Tips for Beginning Art Collectors

Last week I was asked by the Invaluable website  to share some tips for people who are starting to collect art.

Always we're confronted with the thorny question: how do you tell which art is good enough to collect? 

Since I'm a landscape painter I'll focus on painting, but we could easily be speaking of ceramics or historic posters.

A really good painting is just as much about how its forms feel as it is about what they are.

Does a painting offer you something that surprises you? And if so, do the surprises seem to fit the painting in a way that is believable and authentic. Sometimes paintings offer surprising contrast alright, but look like they were painted by two different people who weren't on speaking terms with each other. A painting that's going to be of lasting interest needs to contain surprising contrasts that are held together by an overall unified feeling. 

Philip Koch, Hillside, oil on panel, 18 x 24", 2016

In one of my newest paintings, Hillside, above I didn't want the viewer to know ahead of time which forms would be in sharp focus and which would be purposely softened and slightly blurred. It's my way of inviting the viewer's eye to dance its way all through the painting, intriguing them by sometimes giving abundant information and other times withholding detail. 

To the beginning art collector I'd suggest starting by looking at as much art online as you can. But also get in the habit of going to art museums and art galleries. Go with a friend and talk over what you like as well as what seems silly or uninteresting to you. Have a snack in the cafe, make it an enjoyable experience so you'll want to come back. You will best educate your eye if you're relaxed and having a good time. 

  • Remember nothing is more important than enjoying your eyes. Nothing. So first ask yourself not what a painting means but rather whether your eyes are enjoying looking at it. 
  • When there try looking at paintings through half squinted eyes. If something still looks good to you when it's out of focus and darkened in this way it probably is.
  • Look at pieces from as many feet away as possible as well as close up. From twenty or forty feet back you'll sense an overall composition's pattern much more easily than if you're three feet from the wall and able to read the artist's signature.
  • Visit the same exhibition twice or three times. Does the piece that attracted you on the first visit still seem as fresh when you return? If so it may be calling to you for a very good reason.
Understand that your taste in art inevitably will evolve. When I was  eighteen I bought my first piece of art- a lithograph with a pretty girl in it. I paid ten dollars. Soon I realized the print was more jumbled than lively and lost interest in it. Then for the next few years I fell in love with only abstract art. A few years later I found realist painting had taken the inside track to my heart. 

Your path to finding the kind of art you need to collect has to be different than anyone else. If you end up with an art collection that isn't cohesive that's not a bad thing- it's a record of your history and of how you came to a deeper understanding of visual art. 


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