Becoming an art collector seems like a daunting endeavor which requires years of expertise, immeasurable knowledge and vast amounts of money. Well, not necessarily. You don’t have to be a snobbish know-it-all, a wealthy hedonist or a seasoned art critic to start your first art collection. You can become one of those people with time, but for now, all you essentially need is a bit of passion, some luck, basic knowledge on how art pricing works, and a few important tips that we are willing to share with you.
Price = Value?
Evaluating an actual cost of a piece of artwork, translating its meaning, merit and spirit into a monetary value, or merely putting a price tag on art, is anything but straightforward, easy and simple. The process of art pricing is a fickle thing and one of the most indefinite areas of the art world. To begin with, there are no set standards to base your calculations on, and there isn’t an exact formula to follow. A lot of factors come into play, then again a lot of them don’t, depending on who you ask. Let’s start with the basics and some simple math.
One of the first, and often the only, people who start pricing the artworks are the artists themselves. The most often used method involves a few simple steps: square inch × dollar amount, meaning the artist multiplies the size of the painting in square inches by the appropriate dollar amount and adds the doubled cost of materials used. Sounds simple enough, right? But what is the “appropriate dollar amount”? Well, that’s where the things get a bit more complex. This can include different factors, such as the artist’s reputation and credentials, emotional involvement, hours invested into creation of the artwork, and quite a few other elements. And that’s all without the involvement of galleries, commissions, consultants and other third parties which can also influence the final price.
Do the Groundwork and Start Small
If you think this is confusing, just remember we haven’t touched upon the aspect of auctions where the market demand is as nebulous and untamable as a wild beast in the dark. But let’s get back to the battle between price and value. To understand the conceptual worth, aesthetic value and “quality” of the artwork, one simply must have at least some prior knowledge and education as a general guide. You could always go with your gut feeling and simply buy artworks you like or you feel drawn to, or even simply outbid the highest bidder at an auction without any knowledge about the actual piece (it worked for the Chinese billionaire collector Liu Yiqian). But if you don’t have billions to spare, do some groundwork; start visiting several galleries frequently, become acquainted with the current scene and popular artists. See what the trends are and what actually holds its value no matter how inflated the art market bubble gets. In time, you will sharpen your eye and exercise yourself to eventually recognize what is worth the money and what isn’t.
Start small. Having one piece of art which is worth more than your house and all of your other possessions put together does not make you a great art collector. Unique and one-of-a-kind items are usually far more costly than editioned works. There’s nothing wrong in starting with a piece from a series of prints or an edition of sculptures which won’t obliterate your entire budget immediately, but allow you to slowly step into the scene. Keep in mind the fact that material, medium and the actual size of the artwork usually play a big factor in pricing. A work on paper will typically yield a more affordable price than a painting of the same scale by the same artist.
Art is Worth What You’re willing to Pay for it
Keep an eye out for the emerging artists. Those on the rise will usually have lower prices at the beginning of their artistic career, while the mid-career and more established names will, naturally, raise the prices due to their reputation and experience. A lot of galleries tend to focus and even specialize on the new artists, so don’t be afraid to give them a chance, odds are their artworks are only going to fetch even higher prices in the future and you’ll feel lucky to have bought it early on. Art advisors, critics and curators tend to notice the fresh talent before it becomes widely known, after all, it is their job, so give them a listen and check in every once in a while.
One of the most recurring lines you’ll hear in the world of art market is that the art is worth what you’re willing to pay for it, and this is definitely how the auctions work. There is a rough estimate range at the start, but the final price is anything that the people are willing to pay for it. The auctions cater to the buyers’ tastes and appetites, but also include the influence of the art market’s current cycle.
Why are You Buying Art?
A mistake many collectors make is treating art like a financial investment. Art works typically don’t increase in value over time, and even when they do, there are no guarantees the rise will last and the right buyers will be found. Once you come to terms that you should be buying art for yourself and your own collection, you’ll be getting into the right mindset where you’ll feel both elated and fulfilled with each purchase.
Embed yourself into the art community even before your first buy. Give yourself time and allow your taste to grow, develop and form, while taking in all the outside influences and factors in play. If everyone is saying this is the new “it” but you absolutely feel nothing towards it, don’t go for it. Listen to all the suggestions, follow the trends and keep in touch with the scene, but ultimately, art is supposed to move you and inspire an emotional reaction before it inspires yo