The Art of Collecting Art

Why does one collect art?

There is a difference between simply buying art and collecting art. Buying art is the basic act of purchasing a picture you like simply because you like it and it will go with your décor; collecting art is something more.

To collect art, one should have a long-term goal, a focus or theme, something which brings disparate pieces of artwork together to create a collection.

Choosing Your Artwork

Most collectors start out by purchasing art they like, and this forms a solid foundation for a collection which will bring you great pleasure over the years. As your collection grows there will be other factors that you will wish to consider, but ensuring that you choose pieces that you like is an excellent first step.

When you are ready to transform your art purchases into a collection, consider what attracts you to a piece of art; the factors that move it from the ordinary to the sublime. Using one of these factors to bind your collection together will ensure that you create something you can truly appreciate on a personal level.

A collection may be a story, telling a tale from beginning to end, or it may be the answer to a question, but it should be organised in some way. Random purchases, however attractive, do not a collection make, but a selection of, for example, still life paintings by artists from the East of England very well could.

Purchasing Your Artwork

There are many places that you can purchase art today; the rise of the internet has made it easier than ever to find pieces to add to your collection. In some ways, however, this may have made it more difficult to find the right pieces – today’s collector is somewhat spoiled for choice.

The role of the art dealer has therefore become more vital for many collectors – by finding art dealers who shares similar sensibilities to you, and by building strong relationships with them, you will find it much easier to locate the right pieces for your collection.

However, you should not fall into the trap of only purchasing art from a restricted selection of outlets – expand your horizons and look in a variety of places, or you may miss out on a piece which would fill a major gap in your collection.

Documenting Your Artwork

It is important not only to know the story that the artwork tells, but also the story behind it; who created it, when did they create it, how does it fit into their oeuvre, and who has owned it in the past? Knowing the provenance of an original artwork, and most importantly having it documented, can add considerable value. When you first start your collection you will, no doubt, be able to recall such details, but as it grows your collection will become much harder to keep track of. Proper documentation is, therefore, quite essential.

Receipts, certificates, gallery brochures and exhibition catalogues are excellent items to keep in relation to your collection, but also consider more unusual forms of documentation. If you are purchasing artwork from a living artist, for example, perhaps you could arrange to have a photograph taken with the artist when you collect the piece. Imagine the value which would be attached to such a photograph of, say, Pablo Picasso!

When the time comes for your collection to be passed on, perhaps to your children, this documentation will prove vital. If your inheritors don’t understand the value of your collection, they will not understand how to care for it – and may not treat it as well as it deserves.

Displaying Your Artwork

Art is made to be seen and admired; this is one of the things that makes it so much more enjoyable than investing in stocks and shares. Having put so much thought into the pieces chosen for your collection, you will of course wish to invest as much energy in the correct display.

The right framing can add considerable value – both aesthetic and monetary – to your pieces. Whilst naturally original frames are preferred in the vast majority of cases, if you have an unframed piece you will need to consider your choice of frame carefully, and obviously it is recommended to have an expert take care of the work.

Choosing where to display it is also vital. In a museum or gallery, artworks are kept in carefully controlled environments; this is not so easy in a home environment. A range of environmental conditions, from light to heat and humidity, can affect your artwork, so choosing locations where these factors can be controlled is advised.

Consider, too, what you can do to protect your artwork – install water alert sensors as well as smoke and fire sensors, to warn if unexpected conditions set your collection at risk, and have your collection regularly appraised to ensure that you have the correct insurance cover.

This combination of artistic taste, choosing the factors which draw you to different artists and different pieces, the story of your search for each piece and the way you choose to frame and display the collection, creates a collection that is absolutely unique to you – and in this way, creating an art collection is an art of itself.

About Mark Mitchell

Dealers in 19th-20th Century British and Continental Works of Art
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