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How-to’s: Art Collecting for the Beginner

March 31 2010

Part of what makes a house a home is surrounding yourself and your family with objects you love. Your furniture, your floor coverings and what you choose to put on your walls and tabletops all combine to create the ambiance you want.

Few decorative pieces impact and direct ambiance more than a well-chosen painting or sculpture. Perhaps you want to start with a piece of fine art, but you’re not sure you can afford it or where you should start.

Never fear- all art collectors started out exactly where you are.  Joshua Rose, editor of American Art Collector magazine, says the typical first-time art buyer is between the ages of 34-40 with an income starting at $50,000 annually.  He says fine art is available in affordable price ranges, so start with this question instead – do you like representational or abstract art?

According to Rose, a first-timer tends to be more attracted to representational art, art that depicts a real image like a photograph, or a painting of people or a landscape, because they like what they can identify with. Representational art is more comfortable to view and therefore more accessible to people.  “The benefit of representational art,” says Rose, “is that it’s easier to tell if a painting is skillfully executed. Therefore, the first-timer will be more confident in his or her purchase.”

Non-representational art, also known as abstract, depicts objects or concepts that don’t conform to realism’s laws of color, light, shadow, or form. Usually non-representational art is preferred by collectors who seek art to compliment the colors in the décor, says Rose. If your couch is blue and your curtains are green you’ll probably be in the market for a painting that has both colors somewhere in the composition.

How do you know what’s best for you? Dallas artist Dave Kramer, says, “You should buy what you like.  If a piece of art appeals to you, you will not regret buying the work.”

One of the best ways to start collecting is by visiting art galleries in your spare time, and getting to know the dealers.

Galleries tend to specialize in one or two styles, such as American Representational, a specialty of Galerie Kornye West in Fort Worth, Texas. Owner Paula Tillman explains, “I don’t want an artist who is painting in an academic or Old Master style who is copying what was done in the past. I like an artist who understands what came before and brings that forward and adds their own unique identity and touch to that. 

Galleries cater to the collectors they know, so by sharing your likes and dislikes, a gallery owner or dealer may be able to recommend a new piece that will be to your tastes and fit within your budget. A gallery’s business is dependent upon repeat, satisfied buyers, so they can help you build your collection piece by piece. 

Collecting is more affordable than you think. You don’t always have to come with cash or a credit card to buy a piece of art. Most art galleries offer payment plans that allow you to pay monthly installments, and once you’re paid in full, you can pick up your piece or have it delivered.

Start by buying fine art magazines that feature upcoming shows and events. It’s a great way to get exposed to art galleries, new artists, and art trends across the nation. You will be introduced to galleries in other cities that you may like and visit their collections online.

Whenever you get a chance to go out of town, make it a point to look up the galleries in the area. Many galleries specialize in regional art – horse art in Kentucky, or ocean views on the Atlantic.

And in your own area, visit as many museums and art galleries as you can.

Get to know dealers by name, and get on their mailing lists. Sooner or later, you’ll see the one – the first piece in your own art collection.