5 tips to beginning your art collection

Lyn Bishop “Krishna” Mixed Media Print

Let me start by sharing the simple fact that anyone can collect art. It is not just for the wealthy, the famous or the elite in our society. Becoming a collector is a bit different that merely decorating your home, and it may take time, patience and education to build a collection that reflects your interest. Collecting is an investment in yourself, and in deepening your visual awareness. Through the process of collecting work that you enjoy, your experience with the art and artists will grow and deepen over time.

I’ve been asked a number of times how people can begin an art collection. Below are my top 5 tips to get you started.

Educate Yourself: Pick up some art magazines at the local library or at a good bookstore. Read the reviews in your local newspaper. Search the internet for more information. (Even though I live in California, I enjoy reading the reviews in the The New Yorker magazine as a way of furthering my own education.) Make notes about what you are learning. The more you educate yourself, the more comfortable you will feel when you begin your collection.

See more art: Get out and see the real thing. Visit museums to see work by established artists, visit art fairs to see the current art trends, attend local gallery openings to see new work and talk to the gallery staff and artists in person, take an art walk, visit the artists during their open studios. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. A trustworthy professional should always be willing to give you a straight and knowledgeable answer. The more art you see and the more questions you ask, the more you will understand what you like, and the more you know what you like, the more confident you will be in beginning your collection.

Know what you like: Become aware of your preferences, understand which genre draws you in. Buying art is an emotional experience, so start by collecting what you love. Allow your emotions to guide you, no one else knows your taste better than yourself. The only mistake is buying art that you don’t love.

Follow your favorite artist’s career: Join their mailing lists, read their blogs, visit the galleries that show their work, see their current exhibitions, visit their studio for a behinds the scene look into their world. Artists’ appreciate your interest in their career and are, generally, more than happy to share it with you.

Start Small and Negotiate terms: It’s important to understand your budget before you begin and to know that there is great work available in all price ranges. It may be easier for you to start small and then increase your budget as your interest and understanding grow. If you fall in love with something that you can’t afford to pay in full for today, ask the gallery or artist if they would negotiate a payment plan.

As far as what not to do, it’s probably best not to purchase art as an investment, especially if you don’t love the work. The future value of artwork is not guaranteed, however, most often it does hold or increase in value over time. I’ve also heard from collectors that buying art on vacation can often backfire, so be sure you really love the art and do your homework before you hand over your cash.

I’d love to hear your stories and suggestions on starting your art collection, please share your comments here:

 art: Krishna, by Lyn Bishop. Mixed media and pigment on handmade paper

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15 Responses to “5 tips to beginning your art collection”

  1. Alyson B. Stanfield Says:

    Great post, Lyn. I wouuld add as part of education:

    –Join your local museum and attend lectures whenever possible. Get to know the curators. It’s helpful to listen to others talk about art.

    –Rent DVDs. There are some wonderful films available about art. Documentaries like those on art:21 take you inside the artists’ studios.

  2. Tips on Beginning Your Art Collection « Hammermarks Says:

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  3. Judy Rey Wasserman Says:

    This is a good post. Thank you.
    In addition, there are places on the Internet where one can also meet artists and those interested in art, discuss, and see what is new. Aside from the various groups of Facebook, there is the Saatchi site, artmesh.com and artreview.com, plus others. There are discussions on some of these sites that are about or reference what is new in art. Artinfo.com often includes “affordable” art of emerging artists in articles that cover fairs and shows.
    True stories abound of people who bartered or traded goods and services with artists at the early stages of their careers. Jackson Pollock traded with is grocer, who became wealthy, partially from this. Art Review’s yearly List of 100 most important people in contemporary art has included a British dentist who traded then emerging YBAs for their art, including Damien Hirst. Many emerging artists, including myself, would happily trade for dental work, groceries or other goods and services today!
    The advice not to buy art on vacation is good and almost always valid. The exception is if as a collector, one takes a vacation to where there is coincidentally an art fair. A t some of the fairs, held internationally, such as Scope, once can find good emerging international artists while otherwise enjoying a vacation in the summer in the Hamptons, in NYC, London, Basel, Miami, etc. If one vacations near enough to Miami during Art Basel Miami and all of the other fairs, a day trip or two to the fairs can be included into a beach vacation at a less pricey beach.
    I absolutely agree one should only collect art that “speaks” to you, art that communicates. Art is always visual communication first and foremost.

  4. Tina Mammoser Says:

    Great tips!

    It’s so much easier to get out and see exhibitions nowadays with free museum entry (here in the UK at least, or check if your town has a free day). And definitely go with the “know what you like”. Some people are a bit timid to go out of their what-they-like zone but it’s fine to stay within it – because if you’re seeing out more things to see you’ll inevitably see a few new bits along the way.

    And of course with blogs and social networking it’s so easy to follow artists you like and really get a better understanding of them and the work. Even I follow people whose work I would like to buy eventually.

    I’d like to add that small format artwork is so popular now and that’s a great way to start and experiment. Searches on popular selling sites for terms like ACEO, ATC, and SFA (small format art) can find some lovely little treasures.

    Most importantly – have fun! :)

  5. Tammy Vitale Says:

    Be careful of the art magazines you buy, or you may wind up thinking a pile of dirt is art just because a museum or gallery said it is. And be aware that the “professionals” are out there to sell what they have not necessarily broaden your own artistic likes and dislikes.

    I agree with go with what you love. And I also think that if you pursue very local art and some of the smaller street venues you will find work that is amazing that the museums and art magazines and professionals would never even look at. I also agree with don’t buy as an investment, then when a piece’s does go up it’s a gift and shows you that your instincts are good from the gitgo.

    I’ve found and bought some amazing art from folks I’ve met on blogs and at art shows. And some of it has appreciated nicely which is great but I wouldn’t recognize that unless I sold it and I like living with it and all the other pieces I bought – that’s why I bought them!

    We just finished all volunteer run ArtOMatic here in Washington DC – 8 floors of unjuried art. What a show! The “professionals” tend to dis it, but personally? It’s my favorite because it isn’t filtered…it even had its own pile of dirt. =] If you can’t find something you like (and art is very reasonably priced as a rule and very diverse and eclectic), then you just don’t like art.

  6. 5 Tips to Beginning Your art Collection « art by casey matthews Says:

    [...] this article/post/info came across my path this morning via Lyn Bisop’s Blog, so I thought I would [...]

  7. Burnell Yow! Says:

    Perhaps it’s because my wife and I are artists, that I find the question of how to start an art collection a tad silly. Anyone who loves art and has any amount of extra income is going to naturally become surrounded by art that moves them. Art satisfies a basic human need – the need to be present with beautiful things that resonate on an emotional and spiritual level.

    Follow your heart. If the work doesn’t move you, it shouldn’t move in. And please don’t become overly attached to and influenced by what the “experts” and “critics” have to say. Trusting your own intuition is paramount. I will never forget the following short conversation overheard at an exhibition: “What do you think of this one?” asked the short fellow with his hands clasped behind his back. To which his companion replied, “I don’t know. I haven’t read the blurb on it yet.”

    My wife and I have been extremely fortunate to become friends with many of the wonderful artists whose artworks now share our home. Because of that, I recently felt compelled to share those works and introduce the artists responsible through a new weekly blog feature called, “Meet the Artists Who’ve Inspired Us to Part with Our Cash.” It will hopefully provide a fun glimpse into what moves us. And I’m sure that any of the artists featured thus far and in the weeks to come would love to hear from anyone moved by what they see. Tell ‘em Burnell sent ya.


  8. Michelle Siegel Says:

    Collecting art has been in my blood since about age 7. I am fortunate that among my friends are musicians and artists, conspiracy theory nuts (hmm, that one, not so fortunate, but my irritation is counterbalanced by the good soul and creativity of this particular friend, who fires my own imagination), writers, thinkers.

    In being moved to purchase art, and then display it in my home or office space–it’s definitely emotional. Lyn’s blog with the tips is so right on. You can negotiate payment plans–I bought a ceramic piece 18 years ago that I still love and had paid for over a year. When I contacted the artist after seeing the piece in a gallery, and asked if this was do-able, she was a little hesitant but I told her where I worked and lived, and wrote a note to agree to make the payments, and so it was a successful negotiation. I love this Japanese-influenced piece.

    Knowing yourself, and knowing your interests is key to finding art. For me, it’s an expression of a keen interest I have. I love layered pieces, texture, exploration of nature, things Asian, things close yet alien or unfamiliar unless otherwise closer examined, ideas around solitude and connectedness. This and more. Lyn’s art has gone through transformations and shifts in expression over the years, although the underlying heart of the work remains the same. I continue to look at her work and know–I wil buy another piece sometime.

    Yes, some people decorate with art, look for a particular color or texture. This is part of what I do with the art I have. I imagine a place for it, how I will live with it, how it will be to interact with it on a daily basis for me and those in my home or office space, and I visualize alternative places to locate the piece at future times.

    I also believe in supporting the people I love and care about. So that drives who I’ll buy something from.

    I have a really large, dark, disturbing painting–I don’t have it in the livingroom any more. It’s in a place where there is the most light that comes into the house. I love this piece. When I look at it, I think about my motivations, how my mind is closed or open to opportunity. At least that’s what it has brought out of me in the last few weeks. Good art brings up lots of issues and different ones over time. Or it is memory based–so it plays with your memory, your nostalgia, your insights, your feelings about the past, present and future.

    I usually buy art that isn’t negative or despairing in its theme or feeling.

    I could tell you about each of Lyn’s pieces that I have in my home and what I feel about them. In just a 4 second glance it’s amazing what each piece brings into my consciousness…but I need to get going on a references list here at work…

    I collect prints, photography, fabric, unusual handmade dolls, paintings, ceramic work, and miniatures. I collect source material also for my own stuff I make. I like art with an Asian feeling, love details, ornamentation, as well as simplicity. I enoy seeing in art an expression of the interplay of nature with the built world and human beings or animals, not necessarily in the obvious way of say, a “nature photograph.”

  9. Sheree Rensel Says:

    Lyn is absolutely correct. It is very easy to buy and collect art. I am going to say what every artist wants to say. I am here. I have art. Please look at it. If you like it, please buy it.
    Any and every artist would be grateful and you will own a treasure. It is a win/win deal.


    Thank you,
    Sheree Rensel

  10. Tommi Brem Says:

    Nice tips. I’m just starting to collect and all my conversations with gallerists, artists and collectors boild down to these basic rules.

    Since I’m not structured enough, I’m glad that you are and made this post.

    I would slightly disagree however on the investment part. Not completely, but here goes: I have a feeling it’s part of the game to make game. So buying (loving) the right artist at the right time seems to be even more exciting than to just buy what you love and then nothing happens.

    Here is me talking, I don’t even own art yet. I will have a gallerist show something to me tomorrow, though and it sounds awesome. Can’t wait to see that!

    I’m part of a new community platform called Independent Collectors ( … right, I work for them …) btw. Click through to my blog (to see me becoming a collector) or the platform here (www.independent-collectors.com) if you’re interested.

  11. Allison J Smith Says:

    Great blog! I also think it’s important to encourage communication. Artists and collectors sometimes separate themselves, unnecessarily. We are all in this because we love art!

    “Being a working artist can be overwhelming, and so can being an art collector!”

  12. Art & Inspiration Blog » Blog Archive » Finding and Collecting Good Emerging Art Says:

    [...] A few weeks ago Lyn Bishop posted a good basic article for new collectors on the blog called “Sharing Secrets”. I previously left a previous comment on Bishop’s blog post with condensed tips for new collectors. Instead of reiterating the information, I include this link: tips to beginning your art collection [...]

  13. Antonio Arch Says:

    Excellent post with invaluable points.

    One suggestion I make to clients at the beginning of their collecting is that renting art can be a positive and powerful baby step in developing your aesthetic and MO. If you’re not quite sure adn aren’t yet ready to go out and spend several thousand dollars on a piece for an important part of your home, join your local musuem and rent a few pieces until you find something that inspires you.

    It’s a great first step towards developing a long term mission for the residential collector.

  14. Stephanie Says:

    Great post. One entry point to collecting contemporary art is through the Present Group. It’s a quarterly art subscription service where you get four pieces of contemporary art for just $150. In addition to getting great contemporary art, your contribution supports the artists that create these pieces. The pieces also come with commentary to contextualize the work, commentary from critics, and more.

    Here’s their website:

  15. Tips for collecting art — Art Biz Blog Says:

    [...] Bishop offers 5 tips for starting an art collection on her blog. SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: “Tips for collecting art”, url: [...]

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