar with the auction houses and the seemingly unlimited prices they can often command for well-known works of art. On the other end of the spectrum, it’s not uncommon for emerging artists whose work takes a long time to make to sell a piece and then wind up getting paid something that, when calculated hourly, is lower than minimum wage. Time spent is not necessarily a valid yardstick by which to measure the worth of art, but the dilemma is still clear.

Dive deeper by buying directly from an artist's studio (or online store).

This is why many prefer to buy work directly from artists. No middleman means every cent of the purchase price goes directly to the artist, and artists can set prices that accurately reflect the value of the work and are accessible financially to a broad range of potential collectors. This direct, one-to-one exchange can also foster deeper, more meaningful relationships between artists and collectors. This has certainly been the case for me. Interacting directly with the people who fall in love with my work is hands-down one of the best parts of being an artist.

The catch, though, is obvious: researching and learning about new artists can be time consuming and difficult, especially for new art enthusiasts and collectors. This is compounded by the fact that art-making is quite different from marketing (or at least it should be!), and many artists struggle with the latter, which can make it more difficult to discover their work. The rise of social media, however, is rapidly diminishing this gap.

It's now easier than ever to discover the work of new artists online. Many artists promote their work on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook and Twitter, among other platforms. Instagram is arguably the most popular social channel for the art world, but I also occasionally turn to Pinterest to discover new work, and Facebook is valuable for learning about new art-related events in my community. Start by searching for keywords that describe the style, medium or subject matter of the kind of art you think you like. For example, as a painter working with a form of realism and the human figure in oil, I might tag my art on Instagram with terms like #contemporaryrealism, #figurepainting, and #oiloncanvas. And if you’d like to discover the artists in your own community, you can also search Instagram for hashtags that include your city name. For example, as an artist currently based in Dallas, I sometimes tag my work-in-progress photos with #dallasart, #dallasartist, or #dfwart or #dfwartist.

Almost every artist actively selling their work has a website these days, and more and more are selling their work through custom online stores by sites like BigCartel and Squarespace. However, many artists are still accustomed to thinking about the website as a pure portfolio, with no e-commerce function, or they may prefer to keep their prices close to their vest (or have galleries through which the work must be sold in certain geographic areas). If you discover an exciting new artist whose work truly speaks to you, but you don’t see prices on their website or an easy way to buy their work online, don’t be discouraged! Instead, simply reach out via the contact form on their website or the email address they provide. Even if no sale eventually takes place, I promise it’ll still be the most exciting email they’ll receive all day (and may even make their week or month).

For a long time, I also subscribed to this idea of the website as only a portfolio (probably an idea I picked up in art school), even though I sell my work independently, via my website and word of mouth! Eventually, I found it overly time-consuming to constantly update and send out a PDF listing my available work and pricing every time someone asked. So, I finally launched a store on meganvangroll.com. Now collectors always know which originals and prints are available and at what price. Many artists describe this approach, even if the transaction takes place online, as “selling directly from the studio.” In fact, if the artist is local to you, you can often visit their studio. There is nothing artists love more than to interact with their patrons in as intimate a setting as the place where they make the work you’re both so passionate about.

However you choose to discover art, approach your search with confident curiosity and an open mind.

The art world is notorious for a certain perceived aloofness. The most important thing for new art enthusiasts and collectors to remember is not to be intimidated. You will be warmly welcomed into the fold. You are quite likely to find art you can’t live without (and that you can afford!) if you look long and often enough. 


Curious about one of my paintings, drawings, or a print of my work? Check out my available work here

Want to see more of my art, including unfinished works in progress? Follow me on Instagram and Facebook.

I’m also launching an email newsletter soon for my inner circle of collectors and supporters, with updates every few weeks or so about new work, my process, inspiration, and methods, and other updates from my studio. If you’d like these updates, you can join right here:

Flush, 24 x 24, oil on canvas

I first wrote about this piece a few weeks ago, marveling at how it only took me 3 weeks to paint from beginning to end - a labor so brief that it's pretty much unheard of for me for a painting of this size.

I now have high-res, color-corrected images to share. I love this part - being able to show the detail in almost as much accuracy as viewing the piece in person; the grain of the canvas, the little raised strokes from paint thickly applied.

When I finish a piece I'm either exasperated or energized. When it feels like I'm getting close to hitting a wall (the edge of my interest in a series, the near-final crack at an idea, the conclusion of some kind of creative era) I'll be happy to finish the piece -- it's not unlike the dopamine rush of finishing a race -- but I may feel puzzled as to where to go next. The end of this piece felt more like a beginning. Zoomed closer in, it's almost a happy medium between my recent dual, dueling figures and my 2012-2014 hyperrealistic portraits, in which I brought the viewer so close to the skin that it rendered almost abstractly, like a landscape of pockmarked desert. Here, the close crop leaves out context - where that limb goes next, who's with her - and imbues the mystery I seek. The proximity also gives way to a hyper level of detail and brushwork, scratching my eternal itch to render skin and features in a lifelike yet playful, painterly way. I don't have any other medium or large pieces in the works at the moment begging for attention (just two very small studies), so I am free to start fresh and follow this path where it leads me, and it feels good.

This series explores aggression in both broad and specific interpretations of the term. Flush felt appropriate to me as a title, not just because of the magenta flush of blood to the subject's face, but for its other meanings. It can also refer to a kind of emotional catharsis, or a cleansing. In her face, I can see that interpretation. But the term flush is also sometimes used in reference to hunting, to predators driving prey from their cover. In that context, the strained, twisted grapple of our subject and her opponent becomes dark again.

Flush, 24" x 24," oil on canvas. © Megan Van Groll, 2017.

Flush, 24" x 24," oil on canvas. © Megan Van Groll, 2017.

Flush, detail, 24" x 24," oil on canvas. © Megan Van Groll, 2017.

Flush, detail, 24" x 24," oil on canvas. © Megan Van Groll, 2017.

Flush, detail, 24" x 24," oil on canvas. © Megan Van Groll, 2017.

Flush, detail, 24" x 24," oil on canvas. © Megan Van Groll, 2017.

3 weeks: a whirlwind, a tangle of limbs

I am a notoriously slow painter. I have been known to take, at times, several months to complete a painting. In my defense, I often work on other smaller pieces when my inspiration and motivation for a complex, large work dries up -- so I'm rarely entirely unproductive, just switching back and forth. Still, it's unheard of for me to take a single piece from conception to completion in as short a time frame as, say, 3 weeks. 

But that's what happened with this piece. I sketched the piece onto canvas and laid an underpainting onto the surface in the third week of January, and completed it the second week of February. 

So what happened? Why the rush, why the sudden outburst?

First of all, I'll state the obvious: this painting is smaller than many of my larger pieces, which are usually 36"x48" at their largest. But at 24"x24," it's not diminutive either. I think it's more notable that I skipped my usual monochromatic wash of color, a traditional old-school oil painting method, which must otherwise dry before I can begin to lay down skin tones and anything resembling the hue and tone that will eventually be prominent. No -- instead I went straight for it, laying down colors that are at least close to what will eventually make up the final painting. The wash of solid color underneath is thought to lend critical depth, so I worried that skipping this step would result in flat, unrealistic, boring color.

I didn't need to worry.

It turns out I can't help but lay down swirling layer upon layer of color, both lowlights and highlights. The most passionate love affair of my creative life belongs to colors dialed to 11; crazy bright, bursting, buzzing electric colors so saturated they practically sweat excess pigment. Despite this, my eye still seeks out respites of cool, earthy, tones -- phthalo turquoise ropes of veins encircling a wrist; diluted violet and ultramarine eye sockets -- and these just serve to bring out pops of warmth even more. 

It turns out, it actually helps me to not swing my colors in any one direction in the beginning. When I ground a painting in a single color at first, I too often strive for the rest of the piece to create equilibrium, a calm realism, something that feels 'normal.' And I have to say, the result can still be interesting, but it's not nearly as unique to my specific artistic style. It doesn't feel as 'me,' whatever that means.

These images were shot with my phone, so they can only go so far to show you the real quality of the piece. Therefore, I'm only sharing detail shots here. I'll share another update -- showing the piece in full -- when it's professionally scanned into a print-quality high resolution image next week.

Until then!