It seems like every day I have a conversation with someone who shares my passion for the visual arts, but is unsure about where to start when it comes to collecting. We all hear so much about the art market, and especially about the record-breaking sales of contemporary art that seem to exist in another world from most people’s everyday economic reality. It all seems intimidating and unwelcome and foreign. But I strongly believe that starting an art collection -- when done the right way -- can be fun and a hugely enriching part of your life.
Based on conversations I’ve had with new collectors and my own experience in building a collection, I’ve come up with five big things to keep in mind when you decide to start building an art collection.
#1 -- Buy what you love.
The most important thing to consider is always the personal connection you feel when you interact with a piece of art. Don’t put too much stock in what other people tell you; forget what you learned about what’s “good” in class. If the piece speaks to you and you love it, buy it.
#2 -- ...but, know what you’re buying.
Our generation cares so much about the ingredients and process behind the objects in our everyday lives, from local beer to sustainably sourced coffee to organic wool. We should think about the art we collect the same way. Everything has a story behind it, and good stories are worth telling. So learn about how your art is made: What is the medium? Is it a unique work or a print? If it’s a print, what kind of print is it -- is it a digital reproduction print from an original or an original print in and of itself? Is it part of a larger body of work by the same artist? What is its relationship to wider movements in art history, local culture or current events?
Don’t be a passive consumer of art (or anything, really)! It’s much more fulfilling -- and fun -- to know a little bit about what you spend so much time looking at. And if you’re not confident about what you’re buying, seek out a professional or a knowledgeable friend to be your sounding board.
#3 -- Support living artists and make sure they are paid fairly.
I love the art made by earlier generations too, but I strongly believe that the best way to engage the world of visual arts is to get involved with people making art right now. Spending your weekends at the Met without also looking into what’s going on in Brooklyn or Queens is just as mindless and unimaginative as never changing the station from Classic Rock radio in your car, wishing every new band sounded just like Led Zeppelin. A huge part of loving art is the search for new experiences, and the almost-magical feeling of discovery you get when you see a powerful new piece for the first time. Look for something new, something that speaks to who you are and how you live right now.
#4 -- Take care of your art.
Art is fragile! Take proper care of it if you want it to last. First, make sure that what you’re buying is real -- look for the artist’s signature and date or a certificate of authenticity. When you take a piece home with you, make sure it’s framed with high-quality materials that protect the piece from sunlight so it doesn’t fade away over time. It’s worth spending a little time (and money) making sure your art will always be as beautiful as it is right now.
#5 -- Reflect on your collection as a whole.
It is always worth stopping every once in awhile to think about how your collection comes together as a whole. Your living space becomes an extension of your tastes and attitude, and your collection is more than just a list of the art you own. This doesn’t mean you have to narrow your focus and only collect works in one medium, or by one group of artists. It just means that collecting becomes a more fulfilling experience when you take some time to reflect how your tastes have come together so far, and where they’re heading.
A final big thing to remember that all this advice isn’t just for Russian oligarchs looking to fill the walls of their London penthouses -- every collection starts with a single piece. Start yours today!