How to Start Your Art Collection

How to Start Your Art Collection

Think collecting art requires lots of knowledge and deep pockets?

Want an amazing art collection but don’t know where to start?

Looking to create that perfect art wall in your home?

Don’t fret… we have you covered with our simple how-to guide for collecting art.

Our guide includes 10 tips and tricks for building a beautiful collection without breaking the bank (unless you really have to buy a Van Gogh at auction for USD$81.3 million). Remember, you don’t need riches to collect art – start small and your collection will soon grow.

1. Find out what style of art is your jam

Before you start collecting you need to know what type of art appeals to you and what type of pieces you imagine having in your collection – historical portraits, bright abstracts, bronze sculptures, art jewellery, Chinese ceramics, contemporary photography – start by discovering what floats your boat.

To get inspiration, visit your local public art galleries or browse their online catalogues, and ask yourself which are the pieces you would happily steal off the walls and take home with you if you could (of course, we don’t condone actually stealing them).

Buy art books, visit the library and browse the art section, visit art fairs, attend preview days at auction houses and frequent the local dealer galleries in your area.

Once you have an idea of what you like, get yourself familiar with artist names, styles and art movements so you know what to look for and what is ‘good’.

Lastly, before you whip out your credit card, have a think about where you are going to hang your art collection. The size of the pieces you buy is often very much dictated by your available wall or floor space – there’s no point lusting after a 4 metre tall neon giraffe sculpture if the ceilings in your apartment are only 2 metres high. So if you want to go big you need to have a spot in mind for it.

2. Get amongst it

Once you have an idea of what types of art you want in your art collection, we recommend getting your ear to the ground in your local art world.

Get yourself on the mailing lists of galleries, artist studios and art publications, because If you are not in the know you will miss knowing about the opening nights, open studios and pop-up events you need to be attending.

Then actively start attending gallery openings and art events which showcase the artists you are interested in and focus on the types of artwork you are looking to collect.

Make friends and build personal relationships with the gallerists, dealers, curators, other collectors and artists you meet. These personal friendships will give you valuable insider perspectives and information that you would otherwise not have access to.

Cultivating such relationships also gets you the most bang for your buck, because you will be more able to negotiate prices, be offered new works before they are exhibited, or even have the best works in an exhibition held aside for you.

3. Collect what you like

Don’t buy an artwork because it’s the latest thing since sliced bread, or because you think it will match the latest trends in home décor – buy the art you love, buy the art that makes you happy to look at every day and which adds something to your life.

The art you buy doesn’t have to be the latest hot thing in the art world or by a trending artist, it simply must be something that inspires and speaks to you (it’s your art collection after all).

4. Don’t buy art to flip

Don’t expect to make money when buying art for your collection – the real value of art is the enjoyment of having it in your home, not the future return you might make from selling it.

It is also a bad habit to get into, thinking that one day you will be able to sell it for a profit. This day may never come for certain artworks but if you love the work, this really doesn’t matter.

5. Don’t buy a poster when you can buy an original

It is easy when you are starting out to think “arh, I don’t quite have the money for an original so I will buy a reproduction”. But if you restrain yourself from buying that poster or reproduction, and put the money aside into your art collection fund, after not buying just a couple of posters you will have enough for an original.

Also how often do you buy a reproduction, only for it to stay rolled up in the cardboard tube it came in and stashed in the back of your wardrobe? It’s almost always better to put the money aside for a piece that you will be motivated to hang on your wall.

6. Get in early

We all know the saying “the early bird gets the worm”. Well, it is definitely true when buying art, because being the first person to see an exhibition, ideally before the opening night, gives you the best chance of acquiring the best works.

The same is true when buying works from artists early in their careers. An artist’s career and price trajectory can be steep once they get known, so it is worth trying to buy an artist’s works early (if it is a piece you actually like and want) because you may not be able to afford the works later on.

Buying from up and coming artists is not only more affordable but you are also fostering an artist in the early stages of their career when they need it most.

7. The Medium matters

When you are just starting out with your collection, a great place to begin is with limited edition works on paper such as etchings, lithographs, monoprints and lino-cuts. Because these types of works are limited edition and are often smaller in scale, compared with one-off original canvases or sculptures, they are much more affordable.

Drawings and sketches are other great media to explore buying as again they are seen as secondary works to the major works an artist produces, for this reason they suit even the smallest art collection budget.

Focusing on editioned prints and drawings also gives you the opportunity to buy minor works from well-known artists. This lets you get the piece by the artist you have your heart set on owning but often without the hefty price tag.

8. Start online

The concept of a traditional art auction can be quite daunting and it is not a way we often shop. In-person auctions also often have hefty auction house sales fees added to the sales price. But there are increasingly a number of reputable online auction houses in the marketplace which have reduced online fees and it is also much less daunting sitting at home in your pyjamas bidding than it is sitting in a pretentious auction room.

Platforms like The Exhibit also provide another new way to collect art online through virtual temporary exhibitions. This is a great way to browse and discover things you like in your price range.

9. Be smart about money

I know, it’s something your mother would say, but, have a budget! With a budget you can better plan your artwork purchases and know how much you have available to spend.

When you do come across a piece you really like, it can be worth doing a bit of price comparison research to make sure what you are getting is being sold at a reasonable price.

The internet is great for this because you can Google an artist and get quick information on their previous and current exhibitions plus view artwork for sale on their website and elsewhere online. You can then check the price you are about to pay is in the same ballpark as those being advertised elsewhere.

Don’t 100% believe pre-sale estimates published by auction houses, they are just a guide and sometimes the actual selling price is lower on the day. So it’s best not to right something off straight away if it seems too expensive, ask some questions and do some research about previous sales prices, then turn up on the day and see what happens, you might get lucky!

It’s also important not to be discouraged from pursuing an artwork that you can’t afford. Many galleries are prepared to negotiate the terms of a sale, and instalments payments are common practice. And it’s better to buy one fantastic artwork than to buy five or ten mediocre ones, so don’t be afraid to invest in the right piece.

There are also tools out there to help you invest in the piece you really want such as Art Money which offers zero interest loans to art buyers.

However, we recommend making payment as quickly as possible because many collectors make a habit of paying late, so paying quickly and on time will put you in the gallerists’ good books. This means next time they might even offer you an artwork first instead of another collector.

Lastly, it is worth noting that the art world is fairly unregulated when compared with other markets. Practices such as insider trading, price manipulation, and cartels are commonplace. This is where doing your research and getting in the know pays off, as you are less able to be taken for a ride as a newbie to the art world.

10. Enjoy the Process

Just remember that there is no right way to build an art collection of your own. Just follow your instinct and jump right in. Next time you see an artwork you love at the right price, just go for it! Your collection will take you possibly years to build so it is all about enjoying the process.

Start browsing contemporary exhibitions on The Exhibit »

About the Author

Zinnia O’Brien is a co-founder of The Exhibit. She has a Masters of Museum Studies and has worked in internationally recognised Art Galleries and Museums in Australia and New Zealand. She is passionate about using technology to find ways for galleries, museums and arts practitioners to remain viable and valued in the current under-funded Arts and Cultural environment. Start browsing exhibitions here and collecting artworks from contemporary artists around the world.