The #1 Thing You Need to Know About the Art Industry

It’s meant to be difficult to understand.

You see, it’s actually pretty simple. Art is an industry. Art is a business. Art is – more and more – a commodity. Art is also one of the best ways to make friends that “matter.” Start collecting and the invitations will roll in. Stop, and it’s back to Siberia. No one is going to be attracted to the wolf without his sheep’s clothing.

The fact that it’s a global business generating billions in sales and cold cash doesn’t sound glamorous, alluring, sexy or enticing. So apply layer after layer of mystery and illusion, build high walls with ladders only for those chosen to climb them, hide information, use a language few can understand, and voila, the art world is as sexy as 1950’s Hollywood – and as difficult to enter.

It’s meant to feel confusing and intimidating. It’s meant to be fueled by rumors and speculation (with a few A-listers and scandals thrown in). Why do most online auction businesses not publish sold prices? Why is it as tough to get the list price of something as getting tickets to see Adele in concert? Why is very little explained or justified? Because that’s the way it’s built.

Once you understand and accept that it’s meant to be a maze, you might feel less intimidated. Embrace it for what it is and keep in mind that it’s a business no matter how expensive the champagne you are being served is, and you won’t go wrong. 

Find and work with those you can trust – with the right pedigree, backgrounds and experience – and check their resumes and references. Just because someone tells you they worked in the Impressionist department at Christie’s for 5 years doesn’t mean they did. They might’ve been the photocopier maintenance man.

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When Is the Right Time to Start Collecting Art?

Image by Barbara Kruger

Image by Barbara Kruger

Simple answer: NOW

Whether you like art for art’s sake or simply for investment, get on with it. Waiting is not going to make it cheaper or easier to buy what you like.

Never has there been more art produced, from more places, in more price ranges, available through more channels.

OK, but this creates the problem of how the hell to narrow it all down and focus not only on what you like, but also on what counts as art. Dithering isn’t going to change this. My advice will.

All taste evolves, so what you may start collecting today may not be what you like in 20 years. That’s why it’s important to not only buy what speaks to you, but what may also retain or grow in value, so you can sell it when it no longer suits your tastes.

I am an art addict, so perhaps I’m not best placed to judge, but I encourage everyone who can to start buying as soon as you can afford to. Start small and when you can, stretch yourself. 

Buy the best you can afford. It’s always better to buy the smallest, but best example, rather than a mediocre large work.

Do not start collecting until you have some knowledge and guidance. If decoration is your thing, it’s fine to buy what looks nice with no thought for value. If you’re interested in starting a serious collection, get help from trusted sources. 

In summary: start now, make mistakes, and learn a lot. Art collecting is one of the most exciting and fulfilling pastimes (and addictions) you can have.

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5 Top Tips for Newbie Art Collectors

So you want to start an art collection?


Have no idea where to start? 

No problem.

If you’re just starting to think about venturing into the world of art collecting the process can certainly seem daunting. We’re not all getting regular invites to hang with the art glitterati, so feeling confident to take the plunge on a purchase is nerve-racking. How do you know what to buy without potentially getting ripped off or spending a fortune? We get it. It’s not the easiest terrain to navigate. But have no fear, tondo’s here with our top 5 tips for art lovers who want to become art collectors.

This sounds like a cliché and you’ve probably heard it before, but it’s too good a point to skip. Whether you end up buying a piece for $300 or a piece for $10,000 you’re going to want to enjoy living with it. In fact, you’re going to want to be somewhat obsessed with it, so not only is it worth the money you pay, but also the time you put into acquiring it. 

Decide ahead of time how much you’re willing to spend on a piece. This will help you hone in on how you approach your search for the perfect work and might even steer you towards artworks you weren’t considering before like prints, photographs, and editions. 

The bottom line is that learning everything you need to know about an artist whose work you are considering buying can be uber time consuming. It’s also uber necessary. If you spot a piece you love, find out more about the artist, how much similar works have sold for, and if the work has any provenance or comes directly from the artist’s studio. 

In order to find what you love and have something to do research ON, you need to be out in the art space, getting your groove on at museums, gallery exhibitions and other events. Think outside the box too. You don’t need to pay to be a member of a swanky club (though this doesn’t hurt if you have the funds). Check out local colleges for MFA open houses or see if galleries near you are organizing artist studio visits.

Now consider all of these points, and add a ribbon on top: the "make it count" ribbon. Yes, it’s still important to buy what you love, for the price you want, through what you see in your outings, after you research it, but all in all you want your purchase to count as much as possible. Wouldn’t it be great if your piece increased in value over the next 5 years AND you loved it? That can be possible if you’re doing the right research, asking the right questions, and being smart about your purchase.

That’s it. You’re on your way to becoming a pro collector! Now get a move on and remember our tips.

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