I hear the lament regularly. Friends from all around the world, all professions, residents of suburban towns and thriving international cities. Educated friends, rich and poor, stylish and some less so. 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 arbiter of good taste, both of these questions are dismissive of one’s own personal preferences!
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!
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, I don't like that”, it makes it SO much easier to invest in what you love. I’ve left too many art fairs and gallery openings shaking my head at the 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 media (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
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 don’t understand--or just don't like--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 favorite 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? Love spending the weekend in bed? Consider "painting studies #10" (below). 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 we're still working on how to best achieve that goal. Until we figure that out, 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.