Common Questions and Answers About

Buying and Collecting Art, Part I

As an art consultant, advisor, and appraiser, one of my jobs is working with collectors and beginning art buyers to help them understand how the art business works and how to locate and buy the art they like the most. Along the way, I get asked plenty of questions usually having to do with topics like figuring out what to buy, how to learn about certain art and artists, researching potential purchases, shopping at galleries versus online, deciding how much to pay, comparing prices, negotiating purchases, and so on. Here are some of the more common questions people ask along with their answers:

Q: I'm interested in buying art but hardly know anything about it. Where do I start?

A: Hold off on buying for now. That's the most important thing. Instead, look at as much art as possible without buying. In the early stages, you simply don't have enough sense of what you really like, don't really know your tastes and preferences, what questions to ask, and how to evaluate what sellers tell you. Listen to whatever they have to say, but at the same time, politely inform them that you're just starting out and are not quite ready to buy. This way, you avoid uncomfortable situations where someone may be pressuring you to buy art you know little or nothing about.

While exploring the vast and wonderful world of art, don't limit yourself only to art you're already familiar with or what others tell you to look at. Keep an open mind and look at plenty of art everywhere, at artist studios, at galleries, online, and anywhere else you might see it on display. The art world is a really huge place with an unbelievable variety of great collecting opportunities.

Along the way, ask all the questions you want when you see something you like. Learn as much as you can, and get a feel for how different people talk about art. This approach makes for a great education and ultimately helps you identify the art and artists you really love the most. Keep an open mind and in the end, you never know what you'll discover and ultimately buy, live with, and enjoy.

Q: Once I have an idea of what kinds of art I like, how do I find it? Where do I go and who do I talk to?

A: Deciding what kinds of art you like and really focusing in on your favorites is an ongoing process. The more art you look at, the better you're able to fine-tune and direct your searches in terms of your favorite artists, subject matters, and other particulars. Read, listen, and see how it's described by galleries, online, and by the artists who create it. By paying attention to what words are commonly used to describe the art you like the most, you're able to more effectively search for and locate it. Gradually identify and zero in on the artists, galleries, websites, and social media platforms that specialize in your favorites or where you can locate or search significant selections.

Q: Should I buy art for enjoyment or investment?

A: Art has so many positive benefits-- it enriches and beautifies and enhances your environment, it makes you think, shows you new ways of looking at things, introduces you to unique aand unusual and fascinating perspectives, improves your quality of life; informs and educates, engages your psyche, expands your mind, and just plain makes you feel good when you look at it. Rather than think of art in monetary terms as investments, focus on its numerous non-monetary benefits and consider it more as "intangible investments" instead.

Money should still be a concern, of course, but only in terms of making sure a seller's asking price is reasonable and in line with what similar works of art by an artist typically sell for. Rather than worry about whether or not it's going to appreciate in value over time, figure out whether you're paying a fair price now. That's what's most important. No one can foretell the future, but you can certainly determine fairness today based on current market information. All else considered, the easiest way not to enjoy art is to focus on money matters at the expense of all else.

Q: How do I decide how much to spend?

A: Strictly limit your purchases to discretionary capital, not money that's budgeted or required for necessities. Don't go too deep too fast; start off buying more reasonably priced art. As you become more experienced and confident in your collecting, you can gradually increase your per-piece price.

As you better understand the marketplace and especially the art and artists you collect, then you can begin to up your budget and start to focus more on the best work by artists rather than smaller or less significant works. If the best work is too expensive or you're not all that experienced, sometimes starting smaller is better. Another option is starting with artists whose best work is more affordable and in your price range. Whatever you do, don't get out ahead of your knowledge level. Take your time, get grounded, and learn how to effectively navigate artland for the art you like.

Q: How do I find reputable galleries, dealers, artists, social media pages, websites, and other buying options?

A: Established resources are generally best for starters. For example, do galleries belong to recognized dealer associations? How long have they been in business? Do they have respectable profiles in the art community? Are their artists and art shows reviewed by significant art publications, websites or critics? Best procedure at the outset is to work with galleries that have profiles in the art community and that collectors pay attention to.

The same goes for buying on large art websites. Stick with websites that vet or qualify their sellers especially if you're new to art buying. In the meantime, follow relevant national and regional arts publications online along with websites that specialize and post articles about the types of art you like. If you're buying or collecting more locally or regionally, find the most respected and established galleries, artists, social media pages, and websites in your area. You can usually ask around to find out which these are without too much trouble.

As for social media, follow relevant pages for a while before buying. Do due diligence in terms of researching or learning more about them. Watch how they interact with their followers. See how they handle sales. Hold off on the buying until you feel confident that you'll be able buy quality examples at fair prices of whatever art you're looking for.

Q: Are there types of dealers, galleries, artists or online venues to watch out for?

A: Yes. The biggest warning sign is when you're inquiring about art you're interested in and things start moving too fast. For example, someone at a gallery might approach you shortly after you enter, engage you in conversation, begin by asking about what kinds of art you like, and then pretty soon start asking personal questions like where you live or what you do for a living. Or they may try to focus your attention on a particular artist or work of art that they're representing or selling rather than talk about you and your preferences. Anytime you find yourself getting cornered or pressured into taking action now, especially on art you know little or nothing about, head for the door or the next website or social media page or wherever else you can flee to as soon as you possibly can.

Q: Is it good to go to art fairs?

A: Absolutely. The best regional, national and international fairs show all kinds of art from all kinds of galleries and by all kinds of artists. At the better fairs, you can come away with really good overviews of whatever types of art and sectors of the fine art marketplace they focus on. Not only do you get to see numerous works of art up close and personal, but you'll also have opportunities to engage in conversations with an impressive array of sellers representing a wide range of artists, specialties, and geographical regions. The learning opportunities alone are more than worth the experience.

Q: Is it safe to buy art online?

A: Definitely. More and more people are buying art online, and online buying is getting safer and safer and safer all the time, assuming you're buying from reputable established sources. As you get a better footing and learn your way around, you can get more adventurous and start exploring a broader range of sellers and sites, but take it slow and make sure you know who you're dealing with and what you're getting yourself into before buying. Follow your favorite galleries, artists and other art venues on social media and through their websites, get on their email lists, keep current with their offerings, and most importantly whenever you have questions, ASK.

Many people who buy art online already know what they're looking for, but many more are constantly on the lookout for fresh, new, unusual or promising work by artists whose art they may not be familiar with. Until you really know what you're doing, avoid trolling for bargains on sites where anyone can offer any kind of art for sale without qualifications, or where private parties can sell whatever they want. Beating the bushes like that can be a very risky business for novices.

Q: How about buying directly from artists?

A: I generally advise buyers to start their searches with galleries and dealers, whether at physical locations or online. Why? Because they work with multiple artists and are capable of providing marketplace overviews and more wide-ranging information on buying and collecting than individual artists who focus exclusively on themselves. Going to group shows or sites where multiple artists display similarly themed work in one place is also recommended. Having said that, many collectors prefer buying directly from artists for the experience, the social interactions, the ability to engage with creative minds, and so on.

If that's you, just wait until you become increasingly confident about what types of art you want to collect, have more experience looking at and evaluating it, and know more about how to navigate the marketplace. Also make sure you've developed some skills at determining whether an asking price is fair and reasonable. Then you'll be ready to start approaching and buying directly from artists.

If you'd like to read Part II of this article-- more questions and answers for beginning art buyers and collectors-- you'll find it here.


Need advising on your art buying or collecting? I am always available to assist. Give me a call at 415.931.7875 or drop me an email at and make an appointment. Typical consults only take a half an hour-- that's $95-- but in the long run that $95 will be nothing compared to how much you stand to benefit when deciding whether or not to buy, and more importantly, how much to pay.


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