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Series: Part 2 – Is this painting any good?

Beginner’s Guide to Buying Art

Second of a short three part series by art specialist Sally J. Clarke on what to consider when buying art….

If you need to know the name of any artist to understand whether a painting is good or not then perhaps that art work is not for you. Good art work stands alone separate from its creator. Great art has an intrinsic value or quality that speaks to the viewer on its own terms, clearly stating the artist’s intention. We may not necessarily like a work. It may make us feel uneasy or sad. But memorable art pieces all have this quality of stirring something in us, creating a feeling of joy, sadness, wonderment alongside a myriad of other emotions. In the contemporary art world we are likely to come across works that to us, say nothing, because of their seeming simplicity. We may also encounter a work that is so basic in design that it we are intrigued as to what is the artist is wishing to say.

francis-bacon art

Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1953, 153 cm x 118.1cm by Francis Bacon

If a work of art leaves you feeling ambivalent, the chances are that it is not very good. On encountering a work of art by Francis Bacon, I always start to feel a sense of unease. His paintings confront me with the very meatiness of the distorted human forms, the twisted faces and pain. His figures seem on occasions to be struggling to free themselves from the very canvas in which they are incarcerated.   In Frances Bacon’s Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocence the X, the vertical lines in shades of purple and yellow add to the tension of the composition. Mouth open, Bacon’s Pope seems to be screaming in pain or perhaps rage? These are not works that most of us could live with but are a benchmark by which arts can be measured. I would challenge anyone to stand in front of his paintings and not feel moved. Bacon believed that life was an experiment to be lived to its utmost extremities, of pain and rapture and we can experience this dynamic in his works.

Of course not many of us have the millions of dollars in spare change that his works fetch at auction. But when investing in art we can do worse than recall Francis Bacon’s view that “Great art is always a way of concentrating, reinventing what is called fact, what we know of our existence….tearing away the veils that fact acquires through time.” And we can judge for ourselves whether he achieved his goal of, “unlocking the valves of feeling and in order to return the onlooker to life more violently”.

So my advice, before checking on the artist’s name, listing of exhibitions or previous prices charged for his or her works. Take a step back and think whether this work is actually worth noting at all?


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