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What to Buy When Starting Your Art Collection?

By: Mike Watson - Updated: 20 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
What To Buy Art Collection Collecting

Knowing what to buy when you initially start collecting art or if you purely want to own one piece of work can be something of a headache. It is somewhat different to choosing a new washing machine, for example, because when buying a new washing machine you are looking for one that fits one main specific criterion – you want it to wash your clothes. The purpose of art is somewhat more elusive and the criterion by which you choose an artwork, especially if it’s your first may well be much less defined than for any other purchase that you have ever made!

Art as an Investment

From the point of view of investment, there really is no rule of thumb. There are many things that you should certainly avoid if you want to collect art as an investment, but there is no one thing, certainly in the affordable end of the market, that will guarantee you a safe return. Avoid traditional landscape scenes, paintings sold in furniture stores, portraits of children with animals and so on: even a rudimentary grasp on art history and a modicum of taste should be enough to help you refrain from buying a real turkey! The trouble is knowledge of art history and art theory alone will not help you to make a sound investment, or even an impressive home collection.

As a rule of thumb, don’t buy anything for its economic potential alone, for much the same reason that you wouldn’t put your life savings on the favourite at the Grand National! When you are deciding what to buy consider it in just these two respects:

  • Firstly, as an object in its own right. Do you like it as an object, and will it be something that you are comfortable owning, in the knowledge that it may depreciate considerably in value.

  • Secondly, as an object amongst others. Do you feel that this object will fit in amongst others that you intend to place it alongside? Do you feel that this will enhance your existing collection, or provide the basis for your future collection.
As a specifically ‘artistic’ object, to gain the best from the piece you choose to buy, you will really want to illicit some kind of artistic experience from it. If you feel that the piece of sculpture you buy may well serve best as a hat stand, you are not really buying into ‘art’ at all.

As art is something ‘free’ and with no obvious purpose, the experience of looking at art is often described as the experience of not quite knowing what you are looking at. It is this not knowing that can keep us returning to the same piece of art again and again: thus the artwork provokes contemplation and thought in the viewer. To build an art collection is to gather objects that – for you – possess this quality. For this reason the best approach to buying art is to know yourself, and to know the contemporary arts scene.

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