Finding Your Art Collecting Pulse
I deal with people on a daily basis who are trying to discover their collecting mojo. What to collect? Who to collect? What makes it worth collecting? Every art dealer, like a parrot retorts, “Buy what you like,” “Buy what you like.”
“Polly” is correct, you should purchase art that scratches your aesthetic itch. This may seem simplistic and obvious, but it does provide beginning and serious collectors a road map. “Buy what you like” is a great starting point.
To help advise collectors when building a collection, here are six points to consider. These guidelines are a forensic cross section of how my mind works when buying art for myself, my subconscious and semi-conscious shopping list.
1) A piece of art must provoke me.
I look for an emotion to be triggered. Somewhere deep in my brain a piece of art must trigger my limbic system to fire approval. These triggers can be laughter, sadness, inspiration, déjà vu, or simply pleasure. Without feelings, is a piece really worth taking up your walls? I don’t buy art for color, frames or to fit in a particular place. That’s is not collecting, it’s decorating, or as Jerry Seinfeld would say, “Not like there’s anything wrong with that.”
2) I look for the best example of art I can afford
I would rather own one great piece or example by an artist than 20 lesser pieces. This doesn’t mean I only have major works hanging on my walls; like most of us I have a budget. There is nothing wrong with being patient until an exceptional example shows up. When it does come available buy it, that’s what building a collection is all about. If it doesn’t hurt a bit to write the check or cause you a moment of reflection, then it may not be as important as you thought. Pain means gain.
3) Condition is important.
This is especially important when purchasing older works and antiques. It’s fine to have art with condition issues if the piece’s presence is strong enough to merit the purchase. I own many examples. But if a piece is average with condition issues and your purchasing it because it’s inexpensive, this is an investment; something to sell, not a piece to keep.
4) Don’t be afraid to lead the pack.
I have collected many artists’ works before they become well known. I don’t look for obscure artists I think are going to be the next super star. Rather I look for art that compels me to take it home. Don’t be afraid to collect living or deceased artists when others haven’t made the leap. There always has to be a leader, why not you?
5) Paying a record price can be a good thing.
Now I know you’re thinking “easy for you to say,” but setting records can come in many forms. A “record price” may only be a few hundred dollars if you’re collecting an area with little competition. I started collecting pueblo candlesticks and set records numerous times which helped me acquire the best examples. By paying up, I was able to build my collection faster then if I was totally price conscious. In the long run it also brought up the market for these objects, which I felt had been overlooked.
6) Trust your gut.
This is the most important cue I use. If every fiber in your body is telling you to buy then you should probably buy. Learn to listen to your inner voice. If you don’t, these missed opportunities will be the ones that haunt you. Collecting is hard enough without regrets. If your still lamenting about the one that got away then stop. Learn from this experience and when that special piece pops up, buy it and forget about the new car you need to get. It will still be there in a year, the artwork might not.
Photograph Mark Sublette by Dan Budnik