A print by artist and friend Suzy Smith the large base is by artist friend Mike Olson
While in undergraduate school Eric and I bought our first real work of art. We attended a small show by artist Eunkang Koh at a gallery on our campus in Missoula. We both loved her creative style and we realized that her work was a bit pricey for poor college students (air was pricey for us then), but we pawned some DVDs and CDs and scrounged up enough money to buy her work. We loved the piece and it is still hanging in our bedroom to this day.
Prior to that day we had traded or been gifted with a few cherished pieces, but never fancied ourselves to be art collectors. Over the years we have bought, traded, and found a collection of work that is a treasure to us. While we aren't big time collectors as we aren't wealthy people, we do have a collection of work that reflects our tastes, friendships, history, and education. Perhaps someday it will be something we can share with our children and grandchildren. For now it is our small way of supporting the arts, preserving our culture, and expressing ourselves.
Over the years we have set up a few guidelines and learned a few lessons and I thought you might learn from our experience. Over breakfast this morning Eric and I set out ten guidelines for beginning your own collection.
1. Buy work that you like. Don't focus on names or anything like that unless you are a wealthy art collector. Instead, look at the work and if you love it and can imagine it in your home, proceed. I can't tell you how many times people approach me after a trip and tell me that they saw a work by a famous artist, knowing that the art historian in me will be interested. Unfortunately I feel like people often look at the name card next to a work and forget to look at the work itself. People often can't even describe the work to me, just the artist's name.
You should only collect art you love because:
1) You have to live with it.
2) You probably aren't in a position to be a big time collector, so thinking about the value of your work shouldn't be your primary focus.
2. Prints are an inexpensive way to begin collecting art. Now let's be clear here. Prints and posters are different things. Posters are inexpensive and pretty much valueless (unless you collect cool vintage posters). I am talking about prints I mean limited edition and hand signed by the artist. These prints can be purchased in the range from $20-$500+ depending on size, artist, the number of the edition, etc. Don't tell me you can't scrounge up $20!
3.Trade with artists. If you are an artist, have cool art, or even have a special skill (bathtub tile?) you can probably trade or barter with an artist. This is a great way to build your collection, make an artist friend, have a cool story about how you acquired a work of art.
4. Get to know artists and their work. You can learn a lot, create a friendship, even commission a work. Perhaps you like the artist's style, but you have something specific in mind. Generally artists are pretty affordable and eager to take on new work. If nothing else you can learn how they make their work, perhaps they can even explain it to you. Getting to know your local artists is a great way to get plugged into the greater art scene in your area.
A painting by friend and former teacher Michael Copeland
5. Go to gallery shows. You can find really amazing and often affordable work by up and coming artists. Use the opportunity to meet gallery owners, art lovers, and to learn about what is happening in contemporary art. Often gallery openings are fun events with food and wine and music!
6. Look in unexpected places. Eric and I started our collection in thrift stores and low end antique stores. Sure we didn't find any million dollar pieces (and we almost certainly never will), but we did find some great work that we love and still enjoy all these years later. So look at the garage sale or the thrift store, it is a great way to find a piece that you enjoy. Oh and before I forget, if you live in a town with a college or art school check for student sales and if you are keen on dumpster diving hit up the dorms after the end of the semester; art students often unload their work rather than carting it home for the summer.
7. Do your research. Perhaps you grabbed a piece at a thrift store. A little research will go a long way in discovering more about the work. You can find out the name of a piece and a possible value for a work, learn more about the career of the artist, see if they are living or dead. If the artist is living you may even be able to contact them with questions or just to let them know you enjoy their work through a website or other social media.
8. Care for your collection. All art needs care. I can't even begin to tell you how to care for your art as there are so many variables. Be sure to research the care for your art. Ask the artist if you can. Ask a dealer, gallery owner, art professional if you don't know. I will say keep all mats acid free. Use UV glass for prints and photos, it doesn't completely protect a work, but it will help. Keep your work dry and clean and at a stable temperature and out of direct sunlight unless it is an outdoor work made to resist the elements (even then look into it first). If you amass a pricey collection then your care should also extend into insurance and it should be included in your will.
9. Have a focus and take time to understand your focus. Eric and I do not have a focus (although we do have a lot of skull and skeleton work for some reason) and we like it that way, but many great collectors do have a focus and it probably helps the value of their collection in the end. First, think about what you like. What medium (painting, prints, photography, woodblock prints, sculpture, ceramics, collage, etc.) are you drawn to? Is their a specific era that you like? Do you want to collect only cowboy art or flowers or cityscapes? Once you hone in on your taste in art then take the time to learn about your focus. How is the art made? What makes it high quality? This way you will know what to look for when you are on the hunt.
10. Use a reputable dealer when purchasing art by well-known artists. Did you know that you, yes you, can afford work by well-known artists? Names from your college art history class can be in your collection. If you are into that kind of thing then there is a place for you with even a modest budget. Many artists make limited edition prints and even the most famous artists can still be acquired by you. A word of warning, this is not the time to go on Ebay and look for a Salvador Dali print from Joe Random in Tennessee. You need to find a reputable dealer, and there are many, to guide you through the process. Seriously folks we are talking affordable here.