Dan Zak (a member of Washington Post’s "Three Wise Guys", a group who answer reader’s questions on subjects like urinal etiquette and alternative uses of crazy glue) writes an interesting article on the secrets of starting an art collection. Read it here. As a gallerist and being intimately involved in the commercial visual arts, I was initially peeved at the simplicity of the article and its tone. But after reading it a couple of times, I thought of how Laura and I got started with our collecting.
Shortly after we first met, Laura and I developed a simple process for buying art: We kept an envelope in a drawer where we would pitch in spare dollars from our pockets every now and then. When the amount in the envelope totaled $250, we started a search and used it (or a portion of it) to buy something. Most of our early purchases were at art fairs – not the mega fancy gallery fairs, but the local artist run fairs where artists set up outdoor booths and sell their own work directly. While living in Atlanta, some of our favorites included the Dogwood Festival, the Virginia Highlands Art Festival, and the American Craft Council show. It was a great way to see a lot of art, but it did require a sharp eye to weed out the crap and find the quality work. The very first piece we bought together remains one of our favorites and is displayed prominently in our home. It’s a woman’s figure made in clay that we bought for $50 from a young artist exhibiting in a street fair.
I would still recommend this method today for any first time buyer, but as a professional gallerist, I encourage anyone (rookie or experienced) to also use the services of a gallery. (More on this subject in a future post.)
Of course, our first buying experiences pre-dated the wide-spread use of the internet. Mr. Zak now suggests relying on it use. I would warn, however, to be very careful of buying off the internet. Images on your screen provide an excellent introduction to an artist’s work, but it should rarely, if ever, replace seeing it in person.
The best message I gleaned from the article is to look, look, look and look some more. Over time, you will build a cache of knowledge and be better able to determine what is out there, what you like, what is good, and what things cost. With that, you will make good decisions, spend your money wisely, and own art that fulfills you.
A little observation about the article… I find it remarkable that the Washington Post allows a writer who is adept at the issue of public flatulence to also weigh in on the many layered issue of collecting art. It’s yet another litmus test to the effort the Post puts into establishing itself as a media outlet for fine art criticism. DC, with its wealth of world class museums and dozens of top flight art galleries keeping the mid-Atlantic on the cutting edge of the visual arts scene, should have more coverage of what’s happening in today’s art market rather than re-hashed reviews of shows at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Are you listening Blake???