There has never been a better time to start buying art. Once a preserve of the rich, there are now more opportunities than ever to access affordable art pieces. Schemes such as Own Art, where you can spread the cost of a purchase over 10 months with an interest-free loan, have made it more accessible, and the increasing number of galleries offering home approval means that buying art can be as natural as buying anything else for your home. Galleries and workshops which host open studios events are breaking down the barriers between consumers and sellers.
Donna Slyfield hopes to make it even easier for new artists to enter the market. A college lecturer for over 20 years, Donna is also an artist herself, working in mixed media landscapes and seascapes. She set up Shout About Art last year, a series of pop-up exhibitions which will make it easy for new artists to put themselves in front of potential buyers.
Donna came up with the idea as a result of attending similar events in the Midlands and Yorkshire. 'It was costing me to travel and exhibit, sometimes with overnight accommodation,' she says. 'I thought I'd give people in the North East a chance to exhibit their products and skills.' So far the events have been concentrated around Darlington, with the next event at Hurworth Grange on May 17th, but Donna is looking to expand further across the region and into Northumberland.
One of the advantages of this scheme is that the artists are able to meet their potential buyers. 'It makes it a more meaningful experience for the purchaser and for the artist,' says Donna. 'A buyer can get a better understanding of what the artist is about.' Buyers may be more inclined to part with their cash if they feel they have a sense of the craftsmanship that has gone into creating a piece of work, and even more so if they have built a relationship with its creator too. 'People can connect with art if they can personally associate themselves with it.'
From the point of view of the artists themselves, Shout About Art offers a first step into the commercial art world, which is particularly beneficial to those without formal training or young people who are still studying. It's an easy way for any artist to test their potential with buyers before putting their work forward for galleries. 'At galleries you're thinking about larger outlays and longer term arrangements, so I see myself as a bridging gap for new artists, giving them a chance to dip their toe in,' explains Donna. 'This will give them the confidence to approach galleries and progress forward. I see myself working in collaboration with galleries in the long term.'
Naturally, Donna's job makes her particularly sympathetic towards younger artists who are facing a crowded market, and who perhaps don't realise the opportunities available to them. 'Young people often lack confidence,' Donna observes. 'It takes a lot of courage to approach people and talk about your own skills. Shout About Art offers a starting point for artists in that position, helping artists of any age to progress from seeing art as a hobby or a purely academic pursuit to a potential source of income. 'It takes the mystery away from it. It's important that young people see there's a real opportunity out there.'
There is more to art than its exchange value, of course – art is often cited as one of the best places to put your money, but it's also got an intrinsic creative value too. 'Everybody wants that unique piece that enhances their life and feels a bit special,' says Donna. 'At Christmas I bought prints for a friend who doesn't have anything to do with the arts, but they were absolutely thrilled to receive them. People receiving art feel special. Art is an important part of life.'
If you do want to make an investment, though, what should you be collecting now? 'It's so subjective, but it's important to keep an eye on things that are pertaining to the world we live in right now,' advises Donna. Contemporary styles and techniques in particular may go up in value. 'At the moment there is a lot of recycling in art, lots of mixed media, lots of very creative uses of unusual materials to come up with something bespoke and unique. That might be something that increases in value because it's taking things in a new direction. That's where these kind of events come into their own – we're encouraging people to come along who maybe do something a little bit different and unique.'
But art that tackles contemporary concerns, and reflects the world we live in now, will also gain in value as time goes on, and buyers in the future will be interested in art that has captured the zeitgeist. 'We all know the Old Masters and the art work that sells for millions, but we're making our own history,' says Donna. 'Art will be future generations' way of looking back on us.'
17th May, Hurworth Grange, Darlington