A Beginner's Guide to Art Collecting

October 5, 2021

"Studio Blue" Glenn Harren
Award for painting of an interior scene.

A Beginner’s Guide to Art Collecting

Remember being in college and taping Warhol or Frida posters on your dorm room walls ... and feeling so cool and artsy doing it? Back then, you probably adorned your walls with what you liked and could afford. There is still a lot of wisdom in that thinking.

Many experts will tell you that the best way to start an art collection is to buy what you like and can afford. That would include David Rago, founder and owner of Rago Art and Auction Center in Lambertville, N.J., who was recently featured on Phillips’ Mill ArtTalk demystifying the fine art of buying art.

Rago believes it can be a mistake to invest in art purely for financial reasons. “You will enjoy it less if it loses value,” he noted. “The investment in art is in the enjoyment we get in having it. But don’t be foolish. You want to enjoy it every time you walk by it. Buy with your heart, but keep an eye copped to the future.”

Whether you are starting a collection, or just thinking about buying a piece of original art, keep these tips in mind: 

Don’t discount the big art houses. You may find something you absolutely love that is within reach. Yes, it does happen! And besides, looking is free, and an excellent way to assess the market and your own tastes as well.

But DO think about your own house. Original artwork is an investment, but it is also something you should enjoy seeing in your home, day after day. 

Have an honest conversation with yourself.  What do you love to look at? What are your passions and obsessions? What strikes your fancy, even for no apparent reason?  

Identify the genres, themes and mediums that appeal to you. Do you tend to gravitate toward landscapes or florals, acrylics or watercolors, abstract or realistic, aspirational or controversial? Do you like works that calm you or challenge you? Provoke you or please you? 

Do your research. It can be fun! Go to different galleries, markets, galas and art shows. Start to follow artists you like on social media. Meet up with other art lovers to discover where they go to explore art, including online. There is so much information online to compare prices too.

Get to know an artist (or two). If you collect the work of a particular artist, you start to develop a mutually beneficial relationship and understanding.

Watch for emerging talent. Attend shows at art colleges, particularly the graduation shows.

Support local.  Join a local arts organization and attend their events, shows and galas. It’s a great way to meet local and regional artists, as well as other art enthusiasts. 

Keep your wits about you. Art can and should be an emotional investment, yet you don’t want to get so carried away that you make choices you will later regret. Set and stay within your budget, insure your investment, and secure the proper documentation.

If you are still feeling unsure or intimidated, you can always hire an art consultant. Buying artwork should not be a daunting task, but one of life’s most divine pleasures.

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Illustration of the Phillips' Mill -Artist: Kathie Jankauskus