How to Start an Art Collection

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‘Alae ‘Ula print by Laurie Sumiye at the #MigratetoMudhen silent auction. Photo by Laurie Sumiye.

This topic is probably too big to cover in a short blog post, but it’s meant to help people get over that first hurdle of buying an original piece of art. The biggest reason most don’t buy art is because they can’t imagine paying hundreds, much less thousands of dollars for art.

How do I get over that enormous pricetag? I’m not wealthy!

Switch your mindset in thinking of art as something which fills up blank walls, but rather curating objects that create a harmonious living space, express a personal style, and represent what you value in life.

Remember, art is one of few things you can buy that appreciates over time. The fancy dinner you enjoyed at the hip Michelin-starred restaurant you splurged on for your birthday costs more than a starter piece of art. Art can increase tenfold in value and last for years if cared for properly. Collecting Art is an Investment.

Just as one’s music or book collection reflects one’s personal tastes, art literally is a visual representation of your identity; career, hobbies, interests and obsessions. You could buy a mass-produced art poster at a chain store OR you can enjoy a one-of-a-kind piece that no one else has in their home, sharing with others the story of how you acquired this piece. Collecting Art Reflects Your Unique Personality and Experience.

You might already source organic produce from your local farmer’s market, invest in high-quality furniture and clothing rather than cheap throwaways, and support small, local businesses. Collecting art directly falls into this notion of sustainability. By directly supporting artists and small art businesses, you pay a little more for handmade and reject the corporate machine. Collecting Art Represents Your Social and Cultural Values.

OK, You’ve convinced me to spend my hard-earned money on art. Where do I find a good starter piece of art to buy?

Go to art gallery openings and art fairs. Don’t be afraid to mingle with the guests. In conversation, you’ll meet other artists and art aficionados who are more than happy to share their thoughts. If you want to try shopping for art online, Zatista, 20×200, and Vango sells affordable original art by professional artists that are easy on the eyes and wallet. For high-quality reproductions, I like Minted.com.

How do I know it’s good art?

Like anything else, the more you do it the better you’ll get. Most people like art that exhibits virtuosity (an ability to photorealistically render something recognizable) because it requires skill, but I would challenge newbies to look beyond surface criteria. Most art is really bad because it doesn’t say anything. It would take a whole post explain this sentiment, but it is not “eye of the beholder” and a subjective opinion on what make a piece of art good or a masterpiece. There is a measurable difference. A good rule of thumb is, “Does it move me? Is it memorable?”

How do I get better at identifying good art?

If you want to cultivate your “eye” and learn more about art, visit art museums and read art blogs like Artsy, Hyperallergic, and ArtFCity.

How do I decide what do buy?

Buy art that makes you feel good, makes you think, and can be savored and enjoyed for the long haul. Try not to pick art based on whether it matces the pillows in your living room, it will likely last longer than current home decor trends.

I don’t make a lot of money, can I still invest in art?

Yes! You can start your collection with good quality art in the $125-$300 range with small sculpture, photographs, prints and works on paper. Herb and Dorthy Vogel famously amassed a multimillion dollar art collection with only a modest income by investing in young, emerging artists.

What is the difference between an original print and reproduction print (other than cost)?

An original print usually has a limited run, and therefore has a finite number of prints in circulation and has a signature by the artist. A reproduction can be printed in unlimited numbers. If you wish to purchase a piece with the intent that it will appreciate, you should purchase a signed, limited-edition print.

Hope that helps you get started! If you have specific questions about buying your first piece of art, email me at laurie [at] lauriesumiye.com.

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