Want to Start Collecting Art? Easy Steps To Get You Started

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 8.39.24 PMIf you have ever thought about trying to become an art collector, either for pleasure or for investment purposes, the art world doesn’t make it easy for you. Galleries are cold, uninviting, scary and intimidating places to visit. Even a seasoned art world aficionado can feel awkwardly out of place when entering the inner sanctum of a public commercial gallery. The quiet hush, ominous white walls, cavernous spaces and contemporary art that defies understanding can be overwhelming to the novice. Gallery employees don’t make it any easier. Most of the time, instead of a greeting, barely a head goes up to acknowledge a presence. It can feel like you are intruding in someone’s personal space. At the other extreme are the high pressure sales galleries with “associates” who breathe down your neck trying to elicit your response to each glance, in the hopes of extracting some information that can later be used to sell you the piece. It’s no surprise that 80% of the people I polled, living in affluent neighborhoods, have never even set foot in an art gallery. Not because they can’t afford or don’t want to buy contemporary art. But, because the marketing model in place is not designed to embrace or educate… and has not kept up with the changing roles of the art market. The traditional brick and mortar art world has failed at educating consumers, building trust, and making art accessible. It’s not surprising that if you have ever experienced this, you have given up on the whole idea of buying art. Thankfully with the emergence of e-commerce to rescue the art world economy, collectors now have choices that were never before available to them. E-commerce works for a lot of specific reasons: it’s easy, it’s convenient, it’s private and it’s anonymous. Art is not the kind of product that you can be talked into. Buying art is not like a buying a car or a computer, where most consumers do comparison shopping to check for value as well as quality. It is one of the few categories that is almost a totally emotional buy. You look at it, you like it or you don’t. It is a mystery what contributes to a person’s personal taste. There is very little a sales person can say or do to change that. However, being educated about the artist and his career may influence your decision regarding a purchase, but, that is only effective after you have already made the selection of your choice. Why invest in paintings? Many art enthusiasts choose to invest in paintings because they not only bring aesthetic beauty to their surroundings but also have the potential to appreciate in value over time, making them a potentially lucrative investment.

Here are some tips to get you started.

Educate your Eye

Before you set out with checkbook in hand, you need to educate your eye. I’m not talking about an education in art history. But, rather a thorough understanding of what you like and what you don’t like. And, even though you may think you know what that is, it will change as you begin to look at more and more art. It kind of happens by osmosis, before you even know it. If you’ve ever had the experience of buying a piece of art, or even a poster, only to learn after a few months that you’re tired of looking at it… that is your eye becoming educated. With complex, quality art, the experience is reversed. You will find yourself loving it more as time passes. You will see new things every time you look at it. So, the absolute first thing you need to do is decide NOT to buy anything for at least one month. Subscribe to the art magazines just look at the pictures and the ads. Start going to galleries and reading reviews. You may want to make notes about what you liked or didn’t like at each show. It’s particularly helpful if you can visit an exhibition that has been reviewed in the newspaper or an art magazine. That way you can compare what the critic wrote to your own impressions about the show. Remember, there is no right or wrong to understanding art. Your opinions are just as valid as the reviewers. They may have more academic knowledge to help put things in an historical context, but you are learning. Slowly you will start to understand your taste. The goal in this first step is to figure out why you like what you like.

Establish a Budget

The next step is to establish a budget. It’s important to do this before the shopping begins, as it is easy to fall in love with something beyond your price range. Establishing a budget and sticking to it will take some of the emotional aspects out of the experience. But, remember, you are about to embark on one of the few completely emotional buying decisions you will ever make!

Determine Your Goals

It is helpful here to determine what your goals are for purchasing art. Are you simply trying to fill a blank wall? Or, are you interested in developing a collection that may have some investment value? In either case, you’ll need to start narrowing down your choices by medium as this is directly related to budget. In general, prints and photographs are less expensive than original paintings. Sculpture is generally even more expensive. But, as always, there are exceptions to this rule. There are few things in the marketplace priced as irrationally as art. Although artists and galleries try to fix prices based on the law of supply and demand and what the market will bear, there are always extenuating circumstances that contribute to the final price. Where the artist is in his or her career range is probably the most important and also the most difficult to quantify. Medium, size, complexity and cost of production also play important roles in determining the final sales price. But the bottom line could just as easily be determined by how much an artist is attached to a particular piece. Immerse yourself in the art world, if time allows. Get on gallery mailing lists, go to opening receptions, meet and talk to artists about their work. Most cities have a local Gallery Guide, or newspaper listings that have a calendar of events. One of the great advantages of collecting contemporary art is the artists are still living! Although almost every artist I know claims they don’t know how to “talk” about their work, once they get started, they love it. Meeting and talking to the artist adds a special element to collecting contemporary art that makes the work an irreplaceable treasure rather than just another possession.

Become a Responsible Collector

Finally, once you actually become a collector, realize that you now have to accept the responsibility as the guardian of this piece. Responsibilities include staying up to date of the activities of the artists in your collection, documenting the work for insurance purposes, and making decisions about what will happen to the work in perpetuity. For more specific information, refer to my article, The Responsible Collector. Soon, you will discover that surrounding yourself with art can enrich not only your visual experiences, but instill a sense of vitality to your life and uplift your soul.