Over the course of your journey as a savvy contemporary art collector, art market aficionados will likely strive to influence your collecting habits. Friends developing an art collection of their own will highlight auction prices and sales data as reassurances that certain up-and-coming artists will improve your art collection. Or they’ll point to the fact that an artist who has recently signed with a major gallery will surely bring added value to your art collection. Everyone has their own approach to identifying the next major purchase for their collection.
Whether or not an artist’s work is selling extensively or being shown at major galleries or art events shouldn’t be the only factor you’re considering when building an art collection. If you’re not able to connect with the artist’s practice and ethos, their work just may not be destined for your collection. For collectors at any level, there exists a set of criteria to consider before collecting an artist’s work. Every art collector has their own aesthetic and set of values. With this in mind, we take a look at the different aspects of art collecting that should be first in the minds of collectors as they begin venturing into collecting emerging artists’ work.
Follow The Evolution of Your Favorite Emerging Artists
Perhaps the most important trait emerging artists can embody is showing the ability to adapt to new information. This, coupled with a singular stylistic approach, gives great insight into an artist’s serious consideration of their own career. One way to examine an artist’s career path is to take a look at the evolution of their artwork to this point. If visiting an artist’s website or, even better, their studio, ask to see work that is a few years old and compare it to their current artwork. There should be a clear improvement or evolution in the artist’s practice, and they should be able to eloquently engage with this shift in their work. Emerging artists whose work hasn’t changed or grown in some way might be worth putting aside for now and revisiting after more time has passed.
Emerging artists should definitely engage with their practice with a particular style or approach, and evidence of a stylistic continuity indicates confidence. However, emerging artists whose work shows a clear evolution eventually begin to separate themselves from the pack. If you feel that your artist fits the bill, then they are worth closer consideration.
Is the artist in an MFA program or a recent MFA graduate? Have they attended prestigious educational residencies, such as Skowhegan? While not every artist seeks out a terminal MFA degree in their field, it can be helpful to narrow down your art collection shortlist to emerging artists who demonstrate a serious approach to educating themselves. An emphasis on improving one’s artistic practice often encompasses critical viewpoints, and these are readily found from the professors and art professionals responsible for guiding students through the MFA process. Emerging artists who demonstrate a serious critical engagement with their work are also more likely to be considered for awards and other opportunities which will open up their practice to new avenues of exploration and evolution.
Finally, when examining an artist’s educational pedigree and when combing through their artistic practice for signs of steady improvement it’s also useful to scan their CV for evidence that others have noticed their artwork. Emerging artists who have been awarded multiple, prestigious residencies and awards will be taken more seriously as their career begins to flourish. Look for artists whose awards originate from more than one granting organization: this indicates that the strength of work, and not necessarily personal networking, was a key factor in their success.
Make Your Art Collection Personal
While friends and acquaintances will likely be happy to share who they are eyeing in terms of new additions to their art collection, take matters into your own hands-on social media. Search by hashtag on social media sites like Instagram to peek into artist’s studios and select whose work you’d like to see more of. Start by following interesting emerging artists, setting up Google alerts, and staying on top of upcoming exhibitions they are participating in.
When you feel you’ve gained a solid sense of the artist’s practice, attend an opening and ask the gallerist for an introduction. Artists will appreciate that you have followed their practice for a while and will be happy to talk with you about specific questions related to artworks you are interested in. Suggest a longer meeting and exchange business cards. While contemporary art is very much a business (contributing an estimated $763 billion to the U.S. economy in 2017 alone), it is most certainly a business tied very closely to personal relationships. Having access to an artist’s studio, meeting a few times, and seeing the process by which emerging artists create and conceive of their work all relies on personal interactions and goodwill. Savvy collectors get to know artists before adding them to their art collection, and artists won’t think it a waste of their time if you schedule a few meetings with them to discuss and view their work before making an investment.
There may be emerging artists whose work you feel immediately drawn to and ready to collect, and with others, it may take more time. Stay engaged on social media, give positive feedback during major life events, and show that you’re paying attention to what they’re working on. Take time to occasionally re-visit their website and review their new additions. When meeting with them, listen to who they draw inspiration from, and don’t be shy to ask whose work they are inspired by among other emerging artists. You will quickly find yourself joining a community of artists and art supporters who are happy to see hard-working, talented emerging artists succeed. Finding one artist to collect means that you’ve entered into a new network of artists, often working in similar veins conceptually or formally, who will be happy to discuss their work with you. This is just one privilege forthcoming for collectors, and one not to be taken lightly.
Finally – trust your gut! Not everyone will like the art you purchase or the artists you support in your art collection. It can be helpful to structure your collection around a specific theme, as this will allow you to engage more deeply with the work as you become an expert in your own right. Most importantly, by showing respect for the artists you support, you’ll be revered in the arts community as a responsible and thoughtful collector. As artist’s profiles begin to rise, and their dealers become more selective in who acquires certain artworks, you’re sure to be on their minds as a stylish and responsible steward of their artists’ works.
What are some of your favorite emerging artists’ works that you’ve found? Where do you look new work? Let us know in the comments!
Audra Lambert is a curator, arts marketing consultant, and editor.