I hear the lament regularly. Friends from all around the world, all professions, residents of suburban towns and thriving international cities. Educated friends, stylish (more unstylish), rich and poor. They are all self-proclaimed “art lovers” but when it comes to becoming an art collector, they stop short with the defeatist mantra: “I don’t know how.”
They beg and plead for recommendations for what to buy, or my opinion on whether or not their selections are “good”. While I’m flattered to be considered the beacon of good taste, both of these questions are dismissive of one’s own personal taste!
We know the art world can be daunting, so it’s hard to know where and how to start honing in on what you like and dislike. As we (the galleries, advisors, curators) continue to overlook this most fundamental hurdle for collecting art—where to begin—we have failed you. And for that, and behalf of all of us, I apologize. But I’ll let you in on a secret: buying art is easy. With that, we’ve created this cheat sheet: 6 tips for becoming a powerhouse art collector.*
*these guidelines are as applicable to your first acquisition as they are to your fiftieth!
1. START LOOKING AT ART!
Just start looking at art. Everywhere you can. Slowly you’ll be able to hone in on what you really like and be able to articulate what you want and, sometimes more importantly, what you don’t want. Once you become comfortable saying “nope, that piece is not for me”, it makes it SO much easier to invest in what you love and start collecting art! I’ve left too many art fairs and gallery openings shaking my head at the art is a lot of art I don’t like, being lauded by the art world. The point is: you don’t have to like everything! Take the time to learn, to follow the artists you like, but buying art shouldn’t take convincing, especially by the person selling it.
Go to galleries and museums and art fairs. Note the mediums (painting, prints, photographs, etc.) as well as the subjects (portraits, abstract, landscapes) that catch your eye. The art world is playing catch up with social media but be sure to follow them! Browse our online shop and you’ll see how we’re making art collecting just a little bit easier
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
2. BUY WITH YOUR EYES…
…not your ears. NEVER your ears. Guidance and information is one thing. But if someone needs to convince you to spend your hard money on something you just don’t understand, walk away. This is not a directive to “go it alone”! On the contrary, finding someone you can trust to help you make these purchases–or better yet, do all the heavy lifting for you, can be invaluable—time is more valuable than money, after all—but you should always be the one making the final call, with as little outside noise as possible.
3. CONSIDER YOU LIKES AND DISLIKES.
A great place to start collecting art is to consider your own experiences. Some of my favourite experiences of looking at a work is when I can immediately connect it to a memory. Do you wax nostalgia about Portugal? Seek out Portuguese artists! Love history, why not collect old master portraits? Collections should be a reflection of you and the people/places/things you love.
4. ACCEPT THE ART WORLD FOR WHAT IT IS.
A bunch of snobs. Just kidding, most of us aren’t so bad, and for those who are, I blame the market. It’s opaque, confusing, and the rules are murky at best. Try not to pay attention to the judgmental faces. We as art world intermediaries are supposed to connect the artist with the collector and to a large extent we have failed. Until that changes, do your best to focus on buying what you like to look at, so that when you’re ready to start shelling out the big bucks, you are confident in your purchases, and the financial and emotional investment will be easier to swallow.
Finding an advisor you trust (like RedDot Advisors) can also help navigate through the stark white walls of the gallery. One day we hope the art world will operate with more transparency. Until then, we can help you play the game. Plus, we only work with respectful, professional, egalitarian galleries and dealers.
5. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS WHEN YOU START COLLECTING ART.
One of the reasons I find it so difficult to articulate why I chose the pieces in my own collection is because my buying is all about emotion. If I have a gut reaction to a work, I buy it–as long as I can afford it! There is a reason you reacted that way to that piece. Sometimes you can explain it, but sometimes you can’t. That’s ok! Follow that feeling!
In the case of art, and with virtually everything else we own, collecting is something between your stomach, your heart and your head. If you allow yourself to follow that instinct, you will find it overwhelmingly compelling to collect. “The passion is so intense it’s like a disease.” David Bowie, an avid collector over the course of his lifetime, once said: “art was, seriously, the only thing I’d ever wanted to own. It has always been for me a stable of nourishment. I use it. It can change the way I feel in the morning.” And if Bowie says it, it must be true. Quite simply, art enriches your life and feeds your soul.
6. BE PATIENT!
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is an art collection. Start with your first piece. If you take the time to find something you love living with, you will buy another, then another. And boom, an art collection! Most of my clients love to correct me when I designate them as “collectors”: “Oh no, no I’m definitely not a collector,” they say. But as they tell me the stories of the pieces hanging on their walls, they are noticeably animated and excited. It’s not long after that they , and I quickly remind them that they are indeed part of the club.
FINAL THOUGHTS? IT’S EASIER THAN YOU THINK!
Art will soon become the first thing you see when you walk into a collector’s home, and it is truly transformative. Each piece of a collection tells a story and you will become proud of these narratives, proud of the patronage, and proud to put you mark on our cultural history. Buying your first piece of art is emotional, and as your collection grows, so too will your pride of ownership.
Still stalling? You might be guilty of our art buying excuses. We debunk the most common excuses here
The process of creating and the discussion about the nature of art inspire Ashley’s teaching as well as her work. Her work is about the process, the experience of creating something new. We sat down with her to talk about her process and the inspirations for her work, as well as some common misconceptions about contemporary art.
Fill in the blanks:
My favorite medium is: If I have to choose just one it would be Paint… but I also adore ceramics. I’ve always been drawn to what can happen when layered, thinned, mixed with other mediums, etc. and love LOVE the textures and finishes. Ceramics because it really brings you into your body and helps to disconnect from the outside world & noise.
I started creating in (year): Since I could hold a crayon – though my first ‘official’ painting lesson was in 1995.
I am a full time/part-time artist (choose one): Part-time, with the goal of being a full-time creative.
A common misconception about contemporary art is: The fear of looking at or engaging with because of the fear of ”I don’t get it.” The wonderful thing about (any) art is you can bring your own experience to it. You don’t have to like or “get” everything, but if you spend the time to engage with a piece and ask yourself questions, it’s a wonderfully rich area of reflection and discussion.
A common misconception about contemporary artists is: Their work is too expensive or that it should be easily discounted. One of my favorite artists once said to someone as they said they loved a particular piece in his body of work, “it took me 40 years.” Each work of art is the culmination of experience, perfectly – or not so perfectly- captured. If there is something that resonates with you, there is a reason for that and that should be respected and paid for fairly. In anyone’s career there are always growing pains, mistakes, set backs, and successes… artists often only get paid for the latter.
The most surprising thing I’ve discovered about collectors is: I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find collectors always want to know more about the artwork, artist, process, etc. A work of art is an object that represents more than just paint on paper, it holds many stories – a collector is someone that wants to engage with and share those stories.
My most unorthodox source of inspiration is: Boredom (without a phone in hand) – which might not seem unorthodox but I believe in the era of overstimulation and smartphones boredom is hard to come by and wholly undervalued.
The one piece of advice I would give people who want to start collecting art is: Buy your first piece! I know the first one can be scary but once you hold that first piece in your hands and get it on your walls, you’ll open up the opportunity to create your own collection that highlights your own voice and even milestones in life. If you’re nervous, find an artist whose work you love and talk to them, if you love and believe in their purpose, you have absolutely nothing to lose!
A few more questions…
Living or dead…
What artist would you follow on Instagram? Kate Frizalis
What artist would you most like to have drinks with? Natalie Baxter
Which artists are at your dinner party table? Ruth Root, Tanya Aguiniga, Vija Celmins, Anna Hymas, Rochelle Botello, The Love Armata, Jenny Holtzer, Katie Cowan, Artemisia Gentileschi, Dana Schutz, Francesca Woodman, Pandemonia, Marilyn Minter, Lee Bontecou, Helen Frankenthaler, Adrian Piper, Mary Weatherford, Molly Larkey, The Heidies.