Should you start an art collection?

For most of us, today’s art market can seem completely out of reach, and with good reason. While economic uncertainties linger, news stories tend to focus on the luxury segments of the market which, in recent years, have experienced a boom the likes of which we’ve never seen, with famous works of art fetching impossibly high prices at auction and in turn, awakening demand for somewhat more obscure (a.k.a. “recently rediscovered”) artists.

So… is art collecting even worth considering when you don’t have eleventy billion dollars to throw at a Damien Hirst? I mean… do you even like Damien Hirst? Wait… who’s that guy again?

In what universe is this painting worth more than 33 times the median price of a Los Angeles home?* Ours, apparently. Damien Hirst's 'Lullaby Spring' sold for $17.2m in 2007 -  www.independent.co.uk
In what universe is this worth more than 33 times the median price of a Los Angeles home?* Ours, apparently. Damien Hirst’s ‘Lullaby Spring’ sold for $17.2m in 2007** – www.independent.co.uk

Don’t let this discourage you. There are several good reasons to buy art, even if you’ve never done it, and even if your budget is, well… close to nonexistent.

But before I sell you on the benefits of art ownership, let’s clear up a few misconceptions, shall we?

 

 Misconception #1: Art isn’t accessible

One of the many galleries in Downtown L.A.'s Gallery Row
One of the many galleries in Downtown L.A.’s Gallery Row

While it’s true that all this talk of an art bubble reinforces the perception of art as a prized commodity reserved for the über rich, it’s also true that art has never been more accessible. In any major city, on any given day, throw a stick and you’re likely to hit an art show… or a mixologist who can direct you to one. Should you venture off the beaten path, away from the big names and even bigger price tags, you’ll discover smaller galleries and alternative spaces showcasing emerging artists (translation: still toiling away in obscurity = affordable). You might even be surprised at the range and quality of works available.

 

Even if you’re a hermit, cat lady, or garden-variety homebody, you don’t have to leave the comfort of your Snuggy to experience and buy art. In fact, you’re probably just one click away from doing that right now… aren’t you?

Although many feel that art should be seen firsthand, an increasing number of artists, galleries, and large retailers are betting that the way we buy art, just like we buy everything else these days, is changing radically – moving away from the physical storefront, or gallery space. In fact in the past few years, many galleries have chosen to close their doors and do business strictly on the Internet.

Even retail giant Amazon is getting in on the action. While Amazon wasn’t the first to sell original art online, last summer it became the first to launch a fine art marketplace connecting buyers directly with a small number of vetted galleries (rather than featuring just about anyone with art to sell). Currently, you can find original works on Amazon Fine Art from under $99.00, up to $800,000.00. The highest-priced item listed to date was Norman Rockwell’s Package from Home, offered at $4,850,000.00 in August of 2013. Let’s hope Amazon’s “A-to-z Guarantee Protection” offers at least some comfort when dropping beaucoup bucks on a piece of art sight unseen.

Whether you prefer to meet your art face-to-face, or choose to explore online options, there is an original work of art out there for every person, every taste, and every pocketbook. But is it worth collecting?

 

Misconception #2: Serious collectors only buy art for profit

Wherever you find yourself on the collecting spectrum, you’ll probably agree that investing in art is about as predictable as a random pick at the roulette table. Those with the means to diversify their portfolio to include fine art investments usually do so with money they can afford to lose, after a great deal of research, and for the long haul – for asset protection, or legacy purposes. There is of course that rare breed of art speculator who flips paintings like some flip houses, but to most serious collectors, the inherent value of art lies primarily in its enjoyment.

This art isn't for sale, but paying a visit to a local museum is a great way to get the juices flowing. While you're in the car, you might as well keep driving in search of art - out to Palm Springs, San Diego, or San Francisco. [ A lucky shot, taken on a recent visit to the Palm Springs Art Museum ]
This art isn’t for sale, but paying a visit to a local museum is a great way to get the juices flowing. While you’re in the car, you might as well keep driving in search of art – out to Palm Springs, San Diego, or San Francisco. [ A lucky shot, taken on a recent visit to the Palm Springs Art Museum ]
Many successful collectors got their start on a limited budget, buying inexpensive pieces by then unknown artists – Warhol, Basquiat, even the occasional garage sale Van Gogh. The stories vary, sometimes taking on the hue of urban legend, but the reason for buying often boils down to something as simple as: “I liked it”. In many of these cases, astronomical increases in value over time were merely happy accidents… although some collectors prefer to attribute it to their good eye, keen intuition, and smashing sense of style.

Everyone should fall in love at least once in a lifetime; and everyone should fall in love with at least one (or twelve) great pieces of art.

Should you buy art? Yes. But do it first and foremost for love. Art collecting isn’t unlike starting a new relationship. You probably shouldn’t have any expectations, and you certainly shouldn’t take anything for granted. If it works out in the long haul… you’re one of the lucky ones. *fist pump*

 

Misconception #3: The art scene is just a big party; there’s nothing worth buying.

Yes, and OK… sometimes yes. But no. Wait.

From my vantage point, the Los Angeles art scene can be pretty odd. This largely depends on what side of town you find yourself in, but in a lot of instances, you get the distinct feeling that nobody is actually there for the art.

Openings have a lot less to do with art than they do with the free snacks and open bar.
Openings have a lot less to do with art than they do with the free snacks and open bar.

Angelenos love art. In fact, we love it so much that it’s become a legit form of entertainment. We will brave long drives, traffic, roaming coyotes, and the perils of skid row to see the works of funky fresh young artists in an impossibly hard to find, sweaty warehouse guarded by hordes of pit bulls… but do we love it enough to buy? Meh…

In fact, very few in attendance are actually looking at the very thing they supposedly came to see, and even fewer are opening their wallets to support the artists.

 

 

It’s obvious the art world is changing, and especially for younger art goers who make up the majority of attendees at these events, so are paradigms around the appreciation, and the ownership of art. Despite the fact that younger audiences are more likely to be watching their pennies, for this group, art is often perceived as something everyone can do; it doesn’t have to be particularly impressive, as long as someone is expressing… whatever. Art is admired in passing, but it’s not necessarily something to save for, and enjoy for years to come.

As for the rest of us, well… we may have a different perception of art, we may believe in its value and find ways to afford it, but really… we’re too distracted by the party. If we put down the Two Buck Chuck for a minute, dropped the Costco cheese, stuffed the phone back in our pockets, and tuned out the “flavor-of-the-week-DJ” spinning tunes in the background… we might actually spot a gem in the bunch, and realize that without the artists, there would be no point to this party.

Don’t let the “scene” fool you; there is plenty of good art to buy if you actually stop and look. So the next time you venture out to an exhibition, why not set a goal of finding that one piece worth collecting? You know, the small one over there that’s caught your eye since you walked in. And hey, it’s the same price as a distressed T-shirt from American Rag Cie! If you’re especially skittish about buying unknown artists, just remember Misconception #2: Unless you’re already an expert, what’s the point of buying art for any reason other than the love of it?

Now that we’ve established that you should start an art collection, here’s how:

Have a budget in mind – Think of it like ripping off a band-aid… but a small one. Your budget for that first piece can be as low a $250, or as high as $1,000, but don’t go overboard. Remember, art should be purchased with money you’re not going to miss. It’s like going to Vegas: the rule of thumb is, don’t gamble what you can’t afford to lose. Increase your budget when you can, and keep an eye out for that next piece.

Go off the beaten path – Unless you’re ready to cozy up to 4, 5, 6 figures or more, forget about Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. Look at listings, seek out underground venues, and search for Art Walk events around town. This may mean going as far as Long Beach or even – God forbid… Pomona?! Wherever you land, skip the party and spend some time with the art. Don’t overlook the areas where people set up booths; somewhere between the food trucks, the cupcake stalls and the t-shirts, you might spot something pretty rad. If these social gatherings are too hectic for you (and you’ve almost lost your kid, your wife or your Frenchie a couple times already), maybe you should…

Go online – While you may be weary of buying art online, there are now several fine art marketplaces connecting buyers with reputable dealers and galleries. Additionally, many artists sell art independently through their own websites. Always research both the artist and the seller, and view the range of works and prices available. Although it’s interesting to note where an artist was educated, how often they exhibit, and who their collectors are, don’t put too much weight on that. Remember… fall in love with the art first. When buying original art online, it’s a good idea to request a certificate of authenticity, and with printmaking, photography, or digital art, look for terms like “limited edition”; a small edition is usually worth more than a large one, with fewer pieces in circulation. Also keep in mind that a print isn’t always part of an edition; many artists create monoprints, which are unique and cannot be reproduced. Steer clear of sites that only offer on-demand prints or giclée reproductions; you want to focus on original works here.

Know your artists – Artists love to hear from people who felt a connection with their work. The savvy ones are all over social media, and it’s a great way to get to know them, and get the inside scoop on works in progress and upcoming shows. If you spot something you like in a gallery, you should of course buy through them, but do ask how to get in touch with the artist anyway. Many don’t have exclusive arrangements with galleries, and may sell work independently. Sometimes you can get a better deal that way, and you might gain access to interesting pieces that haven’t been exhibited yet.

You are now well equipped to dip your toe (however tentatively) into the mysterious realm of art collecting, and you can indulge your passion for art right now without breaking the bank. You’ll help support talented artists, and your collection will bring you genuine joy for years to come. So go forth, and buy art!

Resources

Fine Art Marketplaces
Just a few of the sites offering original art:

Artsy, Artspace, Amazon Fine Art, Etsy, Saatchi Online, UGallery, Vedere, Zatista

Art Databases
Valuation, research, history, auction info – for casual reference only.

If you are a newbie and want to buy, sell, or trade valuable art, it’s always best to consult an auctioneer, a professional appraiser, or a reputable dealer. Art valuation is complicated; many factors can affect the value of a particular work of art.

Artnet, AskArt, ArtTactic, Blouin Art Sales Index, Invaluable

Sources

* “Los Angeles market trends lists the median sales price for homes in Los Angeles for Oct 13 to Jan 14 was $515,000” – Trulia.com

** “Hirst’s ‘Lullaby Spring’ sold for $17.2m in 2007, the highest price ever paid for one of the artist’s works at auction.” – Adam Sherwin, The Independent

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