I recently watched a video entitled 6 Things I Don’t Like About Cruising where one of the six points described the art that you can buy on a cruise ship as “overpriced rubbish”. Emma’s opinion was backed up in the YouTube comments there by some others who pointed out some facts about the art you buy in the auctions.

Art Comments

I’m going to start with addressing the comments before putting my counterpoint to what Emma says.

Nothing said in the two comments I’ve captured is really wrong but none of it is a secret either. The art auctioneers will tell you about a piece. They’ll tell you the medium, if it’s a lithograph or a giclée for instance (high resolution ink jet reproduction), whether it’s been later augmented by the artist, whether you’re getting the piece shown (sometimes they do sell the pieces they actually have on board to make room or they really are genuine art pieces (we’ve seen an original Rembrandt etching on board once)) or if the piece you’ll get will be slightly different, whether it comes with a frame or not, whether it’s on canvas or paper, international shipping fees, etc. For the prices being charged you’d have to be incredibly dense to think that each piece was an original work of art and that each ship would, what, post the work to you when they reached the next port? Everything is explained, and not just in the small print; it’s all explained by the auctioneers when you attend the auction and you’re also taken through the details again when you complete your purchase. You’ll also be able to see how many copies there are of a piece if that’s important to you. The last thing the auction house wants is to deal with the aggravation of people returning pieces they’ve bought because for some reason they thought their $400 was buying a unique piece that an artist spent years honing her techniques and days slaving over.

Overpriced Rubbish?

So, what about it being overpriced rubbish? Art is subjective and the worth of many things is also subjective and the two combined are very subjective indeed. If you don’t like the art pieces then you don’t like them and there’s nothing more that needs saying; you can’t be persuaded to like something you don’t like. If you think it’s too expensive, of course, then don’t buy it.

The real question is: what do you want from art?

  • Do you want something to just fill a gap on the wall?
  • Do you want something attractive to look at but the cost is irrelevant?
  • Do you want something that reminds you of a place or a trip?
  • Do you want art because of its value and because it’s something that you think you can sell for a profit?

That last question is, I think, key for a few people that we’ve bumped into on cruises. I know I’m generalising but the Americans we’ve met in art auctions have been almost universally driven by money, always remarking how much they paid for a piece and how much it now costs, for instance. We’ve even been on one cruise where a family of three sat at the front with a laptop so they could check prices back home in the US and see how much they could make, even arranging buyers before they’d left the ship. Talking to the auctioneer afterwards we learnt that this trio funded cruises based on the profits they made from selling works back home; that same auctioneer was surprised when he asked us if we’d checked the prices and we remarked that we simply liked what we were buying. That ability to potentially make a profit is probably limited to American cruisers simply because of the lack of shipping costs and import duties which obliterate any margins for other travellers but even if we could make a profit by selling what we’ve bought we wouldn’t because that’s not why we buy art.

Why We Like Art Auctions On Cruise Ships

For us it’s all about memories and it all goes back to our very first cruise. Our first cruise was aboard the Diamond Princess in Asia. Not only was it our first cruise, it was our first trip together abroad, and it was our honeymoon. It was a very special occasion as you can imagine but a few weeks before we got married I took voluntary redundancy from the place I was working at and at the time I’d not been really paid massively well anyway. What this meant was that although we had a great holiday on a great ship and we didn’t scrimp on excursions there were some luxuries we skipped out on because of the uncertainty of what I would return to in the job market; we didn’t really bring back any souvenirs for ourselves, for example, and we certainly didn’t buy any art in an auction on board although we attended just to see what they were about, see if we could learn anything, and because it was something to pass the time on a sea day.

During that incredible cruise we did see some art pieces that we both just loved. They were by Michael Godard, they were quirky, they were fun. We couldn’t afford them. They remained a memory only.

And then, many years later, we went on our second cruise. I was employed, I was earning more money, we had the luxury of being able to spend a little extra. And we saw a piece by Godard that we both liked again. We bought it to be a memory of two cruises. Here it is in our dining room.

Godard Art

It’s a giclée on canvas with some embellishments by the artist: the signature and the twist. You might think it’s rubbish and you might think what we paid makes it overpriced (although I can’t remember what we paid because it wasn’t important) but the only thing that matters is that when we look at this we feel good.

On our next big cruise we decided we liked the look of some art by Lebo; bold, colourful, very much in the street art style that we’re very fond of. If you’ve cruised with NCL then you might have seen his hull artwork collaboration on one of their ships. We selected a piece we wanted to be that trip’s memory. Then we won a voucher for some money off in the auction and decided to add another one. When it came time to pay the auctioneer offered us a three-for-two deal. That’s how we ended up with three similar style pieces from one cruise. Does that show that the price was probably over the top and that the cruise line were trying to move some pieces? Quite probably. Did that or does that make a difference to us? Not in the slightest. We were given a price we were happy paying and we ended up getting more for no extra. Here’s what we got from our South America cruise.

When we hit the Mediterranean for a week we didn’t have the greatest of experiences with the staff on the ship with the exception of the art gallery people who simply couldn’t have been nicer. As we were marked in their system as having bought art before there was obviously a good business reason for this but they were genuinely nice people. We talked with some when we bumped into them on shore excursions; we were invited to preview shows and had lots (and I mean lots) of free drinks. We got talking about our Lebo collection, we were offered a discount, and so we bought another piece (in a far more psychedelic style) to remember that cruise by.

One of the things they have in cruise ship art auctions are the blind bids where you raise your hand on a piece you can’t see. You may as well because you’re not obliged to buy it but the prices are usually very good, relatively-speaking. That’s how we also picked up a very large piece featuring Time’s Square in New York. We weren’t cruising anywhere near the place but we had visited a few years beforehand and when we took a look at it close up we just loved all the detail.

We had a Baltic Sea cruise last year and ended up with some more Lebo pieces for our sins and to add to the memory collection. We’d decided early on that we would only pick up the one piece on this trip as wall space was becoming an issue in our house and the cat with wine bottle was just right. During one of the auctions some small Lebo prints on metal were presented at a ridiculously cheap price and we couldn’t pass up the chance to grab one of them too.

When I’d posted some of the art pieces we’ve bought on Twitter a few years back a friend of mine mentioned that Fatboy Slim (who he works with (yes, I’m name-dropping, what of it?)) had some art by Britto in his collection that he liked. We remarked that we’d seen some in the art auctions but while we liked the boldness and cartoon qualities in the art we’d never seen any we liked enough to buy before (the 3D artwork has never appealed). Still, I made sure to take some photos when we were cruising so that I could show him.

Anyway… we then found one we liked and we thought, well, if it’s good enough for Fatboy Slim then it’s good enough for us. So, yeah, now we’ve got a Britto too and when we look at it we think that this is all because we mentioned the cruise ship art auctions online. We like it; you might not.

There are a number of other pieces we’ve bought at art auction on cruises because we liked them and we could afford them. Mainly, though, we buy art because they trigger great memories. I know that some people think it’s all a rip-off but you can’t put a price on emotional responses in my opinion.

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