Home > Feature > Review > Tire Iron 37: Xmas shows

It’s Christmas again, time for many galleries to trot out their less expensive items in jumbled group shows titled Deck the Walls, Xmas Expo, etc. in hopes of sparking some impulse gift purchases.

John Cleary Gallery is in the holiday spirit!


Taste in art is very personal. Like clothing, art gifts are either useless or perfect, depending on how well you know the person you’re buying for. The trouble with art is that it’s embarrassing to return, and just throwing it in the trash makes you feel guilty. I still have bad art I was given in college by well-meaning friends that I drag from city to city like the chains of Marley’s ghost.

But wait! There is yet time for you to avoid my fate; just follow these three rules distilled from years of art-gifting experience:

1. Only give someone a piece of art if they have expressed a desire for it. As an artist, it’s always tempting to make things for people as gifts; it’s cheap and personal, but I never give art to someone who hasn’t asked for it. Listen for comments like “If I had an extra $500. . . or “that would look great on my mantelpiece”, and buy that specific piece of art, not one just like it.

2. Sentimental inscriptions are a big risk. As every engraver or tattoo artist knows, love dies, but inscriptions go on and on…half of the thrift store paintings I own are inscribed “to X on his birthday, 1975, love Y” or the even more maudlin “remember me always as we follow life’s separate paths. . .” No matter how good the art is, an obsolete inscription which reminds one of one’s unpleasant past is the swiftest ticket to the trash heap or thrift store.

3. Small. Besides being less expensive, small works are easily tucked into unused cabinets and cartons when they’re unwanted, and in the last extremity can be hastily hung somewhere in plain sight moments before the gift-giver arrives for dinner.

4. Framing is a better gift than art. Sneak something your loved one already has, get it framed, and give it back to them. You get all the benefits of giving art, with none of the risks! You know they’re going to like it, and you have taken care of a nasty, expensive business they’ve been putting off, possibly for years! Framing is less fun for the giver than buying art, but will be more appreciated by the receiver.

5. don’t buy something you yourself want, with the excuse of giving it to someone else. This is a basic gift-giving rule, and I really shouldn”t have to say this here, but art gifts are notorious for this, especially between housemates. don’t do it!

Giving art gifts is a minefield, an exercise in gift-giving machismo. In effect, you’re asserting that you have the sensitivity and taste to choose the right piece of art for your loved one; if you pull it off, you’re phat, but brace yourself for the awful, awkward smile that greets failure, like a lump of coal in the toe of a Christmas sock.

Image is courtesy John Cleary Gallery.

Bill Davenport is an artist and writer and was one of the first contributors to Glasstire.

also by Bill Davenport
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