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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