How to Build an Art Collection for Regular Folks – 12 Do’s and Don’ts
With over 30 years of experience as an artist, designer, collector, and gallerist, I’ve seen every angle of original art buying. It’s a process that can (and should) be enjoyable. Sadly, due to the price tag of art and an exclusive facade looming over the art world, people approach it with dread, or avoid it altogether. We want to bring joy back to what can be a very personal and rewarding experience. In this guide we share 12 high-level Dos and Don’ts of buying art, taken from our experience helping hundreds of clients explore their tastes and make the leap to original art. Hopefully these will do away with some common insecurities and myths and help build your confidence as a collector!
Give yourself permission to become an art collector.
No one owns the rights to the term “art collector” – ignore the aura of exclusivity, which is (mostly) false, and be open with artists and galleries.
Contrary to popular belief, this hobby is not exclusive to the ultra-rich or the ultra-educated. To be an art collector is to be proud of your collection, regardless of its financial or cultural value. What constitutes art means something different to everyone.
Knowing that, drop your expectations about what your art collection should be and let it become an extension of yourself.
Artwork by Mary Jo Major
Get bogged down by opinions.
Authorities inevitably impact what is trending or popular, but try to maintain your internal compass throughout.
As tempting as it is to let an authority tell you what to do in a world as subjective as art, you’re better off dragging this document into the trash and just going out into the world to look at art. We love giving an opinion to a client and having them reject it outright, only to select art that we would never have guessed.
Authorities offer context, education, and help expand your awareness, but at the end of the day, only you live with your collection, so it is only your opinion that counts.
Artwork by Loretta Kaltenhauser
Look at a LOT of art.
This is BY FAR the most important advice we can offer.
Experiencing a lot of art is the only way to develop your taste and knowledge, which go hand-in-hand. Subscribe to your local galleries and museums. Regularly attend their programming and aim for diverse exposure: traditional, contemporary, artists from varied backgrounds. Try to meet the artists whenever you can.
As you do this, focus less on acquisitions, trends, and price, and more on why / how the artist created the work, and how the curator has presented it.
If it inspires wonder in you, take note.
Artwork by Mary Ann Tarini Hews
Get fooled by the investment hype.
Take an honest look at your intentions. If your goal is to anticipate the next “jackpot”, you’re likely better off with a different type of investment.
Don’t get us wrong – original art tends to be a stable investment. A dedicated artist’s prices will probably rise steadily through their career. But just because an artist’s prices rise by 20% does not mean people will be tripping over each other to buy their work from you on the resale market.
There is a flashy segment of the art world where works carry a 5-8 digit price tag, and due to carefully controlled scarcity of the artist’s work, it gets snapped up on the resale market almost instantly. As a result, the artist’s prices increase rapidly. If you have access to this market, art is a GREAT investment.
This is not to say you can’t hit the jackpot – it just isn’t the best reason to get into art. You’re much more likely to succeed if you pursue art out of a genuine interest.
So drown out the noise and enjoy art for art’s sake.
Artwork by Claudette Losier
Prioritize original work.
If you seek a lifelong connection to the objects in your space, handmade work is a must.
We’ve all been there. Staring at an empty wall and thinking of ways to fill it. Your inclination might be to pursue mass-produced prints at the home decor store. We get the appeal: they are convenient, affordable, fill a space, and when done right, they can be trendy and aesthetically pleasing. But if you are seeking to build your collection with intention and have a profound connection to it, original art is the way to go. You know the artist poured their heart into it, and you understand why. A piece of the artist is now living with you.
If affordability is a major barrier to owning an original, look for vintage art, smaller works, works on paper, and limited edition prints. Also, try connecting with emerging artists via local fairs and exhibitions hosted by art schools.
And just imagine… should the artist turn out to be the next Picasso, you (or your grandkids) will be hugging yourself for it.
Artwork by Ryan Oulton
Forget your local artists.
The connection to the work only grows deeper when you can meet the artist in person and form a bond rooted in community.
Original art is not only an investment in yourself, it is an investment in your important (and sometimes fragile) arts community. Also, works by local artists are often overshadowed by and are more affordable than works by artists already recognized nationally or internationally – yet there is still plenty of quality to be found. This is the space that ArtMatch lives in – top-quality local art.
By choosing work from local artists, you become a patron to your arts community, stimulating local creativity and indirectly influencing new work.
Artwork by Alison Philpotts
Mix objects into your collection.
Have you ever been into the home of a collector who has gone overboard on the paintings? While each piece has a voice, it can get drowned out in the crowd.
For a diverse collection, look beyond wall art for your next purchase. Objects add a dynamic quality to a space and are often neglected by collectors. A beautiful vase, hand-blown glass art, and sculptures can add texture, height, and utility to a space.
Allow your walls to breathe!
Put a million holes in your walls.
When deciding where to hang a work of art, it can be tempting to pull out the hammer and hooks and go for a trial and error approach – but avoid this habit!
When hanging art there are so many variables to consider. Does the wall give it enough space to breathe? How many inches above the couch should it sit? Does a nearby piece crowd it? And so on.
Take advantage of our complimentary digital mockups to visualize paintings on your wall, to scale, before delivery. This allows you to view different paintings on different walls to ease the purchase decision and tells you exactly where to hang the painting once it is delivered.
Do the piece justice without hanging and re-hanging via digital mockups.
Embrace the power of smalls.
From objects to paintings, well-placed smalls can have an outsized impact – both in intimate corners and showpiece walls.
Smalls give a lived-in feeling to a space, as they are often the last addition once the big items are out of the way. But they don’t have to come last!
Smalls are also a great way to explore and test out your range of tastes before making a larger commitment.
Don’t feel like your original art purchase HAS to be that 4 foot statement piece.
Artwork by Laura Thipphawong
Confuse art with decor.
When you pick a piece tailored to match your decor, it becomes devalued as soon as you move or redecorate. When you have a relationship with a work of art, the value stands up for itself.
Your art collection will outlive your home and whatever design trends come and go. Obviously, it’s great for your art to complement your space and vice versa – and we can help with that – but be weary of letting the couch colour influence your selection. This mindset will also allow you to select more challenging, weirder, or riskier art that you adore but may not have been comfortable with from a decorative standpoint.
The artwork may be beautiful, but it’s so much more than decor!
Trial the work in your space.
Many galleries (including us) are comfortable with you trialing the work in your space before taking the plunge. We understand it’s a big decision and want you to sit with the art, live with the art, and see how it makes you feel. This is especially feasible when you buy locally, as the art can be delivered and returned easily.
Don’t be afraid to request an in-home viewing or trial.
Artwork by Lucie Bause
Take yourself too seriously.
Humans have been creating and collecting art objects for centuries. Have fun building your collection!
Overthinking stalls progress. Start observing the work you are drawn to and make decisions that fill you with joy and intrigue. Whether it is a small, large, conceptual, kitschy, sad, grotesque, or aesthetically beautiful piece that speaks to you – just get started. In the same way that you are never complete, your collection will never be either. No worries.
As you move through your journey, you’ll become more confident in your tastes.