February 13, 2016 by  
Filed under How To

How to collect Art
“I would like to learn how to collect art but it’s a little overwhelming”.

If you’ve ever said that to yourself then you’re not alone. Many people have experienced that same disconnect with the art world.

Collecting art is not all that difficult. Once you know what to look for and what you’ll need to know. But before we talk about what you’ll need let’s first clear up what you don’t need.

What you don’t need is a formal background in art – a formal art education. Don’t get me wrong it never hurts to have as much information as possible.  An art education will definitely give you some great insight but it can also be a hindrance. More about that in a minute.

Art itself falls into a very unique category.

Where else can you find a topic both so universally appreciated as well as intimidating. Think back to what you learned in school about cave drawings. What started as just a method of basically story telling is now serious business.

Art is simply communication. Turning it into a commodity is a modern concept.

I’m a huge fan of art. I’m also a sculptor – on some days anyway. And I know as well as the next collector that the value of art is 99% subjective and 1% objective. I might even be too generous with the 1%.

“I want to learn how to collect art but where do I start?”

I should also state that value and collectability are two distinctly different things. Some pieces obviously are highly collectible. In those cases the value as a commodity follows the collectability. Understanding those differences will set you ahead of the masses when it comes time to decide on buying a piece for your collection.

Take the example of a block of stone or the stretched canvas of an oil painter. Sure it has a value as a commodity but no more than a replacement value.

But let an artist go to work on them and with just basic carving tools that same block of stone will come to life. The story within will be set free. Same goes for the artist and their palette of paints and handful of brushes.

I could go on about the technical aspects of art such as negative space, textures and shadows etc. But it boils down to one thing …the story. No matter what that finished block of stone or piece of canvas looks like it’s still  simply a story. A story that’s being told by the artist.

Something else to be aware of is that the finished story makes up only part of the equation. I’m referring to the history on that particular piece of art. This history is referred to as it’s provenance. Basically the details of its lineage.

When a collector buys or sells a piece they’ll usually request the provenance. What they are asking for is everything recorded about it. It’s list of notable past owners. As well as galleries, exhibits and collections it may have been part of.

It will also note awards and distinctions it may have received. Auction and sales prices it has commanded. And of course it’s artistic attachment. Who was the artist as well as their personal and professional history in the art world. This is all about branding the piece.

You could almost think of it as the resume of the particular piece of art.

The next part of this equation is about you as the collector. Define exactly what you want from this piece. You need to be clear as to why you are collecting it.

“How to collect art can be approached in several different and unique ways.”

While there’s a multitude of variations, two basic extremes are at work here. The first is because you hope to make some profit on this piece. And along with that maybe enjoy some notoriety seeing you are now a part of it’s provenance. This is a more objective, analytical approach.

The other extreme is quite possibly from the moment your eyes found this piece it spoke to you – in volumes.

You simply can’t imagine not looking at this piece each day. This is the more emotionally connected approach.

Be honest with yourself as there are no right or wrong answers. Your reasons are completely valid no matter what they are. But different approaches require different strategies.

How to collect art …provenance or passion?

If you belong to the first example, then provenance is something you will have to consider. More about provenance in a minute.

If you side more with the emotional approach then provenance will be less important. Culture, romance and story will fuel your passion to follow the particular piece.

Govern yourself according to your goal.

If you’re a passionate collector then your method doesn’t require much explanation. You are governed by what moves you. Buy and sell as you see fit. If it’s for your own collection then all that matters is that you love that piece.

For some the provenance may actually interfere with the creative vibe or philosophy behind the piece itself.

There are those that feel true art shines and will find it’s way. For those collectors, the provenance matters less and in fact could be considered almost too “establishment” – running contrary to the true meaning of art itself.

When it comes time to sell.

While you may not have a piece with provenance your passion could very likely be shared by someone else.

I suspect with that passion you probably have the blood of an artist running through your own veins. If I’m correct then that too will shine through affecting the desirability of the piece. Passion is contagious in the art world.

How do I find it’s provenance?

If you’re driven by the branding and politics of a piece then you have some work to do. You’ll want to gather as much information as you can about the particular piece as well as it’s accuracy.

Information can be found from gallery owners, other collectors, auction houses and the artists themselves.

Make sure to get your information in writing.

Provenance means documentation. With documentation more is better than less. Even something as peripheral as a past insurance policy or receipt can contribute to the credibility.

You’ll need to do the same with regards to the artist.

Get a detailed biography of their artistic history. They are part of the brand – the provenance.

Look for newspaper and magazine articles written about the artist and their work. Reviews, awards and interviews. This is easily searchable online nowadays.

Again, talk with gallery owners, auction houses and other artists. Even professional art photographers may have an old shot or two that puts your artist in a desirable light. Look for historical connections as well.

This will give you a few directions with which to chase down more documentation. You may even uncover something new and significant that increases the collectability.

This is just a beginning when it comes to learning how to collect art.

Best of luck and collect well.


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