Many galleries don’t advertise it as a service, but you can commission an artist to create an original work of art – if you’re not one of most who are happy to simply acquire an existing work. But commissioning art is an art in itself, and its essence is collaboration, with the artist having to work closely with the buyer during the creative process. Before taking this step, be sure to take the following considerations in mind.
Commission art and acquiring a work from an artist you like, are two hugely different facets of art collecting. With a commission, you become part of the creative process and get to see a work come to fruition. The experience of forming a partnership with the artist is something one can’t actually put a price on. You purchase more than just an object, but also its story – being able to tell about your relationship with the artist, the symbolism of the work, and its genesis. This involvement gives the commissioned piece great personal value, too.
The experience of forming a partnership with the artist is something one can’t actually put a price on. You purchase more than just an object, but also its story.
Saskia Joosse, founder of Pop and Contemporary Fine Art, shares an anecdote on working with American Pop artist Burton Morris, “My husband and I decided to commission a triptych that could be hung individually or all together. During the process, we enjoyed the back-and-forth of ideas with Burton, and got to learn more about him as an artist and his creative process,” she says. Joosse, who has 20 years of experience in the art world, founded the gallery in 2008. It represents Burton Morris exclusively in Asia, and offers works by some of the most globally recognised artists, including Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Yayoi Kusama, Roy Lichtenstein and Takashi Murakami.
Identify artists who specialise in the medium you’re after, be it an oil painting or bronze sculpture. “If the artist is a landscape artist, chances are he or she may not be the best one to approach for painting a picture of your pet pooch,” adds Joosse. As commissions require lots of groundwork, experience on the artist’s part is almost critical. Ask if he or she has regular or recent commission work, and to possibly view them, so you can establish if standards are on par with his or her other works.
Some artists are more comfortable with prospective buyers, while others may shy away. For a private commission, the artist will have to get a sense of your history, lifestyle preferences, outlook, and more. Short of reading your mind, he or she will have to identify what you really mean and want – something not everyone will be willing to – or can – do.
“For a private commission, the artist will have to get a sense of your history, lifestyle preferences, outlook, and more.”
The artist may not appreciate being told what to do, may dislike the proposed subject, or may not want to deal with requests to change details. “Some requests can also be for a past series they do not wish to revisit,” offers Stephane Le Pelletier, director of Opera Gallery Singapore which handles art commissioning and sourcing for private collectors and institutional clients.
The gallery acts as the middleman to take charge of all the details (rights, insurance etc.), set up times for buyer and artist to talk, and handle the money. The gallery also mediates, should any disputes arise. The buyer and gallery must agree on the completion date, work approval procedure and payment structure (for example, an initial deposit and the remainder upon completion). Although revisions are a normal part of the process, note that different mediums have different revision requirements. Different artists may also have different ways of working, for example, not offering preliminaries.
As for the timeframe, don’t expect it to be quick. “A commission can take days, weeks, or more usually, months to complete,” says Joosse.
“Usually, commissioned works will cost anywhere from 20 to 80 per cent on top of what the artist usually charges for a normal work of art,” shares Joosse. Le Pelletier reveals that the price is proportional to the technique, size and given time for completion of the piece (in the event that it needs to be rushed).
For the artist, because commissioned work aren’t shown in galleries, this could mean less prestige and promotion than works created on his or her own initiative. They also require more time, as appointments and phone conversations come into the picture.
With something as subjective as art, you may find yourself looking at a piece with utmost surprise, or worse, horror. “There is always a chance the final result differs from the expectation, so one must be prepared to be open to a certain degree of uncertainties,” says Le Pelletier. “This is especially true for paintings, as the client’s brief can never cover every detail. For example, ‘the dominant colour will be blue’ – yet there are so many blues!”
“With something as subjective as art, you may find yourself looking at a piece with utmost surprise, or worse, horror.”
The alternative to embracing the unexpected is to simply reject the work, and forfeit what you’ve invested in it so far. Seeing as things can go either way, perhaps part of the pleasure of commissioning art is derived from the risk you take. Best-case scenario: you possess a bespoke work of art you can proudly exhibit, the bragging rights, and a one-of-a-kind story to tell.
Once you’ve engaged an artist, be specific about what you want, keeping in mind that artists can depict only visual scenes and moods, and not thoughts, sounds or smells.