Is Art a Good Christmas Present?

December 11, 2009 at 12:55 am 3 comments

It’s December, and Christmas is just around the corner. For those of us who celebrate this holiday, our thoughts naturally turn to gift-giving. (And for those who don’t do Christmas, there are still birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and other gift-giving events that we all deal with.)

So, it’s Christmas (or some other gift-giving occasion) and the age-old question arises once again: What to get for the person who has everything?

They don’t really have everything, of course, but they certainly have everything they need. Worse, they probably already have everything they really want. If they really wanted an iPhone, or a bread machine, or a puppy, they probably would have gotten one by now, right? This kind of dilemma makes it hard to come up with ideas for gifts that would surprise and delight, the ultimate goal for a thoughtful gift-giver.

So what about giving art as a gift?

"Redwoods" painting by Barbara J Carter

Art seems to fill the unique-gift niche nicely. Most people like art in one form or another. And many people don’t take time to shop for art for themselves. Lives are busy, time is short. An original work of art is guaranteed to be different from anything else they have, even if they own a lot of art already.

So art makes a perfect gift, right?

Well, maybe. Art is extremely subjective. Everyone likes different things, different styles, different colors. Even people who live together and know each other intimately have trouble predicting what each other will like best when it comes to art.

I learned this lesson at my very first art festival. A family came into my booth and it was clear they all enjoyed my paintings very much. They started talking about which paintings everyone liked best. Mom favored one painting, Dad preferred another. The younger son challenged the others to guess which painting he liked best, and no one guessed correctly. Daughter did the same, and again no one guessed right. Even though they all agreed that they liked my work, everyone preferred a different painting, and no one could predict what the others would like best. (The story has a happy ending: they ended up buying three of my paintings, which I delivered to their home and helped to hang in different rooms. That sure made my day!)

If you want to give art as a gift, I recommend proceeding with some caution. Even if you know the recipient and their tastes very well, you probably won’t be able to guess their absolute favorite piece. You don’t want them thinking “gee, I wish you’d given me that other painting that I like so much better!” The only way to know which is their favorite is to ask them, or do some careful sleuthing. Art can be a wonderful, thoughtful, special gift, but it’s best done with the cooperation of the giftee. But you can still do this in a way that preserves some of the fun and surprise of an unexpected gift.

Try this: ask the person to identify a few pieces that are their favorites (for example, while visiting an art gallery, or looking together at an artist’s website, ahem, like mine for instance). Find out which pieces are their absolute favorites, and which they’re less interested in. You’ll probably be surprised at their choices! But that’s the whole point of this exercise: you just don’t know what someone else will love. Get them to point out several favorites. You can then go back later and purchase one of their favorites without telling them which one you got. That way you keep a sense of surprise, but you know they’re going to absolutely adore their gift. And that is the goal, isn’t it?

Another option would be to give a gift certificate. You could tailor it toward the purchase of their favorite artist’s work (it might be easier for you to find out their favorite artist than their favorite piece of art). This would allow you to give whatever dollar amount you’re comfortable with (this is especially good for you if your giftee has expensive tastes!).

The gift certificate idea could be made even more fun if the artist herself creates a custom gift certificate for you to wrap and give, like you would a store’s gift card. (I’d be happy to create a personalized gift certificate for the purchase of my art. And of course, I’d refund it if your gift recipient decided not to use it within, say, a year. Email me if you’d like to do this! I think it would be fun.)

So to the question of whether art makes a good Christmas (or any other occasion’s) present, the answer is yes, if you do it right. With a little extra effort you can ensure you’re giving a piece of art that the recipient will love and enjoy for years to come. And you can feel good about being such a generous, thoughtful gift-giver, as well as a patron of the arts. A happy ending for everyone. Happy art shopping!

"Little Tujunga" painting by Barbara J Carter

Entry filed under: Art Appreciation, Art Buying, Holiday.

A very small painting… “Dots 15” Goodbye 2009 (blowing a raspberry or two)


  • 1. Inge  |  December 11, 2009 at 3:19 am

    Great piece!

    I’d like to add another suggestion: art for rent. I don’t know if this is possible in other places, but all around the Netherlands private people can rent art for a while. If you like it you can purchase (deducting the fee already paid for rent). If not, you return it. These rental places also offer gift certificates, so the receiver of the gift could pick and try something for themselves.

  • 2. barbarajcarter  |  December 11, 2009 at 9:21 am

    Thanks Inge, art for rent is a great idea! I don’t think it’s very common here (I know of one place that does it), but it’s certainly a possibility. There’s also layaway, payment plans, and trade-ups.

    The bottom line is, don’t be afraid to ask! If you want to do something a little unusual, just ask the artist. I think more often than not you’ll find artists are willing to work with you and do creative things to get their art into your home!

  • 3. Hello 2012 « Barbara J Carter  |  January 10, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    […] One of them admired it, and so the other secretly bought it as a Christmas present. The absolute best way to give art as a present! It was my final sale of 2011. What a great way to usher out a busy but wonderful […]

Barbara J Carter

I'm an artist. I make paintings with dots.

I work in acrylic paint, in a couple of distinct styles: landscapes and abstracts.

Native to California, I've lived elsewhere and only recently returned to my home state. I now live in Los Angeles.

I mostly show my art in outdoor festivals in California. I also occasionally show my work in art galleries or open studio events. You can see an up-to-date list of upcoming shows on my website (click here).

I invite you to sign up to receive my free email newsletter, in which I list my upcoming shows and talk about my latest work. I send it irregularly, a few times a year.

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Why I call my landscapes neo-Pointillist landscape paintings

A bunch of my abstract dot paintings

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