How not to regret a vacation art purchase

We’ve all had vacation regrets.

That extra shot of tequila. Which led to that random girl at the bar in Cancun.

Forgetting to put sunscreen on the top of your feet.

Funnel cake.

Another regret can be vacation art, either purchased or passed on.

I don’t have a fine arts degree, but I’ve got what I like to call an undefeated record of purchasing art. I’ve never purchased a piece of art I’ve regretted buying. Many of those purchases have been made on vacation.

Here’s my advice for buying art while on vacation without regret.

Look at Art

Before purchasing a piece of art, look at a lot of art. Look at art in galleries, in museums, online, on television. Anywhere you can look at art, look at art. Do this so you know what you like and are less likely to make a purchase you regret.

If you know the type of art you prefer – sculpture, paintings, pottery, textiles – and some general style – impressionism, tribal, contemporary – you’ll be more likely to choose something which you’ll be happy looking at for years to come. That’s why I buy art. For the pleasure of living with it.

I don’t buy art as an investment or as financial speculation, that’s a sure fire way for a novice to be burned. The first rule in buying art, whether on vacation or not, is to simply buy what you like.

To do that, you must know what you like and to know what you like you must continually look at art.

Chadd admiring Renoir's "Luncheon of the Boating Party" at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C
Chadd admiring Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party” at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.. (Photo credit Traveling Without Kids)

Have a budget and stick to it

In fact, you should have several budgets.

The way Kristi and I handle this is that if either of us sees something for around $100 and really like it, we just go ahead and buy it. That’s fine, that’s not going to change our lives and if we end up not liking it, big deal, we’re out 100 bucks.

Anything over a few hundred dollars, we better like it. Anything over $1000, we better like it enough to hang this on the wall, look at it and enjoy it every day for the next 30 years.

The easiest way to regret an art purchase, on vacation or otherwise, is to make a purchase you can’t afford. You have a budget for your vacation and that budget can be blown quickly with an art purchase.

Be candid with yourself about what you’re able to afford. Another benefit to looking at a lot of art as I advise, you’ll soon enough be able to more easily find gems in your price range that you can enjoy as much as spendier purchases.

The test of time

“Will this purchase stand the test of time?”

This is a question Kristi and I always ask before buying a piece. The sculpture or painting may look great in the gallery setting with the light just right and the white walls, but how will it look at your house? Your house in 10 years?

Be careful with contemporary art and anything trendy. Trends change.

The test of place

What will this piece look like when you get it home? Is it a beach painting and you live in a Midwestern suburb?

Kristi and I often travel to the West, finding many pieces there we like. But how will that painting of a moose or sculpture of a buffalo look in our house one block from the beach in Florida with our teal walls. It would look strange, that’s how.

Admitting that, I have two western-themed Fredric Remington sculptures in our beach house and I love them. Yes, they look out of place. No, I don’t care.

I don’t want to talk you out of a purchase, I want to be sure you avoid a possible pitfall.

Quartz Rhino at M.S. Rau Antiques
Quartz Rhino at M.S. Rau Antiques.

Don’t succumb to pressure

As with any other purchase, don’t give into pressure. No gallery worth its salt will pressure you into a purchase. Educate you, yes. Sell you, sure. Pressure you, no.

Kristi and I have been in hundreds of galleries and never felt like someone was trying to turn the screws to us on a purchase. Now, they’re sales people and will try and sell you, but if that sales pitch becomes pressurized, you probably don’t want their art.

Take your time

Look. Ponder. Mull it over. Feel free to leave the gallery and come back. And by come back, I mean come back another day.

I’ve spent over two hours in a gallery and not bought anything. That’s fine. I’ve spent as much as eight hours in a gallery before buying a piece. That’s OK too.

You’re the customer, you’re in charge. Don’t feel like you have to buy a thousand dollar piece of art like you’re picking groceries.

Can you live without it?

Here’s a great commonsense piece of advice: if you can live without the artwork, don’t buy it. If you leave the gallery and an hour later have forgotten about the piece, don’t bother with it.

That piece likely isn’t going anywhere. Kristi and I have waited months to buy pieces we liked, allowing our budgets to catch up to our desires.

We remembered those pieces and we went back for them.

Remembering them for so long after first seeing them let us know how badly we wanted them.

Slow down, don’t buy something at the first gallery you see, and make sure what you’re purchasing you like long-term.

Daedalus Gallery, Savannah
Me with gallery owner and artist Jacqueline Carcagno and our new painting


Don’t forget about shipping. Depending on the piece and its size and weight and where you live and where you’re buying, shipping can add several hundred additional dollars to the purchase.

What do you think?

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  • Tyler Johnson
    August 29, 2019

    That’s a good idea to stick to your budget. I could see art getting very expensive very quickly. I’ll have to make sure to stick to a budget if I decide to get a sculpture for my house.

  • Leviticus Bennett
    November 30, 2019

    Thank you for the tip to really ponder whether or not you want to buy an art piece. I guess that’s the beauty of purchasing online: you can take all the time you need. Me, I’m thinking of buying some prints to hang in my home.