Updated: Sep 9, 2022
Your preconceived notions on art collecting might be misplaced if you believe it's only something the wealthy, privileged or famous get to enjoy.
Somewhere down the line, we've assumed that not only do you have to have a trust fund to collect and acquire art or a huge house to display it all, but you have to be an expert in the field, and that's simply not true.
While the art world has many avenues you can take, it can appear somewhat overwhelming when you first dive in but don't let that stop you. You'll learn more as you go, and that's part of the fun of collecting.
There's a plethora of reasons to begin an art collection, and while financial assets are one of them, it's a very small one. Whether you're interested in collecting art for the financial, social, or health benefits, prestige, supporting the arts, or just owning pieces of history, it doesn't require a doctorate or your mortgage to get your foot in the door.
And the best part…
Now is the easiest and best time to collect.
More artists are producing their work and thanks to the good side of social media they're easier to find too. Most of them have an email or VIP list that gives you a direct connection to them as well, so you're sure to hear about showings, studio visits, sales, etc…
Before you jump in head-first and get lost in the art, set up your logistic side of things beforehand so it's out of the way when you do find a piece you fall in love with.
Don't worry if you already did that and are backtracking, these quick steps and tips will help figure out what got skipped and where to go.
For those of you who don't have the time for an in-depth walk-through, I got you. There’s a condensed checklist here.
1. Get Clear on your Why
Many things can be dictated by your why, or the goal of the collection.
If it's to be a financial asset, then personal preference may not weigh as heavily as rarity. If I'm filling my home, I might have very different taste preferences than if I were decorating an office or business establishment.
Do I like to redecorate often? If so, then you might need to account for that by having a larger budget or buying more cost-effective pieces.
2. Get to know your tastes
If you're all over the board or having to take multiple people's preferences into account, now is a good time to get clear on what is out and what is in.
The best way to do this is to create a Pinterest board, google album, or any other shared means of collecting inspiring imagery. Anyone who gets a say in the overall collection gets to contribute and after a while, you will start to see some trends emerging.
Maybe it's a color palette, particular medium, or subject matter. Is it sculptural, photographic, or digital? Once you have a general heading, it's much easier to know where to invest your energy.
3. Get to know your niche market
Remember how I said you need a heading before you invest your energy. Imagine if you were stranded in a rowboat, and land was within rowing distance, but you're going the opposite direction.
You'd be discouraged and exhausted when you finally did get the right heading, and prone to giving up.
By narrowing down some of these things you can quickly get some research done that will keep you moving forward, without getting caught in the online art world rabbit hole.
Do you like particular artists? How do their prices differ?
Emerging artists will typically offer more competitive pricing than more well-known artists. They also have a great opportunity for appreciation (but you should never buy with the expectation that it will).
Do you prefer a particular subject matter?
Abstracts and figurative paintings can contrast very differently in price from landscapes and animal art.
Do you gravitate toward a particular medium?
Oils are more expensive to work with, take longer to dry, and therefore require more working time which can drive up costs compared to charcoal or graphite works.
Are you into high-value pieces?
Artwork has ancestry and knowing yours, or pieces you wish to acquire is a handy bit of information to know when looking to make artwork and investment.
The 'provenance' of a piece authenticates a particular art piece and details things like the work's creator, owner and restoration/conservation history, and appraisal value.
A signed statement of authenticity from the artist or an expert on the artist is ideal. An original gallery sales receipt, receipt directly from the artist, or an appraisal from an expert in the era are also good options.
4. Set a budget
Determine how much you are willing to spend all in, and work backward from there.
The cost of works can vary based on the prestige of the artist, gallery, medium, style, etc...
Hidden costs: taxes, customs fees, shipping, dealer/consultant/advisor fees.
Framing & Installation costs: Properly and safely installing your pieces, protects and prolongs the life of your work.
Insurance & Archival costs: You'll want to archive all your pieces in case of theft, fire, flood, or other unfortunate circumstances, and insure it if it's particularly rare or expensive. (I read an article recently about a teenager punching a hole in his parent's $1.5 million painting, so be a boy scout and be prepared.)
Maintenance costs: You'll want to figure in (especially for older artworks) preservation costs, and in the rare situation restoration costs which can range from $200-$300 hr.
5. Build Relationships & Make Friends
Art is a connector. Otherwise, why bring it into the world and show it off in the first place. Look at the connections you make as joint interests instead of leads or transactions and you'll be surprised at the purchasing opportunities that come your way.
Make friends with:
Artists: they usually have a subscriber or VIP list where you can be the first to know about shows and releases
Social Media Communities: Oh the leads, tips, and advice you can get from a like-minded tribe.
Dealers, Consultants, and Advisors: These individuals make it their business to know all the things that we don't have time to investigate. Think of them as bounty hunters of the art world.
Local museums, acquisition committees, and art guilds are great sources for industry insiders.
Other collectors can be sleuths as well, so never discount turning to them for advice or information.
6. Shop Around
With the power of the internet, it's now possible to buy art directly from the artist if you wish, without even having to step foot in a gallery or auction house.
That being said, there's an experience to be had attending these that you can't get anywhere else buying art.
Don’t forget these options:
Online: Great range of artists
Art fairs: Variety of art, styles, and price points
Portfolio Reviews & Student Exhibits: Great for emerging artists and a chance to snag affordable art
Studio Visits & Open Houses: want to build a relationship with the artist and possibly snag an original?
Artist's email lists: Stay in the loop with what your favorite artists are doing
Non-profit art centers and local galleries
If you’re just starting out or working on a limited budget consider:
Limited edition art prints: they hold and can increase in value.
Minor or smaller works by major artists: this is a great way to break into collecting major works
Ask if galleries offer a 1st-time discount or payment plans. Some do and what's the worst they'll say? "No"
Attending an auction as a dry run first before you intend to buy
7. Acquire Documentation
Be sure to protect your investment by getting all your documentation in order. An original gallery sales receipt, receipt directly from the artist, or an appraisal from an expert in the era or on the artist are also good options.
Save your certificates of authenticity.
Photograph the artwork, and scan all documents for a digital archive/backup. This helps when needing to file an insurance claim or show proof of assets. You can manage them in a spreadsheet, or online management platforms such as:
or Art Attendant that make it easy and painless.
8. Frame & Install it properly
There's nothing worse than having the frame of a painting warp because it was inadequately framed or damaged when it falls off the wall due to incorrect hardware.
I know it seems like an added expense, but it's worth the investment, in the long run, to invest in a good framer or see if the artist will frame it themselves.
They will also typically have excellent guidance on whether your desired hardware will do the job and what you should use instead.
Stepping into the collecting world can be a fun and exhilarating journey when you're not chasing your tail. Hopefully, these quick tips will help you on your way to amassing the dragon's treasure of your dreams, and eliminate unforeseen problems that pop up along the way.
Whether you're new to the game, or been in it a bit and need to evaluate your collection, I've got you covered.
I put this all in a one-page, easy to digest and follow checklist so you can take action on acquiring or organizing your art collection today.