Art-world insiders from all corners of the industry agree: The first rule of art collecting is to buy what you love. But, in a world where you’re constantly surrounded by images and art styles, how do you find artworks that are right for you? What if you feel hopelessly out of your element in a fancy art gallery? What if you failed Art History 101? Where do you even begin when it comes to building an art collection that makes you feel like you’re in love?
The short answer: Approach art collecting like dating. Sometimes it takes a lot of searching to find the one — so you might as well have some fun. Somewhere between intuition and experience, you’ll learn what you’re looking for and be able to focus your search in the future.
Below, we’ve compiled our favorite places where you can explore different art styles from contemporary to traditional before you focus in on your personal taste and what makes you tick. Bonus: some of these are cultural events in your town or city that could double as an actual date! Others are solo adventures on your smartphone or with your laptop on your couch at home. Cast a wide net! Like mom always said, there are plenty of fish in the sea.
Start Art Collecting by Looking at Art. Lots and Lots of Art
If you’re serious about starting out in art collecting, make a realistic goal to look at art as often as you can. Whether that’s once a month or every weekend, you’ll be gaining a crucial foundation in a historical context that can help you navigate the contemporary art market. From in-person to online, here are our favorite places to find art and start figuring out your art style.
Museums and galleries
If you live in a major metropolitan area, you probably already have a shortlist of museums and galleries where you can see the greats. Walkthrough any number of the wings and you’ll get a crash course in art history from different eras in the course of an afternoon. While the average emerging art collector won’t be able to afford any of those big names, it’s a jumping-off point for discovering what schools and movements speak to you. With a foundation in historical context, you’ll be able to understand the ideas and influences in contemporary art and find artists interpreting key art movements in a new way.
Beyond making a trip to visit major museums, emerging art collectors who live in smaller cities can support local museums and lesser-known galleries to get an intimate education, make connections and ask questions in a less intimidating environment. Be a tourist in your own town by finding a unique small collection, attending a local exhibition, or signing up for a docent-led tour where you can spend a pleasant afternoon or evening outside of the typical dinner and a movie.
Art galleries and art fairs
Not just for an art-world crowd, there are art fairs for every niche and interest. These fun-filled, vibrant events transform the cities where they take place, offer a variety of events to choose from, and are a visual feast — and a place to find many emerging artists. A major part of many galleries’ annual sales revenues, art fairs are coming back to the fore after being put on pause by the pandemic. Consider a special trip to signal your new commitment to discovering your art style, and make an art fair the centerpiece of your travel itinerary.
According to Art Basel and UBS’s recently released annual Art Market Report, sales from public auctions were up 47% in 2021. The big names, like Christie’s and Sotheby’s, now offer live online bidding opportunities that you can browse to get a sense of what’s trending. There’s also plenty to explore locally near you, too. Since auction houses may conjure up movie scenes where buyers quickly blow their budgets after losing their impulse control in a bidding war, take the pressure off by attending a local auction to get comfortable and gain confidence. You’ll get a glimpse at the secondary art market and might discover artists from a generation ago who are gaining new prominence and followings.
While you may not realize it, you’re training your eye as an artist all the time. You may think you’re procrastinating by scrolling through feeds and clicking through photo galleries during your downtime (or when you should be working), but the constant process of looking at images can actually lead to important insights as you hone in on your art style.
Gallery owner Spalding Nix suggests that next time you’re at the doctor’s office instead of looking at pictures of your friend’s dog, try using Instagram to look at art. After you determine your niche or areas of art you’re interested in, search for hashtags related to the areas of art you’re interested in, from #fineartphotography to #contemporarysurrealism, #womenartists to #woodsculpture. Instagram is an incredible resource for virtually visiting artists’ studios, watching videos of their process, and discovering what resonates with you.
Online artist platforms
There is perhaps no better place to search and sort for styles of art that speak to you that on digital artist communities like Artrepreneur, where artists from all over the world share their creative talent and put up their work for sale. Go macro with permanent collections from portraiture to sci-fi, then use filters and tags to narrow your search once you find your niche of interest. Visit virtual artists’ studios and shop directly from showrooms. Reach out to curators for custom art advice. All you need is an Internet connection, and the art world is your oyster.
Books, journals, and newspapers
Anthologies and coffee table books from every time period imaginable can help your research into different art styles that can double as decor. Websites (like this one!) that present curated finds put a wide range of art styles at your fingertips. Sign up for newsletters and industry news from veteran sources like Hyperallergic and The Art Newspaper to get a sense of current trends.
Keep a Folder of Art Styles that Speaks to You
Whether it’s a digital folder on Google Drive or an old-school scrapbook or journal, catalog the works you love to look at over and over and jot down your discoveries about art movements so you can look on later.
“Go to Contemporary Art Daily and Art Viewer [both websites that post pictures from current art shows around the world] and screenshot anything you like,” art adviser Heather Flow, founder of Flow Advisory, told the New York Times. “Just create a file for yourself so you can start to see things you like and save them.”
Over time, creating this personal archive will help you establish metrics that any artwork purchase must meet before you take the plunge. You still might fall in love with something totally outside of your normal tastes, but you’ll be closer to knowing whether love, at first sight, will really last when you compare it with what you normally go for. And if you find your tastes change over time? Totally normal! In fact, it’s even expected, since you’re starting to develop more sophisticated tastes the more you learn and explore. You can look back on your catalog down the line, and cheer at how far you’ve come as an emerging art collector.
FOCUS YOUR ART COLLECTING WITH FILTERS
Has anyone ever told you to write a list of the traits you want in a romantic partner? The so-called “love list” of characteristics and qualities can range from non-negotiables to nice-to-haves. Consider applying the same treatment to the artworks you’d own in your dream collection. Art that expresses political ideas that are meaningful to you might go under must-have, while your budget has some wiggle room. Or you might have a hard-and-fast rule about how much you’re willing to spend but you’re open to artworks on the primary or secondary market. Much like avoiding going to the grocery store when you’re hungry, your list of ideal attributes in an artwork will prevent you from making impulse buys that don’t really work with your aesthetic.
Pro tip: Make sure to have your measurements on hand, since having artwork that fits on your walls is one of the more important things to know if you want to enjoy your new acquisition!
Start art collecting by making a commitment to go out and learn about as many art styles as you can. After you’ve turned up the volume, start to notice and take notes on what resonates with you. Compile some key characteristics of what your favorite pieces have in common and use it as your guide for finding your art style — and your forever piece.