If you love art, you’ve probably — at one time or another — wanted to become a collector. But there are challenges. The art world can sometimes seem remote, closed off. But joining that world is a rewarding process.
What do art collectors do? Find art they want, that makes fiscal sense to own, and that works within their collection. That’s really it. Yes, there are advisors and framing and reading markets, but fundamentally it is about buying art that you enjoy.
Contemporary art collectors love contemporary art. 19th century illustration collectors love 19th century illustration. It all begins with a love for art. If you love it, you already have the most important trait for being an art collector. What follows is the know how to actually do it.
Who is an Art Collector
Let’s dispel the myth that art collectors are all billionaires paying tens of exorbitant sums for a painting of a circle at auction.
People who collect art come from many walks of life, fall into many different tax brackets, and begin at many levels of art education. So, there is no reason to feel intimidated when starting out.
Yes, famous art collectors might tend to be extravagantly wealthy, but you don’t have to compete with them. In fact, when you make a few right choices and decide to sell off some art that has massively appreciated in value, you’ll be happy that they are around.
Some ways to offset competing with the richest art collectors are by going to off season sales and buying directly from emerging artists. More about that to come.
How to Begin Collecting Art
Buy What You Like
If you are thinking about picking up a copy of Art Collecting for Dummies, it’s because you don’t think you have the knowledge base to make smart choices in the market. But always remember the first rule of art collecting: buy what you like.
You need to focus on what you like for a few reasons. Number one, you will be living with the art you buy, so you might as well enjoy it. Number two, as you build a collection, you will want to research and learn about what you are buying. If you do not start out interested, chances are you will view your collecting as a chore.
For instance, if you like black and white photography, don’t feel like you have to stray from it. Find the photographers you enjoy and find original prints of their work. The more you do this, the more enjoyable work you will own. After all, why is art good for you? Because it brings your life beauty and, at its best, a glimpse of truth. Don’t sacrifice that. Furthermore, once you’ve gone through this fun and exciting process of finding and buying black and white photography prints a few times you’ve already begun your collection.
A Collection is More than Just Buying
There is a caveat to the rule above. Starting an art collection is about more than buying anything you like. A collection should have coherence, a unified style or subject matter. The mistake many people make when beginning their journey as budding art collectors is losing sight of their collection as a whole.
And of course, as we mentioned, one of the benefits of collecting art is getting acquainted with the subject on a deeper level. This is hard to do when you hop from era to era, style to style. Sticking with a time period, style, or subject matter will teach you important lessons about what you are looking for in a new piece and what makes a piece valuable.
Remember, a good art collection is worth more than the sum of its parts. Yes, there are many beautiful paintings out there of all kinds, but a collection should tell you a specific story about painting itself.
If you are still unconvinced, consider the monetary benefits. Your personal art collection will have a higher chance of rising in value as you learn more about the art you buy. It isn’t possible to know a lot about all art. But it is possible, even inevitable, to learn a lot about a specific field of art that you engage with regularly.
There is one caveat. Making an entire collection of a single artists’ work is not a great idea either. If a substantial amount of your purchases are from a single artist, you have a lot riding on the career of another person (most likely a stranger). It is always better to spread around to multiple artists in a given style — that way you hedge your bets, as it were. Sometimes even the most talented artists fail to stay relevant.
It is easy to know if you like a work of art when you see it, but art collecting also involves getting the right kinds of work.
Research is a major part of that process. Finding artists and art forms with the right price point and investment potential for you. We’ve introduced the topic of “how to invest in art” in a prior post , so check that out for more information on what to look for.
If the research is overwhelming and you really want help, you can go with an art advisor. Advisors work with the entire range of buyers: from the largest private art collections to people just getting started. At the very least, it is an avenue worth looking into.
Where to Start Buying First
Off Season Sales
Off Season sales offer good deals, even at the infamous Christies, which is known for selling art with enormous price tags.
Many galleries have off seasons, which differ depending on location and weather. For most North American galleries, it will be during the winter months after the holiday season when people are going out less.
Buy Directly from Emerging Artists
Use Instagram and Pinterest to find new talent with great work. If you buy from them directly, you will not have to pay as much as at a gallery, and young artists who haven’t made their name won’t charge as much as those who already have. This also allows you to build more personal relationship with the artist.
That being said, a good gallery has resources available that can help you find what you are looking for. If you find a gallerist with knowledge in the area you want to collect in, they are often more than happy to facilitate by reaching out to contacts and assisting you. There is a reason that the history of art collecting is made up of many a helpful gallerist.
Shipping & Framing
You’ve purchased some work and officially started your collection. Now what? You need to ship it home and frame it.
These are some of the most practical skills in collecting. They won’t ever be the most exciting tasks, but without careful consideration for shipping your work and framing it properly, you’ll quickly tarnish the value of the work you spent money investing in.
When buying work away from your home city, take precaution in shipping. The worst outcome of being too careful is unwrapping extra layers of bubble wrap. The worst outcome of not being careful enough is finding that sculpture you spent so much money on is now shattered.
As for framing, look at the framing services in your area, particularly ones that specialize in fine art. Read reviews and compare prices, but you shouldn’t nickel and dime yourself here. You are expecting these people to handle valuable works for you. A good framer should know where you will hang and store the work, and their job is to make sure it stays protected in those conditions while looking incredible. A bad frame can undercut the aesthetic of a work and lead to environmental damage (even for paintings inside your house).
Collecting original art can feel daunting at first, but the rewards are profound. As with anything, overtime you will get better at it and more comfortable with it. There are plenty of people who will help you along the way, and just imagine the excitement of hanging that first piece, tilting it back and forth until it’s just right. The important thing is to start. Remember, the best art collections in the world began with that first purchase.