Collecting art can be a daunting and confusing challenge for the beginner or even a seasoned collector. Few things are as difficult as choosing the art to surround your life with. Art has the ability to enrich our lives. It can conjure memories of the past, give us insight to the human condition and transport us to places far beyond the walls of our homes.

In starting a collection you should decide what you would like to collect. This can be as broad as a regional area such as southern artists or it can be very narrow and specific like the Faultless Starch / Bon Ami Company’s collection of paintings depicting farm animals and pets – mostly chickens.

For beginning collectors I would suggest staying clear of anything from the Renaissance and the Hellenistic periods, as well as the old masters. These can challenge even highly seasoned collectors. As you build your collection and your connoisseurship, you will find your taste changing and your eye more discerning, demanding ever higher quality in your art selections. 

Where to start? The best place to learn about and purchase art, is an art gallery.  Look for galleries that have longevity and a loyal client base.  Don’t be afraid to go to these stalwarts for fear that they will be out of your price league and on the snooty side. Chances are these galleries are still around because they have great customer service and treat all of their clients with respect - no matter what their budget size. Don’t avoid the younger galleries either, especially once you have a bit of knowledge under your belt. They can be great places to find emerging contemporary artists at a fraction of their soon to be skyrocketing prices.

A wonderful way to get your “art” feet wet is by attending opening receptions or other such events at a gallery. These tend to be very social events where you can talk to other clients about the artwork and their personal experiences with the gallery.  These events can also be a great chance to meet a gallery’s featured artist.  Making a connection with the artist can give you a bit of meaningful insight into their art and life.  These events however are more for perusing rather than long term looking.  Return to the gallery during a weekday when the atmosphere is quieter and you can look longer.

On your return visit to the gallery bring some paper and a pen for taking notes.  When you find a piece that catches your eye, write down your first impression of the work. Try not to think about it, just react to the art. It can be a few sentences or just a couple of words.  Then take a moment to write out a detailed description of what you see.  A good detailed description will get you to examine the art in a matter of fact way allowing you to see the quality and any defects in the piece.  This description can also be useful later if you need to communicate with the gallery via phone or email.

If possible, ask the dealer to move the artwork into a well-lighted area, free of the surrounding clutter that can detract from the work. This allows you and artwork to have some breathing room.

What should you do now? Start asking the dealer questions about the artist. Check to see if a short biography is available. Ask about the work’s provenance or who has owned it and where it has been since it was created. This is especially important in authenticating and establishing a proof of ownership in older works of art.

At this point if you are still hedging, ask if you can take the piece out on approval.  Most galleries will accommodate. Taking a piece home will help you see it in your environment, with your things, under your lighting conditions.  Live with the piece for a few days. Now refer back to your first impression of it in the gallery. Does it hold up to your impression of it now? Are you in love with it? Do you just have to have it? If the answer is yes, then go for it!

Aaron Frye - Ann Jackson Gallery

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