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May 21, 2021

Art Investing 101: The Essential First Steps in Your Art Collector's Journey

Guest Contributor:
Barbara Stella
Chief Art Conservator

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that's true with art collections as well. One person's fondness for tradition is no more or less valid than another's passion for modern art, abstract paintings, or vintage collectibles.

Perhaps you've wanted to start building a collection of your own, but weren't sure how or where to begin. Maybe you even felt intimidated or lacked confidence in your ability to discern trash from treasure.

The good news is that becoming a serious collector doesn't require any special skill or knowledge. You just need to create an art fund and develop an eye for purchasing high-quality works. It's also good to have a passion for art, patience enough to watch your collection - and your investment - grow, and maybe some people you can trust to steer you in the right direction.

Collecting art can be the journey of a lifetime. Step forward and let us be your guide.


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Why is Art Such a Great Investment?

Any financial advisor will encourage clients to diversify their investments in order to minimize their risks and maximize gains. Well-diversified portfolios should contain a mix of investments with the intention of reaching short- and long-term goals.

Art collecting isn't new, but it is increasingly popular as part of an overall investment strategy. According to a report released by Deloitte, more than half of wealth managers state that their clients wanted guidance about investing in art and collectibles.

While there is incredible potential as you embark on your journey as a serious collector - and a great deal of diversity in styles, mediums, and technique - investing in art does require some foundational knowledge if you intend to be successful and avoid fraud. You'll want a measure of confidence in your investment before you part with your money.

What makes art such a solid investment?

In addition to the fact that it's an investment you can enjoy, art rarely decreases in value. Housing markets crash, stocks can tank, and technology advances faster than markets anticipate.

But, it's not something you should jump into on a lark. The potential of the investment depends upon the type of art, it's rarity or unique characteristics, where it was purchased, and the artist. That includes their reputation as well as their exhibition and sales history.

When creating an art fund to finance purchases, you should also consider the cost of framing or display, maintenance, insurance, administration, and possibly storage or transportation.

Don't expect your investment to rise immediately, either. Being an art collector means having patience and focus.

Art, however, is forever as long as you conserve and protect it. If you are not too sure how to best conserve your artworks, click here to discover the top 5 mistakes you should avoid to better preserve your art.

Understanding Your Own Motivations as an Art Collector

Now that you understand a little more about what makes art such a good investment, it's important to understand your own motivations before starting your journey as a collector.

Many people begin collecting casually because they're passionate about art. If their favorite pieces rise in value or not is irrelevant. They love looking at canvases filled with colors and images that move them or the graceful lines of statuary. In other words, they're hooked on the aesthetic value of their selected works and they have the budget to indulge in their passion.

Some people look down on purchasing an oil painting just because it's pretty or it matches their home décor. They're more interested in a piece's potential for a solid ROI.

In order to become a serious collector, you needn't overlook aesthetics to focus solely on value. Building a collection that's valuable can serve both preferences. If you're passionate about a piece, it will likely spark interest.

What makes an individual piece or a collection valuable?

Sometimes, a breakout artist becomes the flavor of the day. But, that flame may flicker out as tastes and trends change. Solid art investments have staying power.

Consider:
  • The rarity or prolific nature of the artist. If the market is flooded, the value and demand may decrease.
  • Size and scale. Do you have room to properly display, move, protect, and store the artwork?
  • Medium. This can affect is long-term viability, how and where it can be displayed or stored, and even its overall value.
  • Timelessness. Older pieces and certain styles or modes are more collectible and, therefore, valuable.

What are the Factors That Determine Value?

Although this can be subjective at times or reflect trends within the art world, there are 10 main criteria that affect value and collectability:

  1. Overall aesthetic
  2. Inventiveness
  3. Artisan training
  4. Exhibition history
  5. Applied techniques
  6. Materials and medium
  7. Craftsmanship
  8. Quantity produced
  9. Artist's reputation
  10. Vocation vs avocation

The Essential Steps for Building Your Own Art Collection

Examining your motivations and goals as a beginning collector should provide you with some clarity about the type of art you'd like to purchase and your starting budget for building your collection.

It would be a mistake to start collecting art solely for the potential of getting a decent return. Buy pieces that impact you in some way and purchase them from reputable artists or galleries. Good art that is created with technical precision and a certain something extra that makes them stand out will incite your senses, whether you actually like the piece or not.

Regardless of medium, the art needn't be ornate, intricate, or shocking for the sake of being controversial. Some of the most impactful art stands out for its simplicity and grace.

What Type of Art Will You Collect?

You may have already discovered an inclination for certain styles or artists, so perhaps you can begin by purchasing a choice piece online or from a local gallery. If you're unsure, you could always browse until you see something that speaks to you and dive deeper into the artist and their history.

The easiest way to get a feel for all of the possibilities, styles, and mediums is to read art books. window shop galleries in your area, or browse online galleries and artists' websites.

Don't think too hard about what you're viewing. Simply look casually until you see something that strikes your eye and investigate deeper.

Good art is visceral. It isn't always something that you can put into words. You just know that it makes you feel or think. In the best cases, art is both thought-provoking and aesthetically pleasing.

Visit gallery owners, talk to other collectors, join online art forums, meet or correspond with artists.

How Will You Find Art for Your Collection?

You can find art just about anywhere. You could be walking around town and discover unknown artists who do amazing work and wondered why they're not better known. If you see something you like, buy it.

However, if you're looking into art as an investment, you have to be a little more selective. Here are some questions you can ask to narrow down possibilities:

1. Who is the artist within the confines of the art world?

You can obtain this information from the artist themselves at an exhibition or via their website, from a gallery where their work is being displayed, and from other collectors. If you don't have direct access to any of these people, you can find information in written form through art catalogs, reference materials, exhibition reviews, and artist bios.

2. Where has their work or a select piece been shown?

Quality art has a history from inception to exhibition to sale. Reparable work is documented, and that documentation will follow it from gallery to gallery and owner to owner. Where it has been will give you a fair idea of its authenticity and value. Fine art is like having a pedigree. Your pet may be a purebred, but it's less valuable without the receipts to prove it.

3. Is the price fair?

Nobody can predict what art will become valuable in the future or why, so don't purchase a piece based upon maybe. That'd why it's a bad idea to buy art based solely on potential if you hate it. What you need to know is the fair value of a piece you're purchasing now, in the present. Don't overspend just because an artist is well-known. Consider your own budget and whether or not you actually like the piece. Have it appraised by a reputable art appraiser to find out its market value.

4. Is the art in good condition?

If the art you wish to buy has been damaged by time or an accident, you can ask the help of a qualified art conservator to bring your artwork back to its original glory, as the artist intended. If you want to make sure the value of your artwork is not impacted or better yet it’s re-established, hire an art conservator over an art restorer.

Art Conservators are highly trained professionals. They graduated from accredited graduate programs that offered them an interdisciplinary education in history, art, chemistry, material science and more, in addition to practical experience in art conservation and restoration. Art restorers don’t generally have an academic background and gain experience through apprentice. Hence, an art restorer lacks the scientific knowledge that an art conservator has.  

So, while art restoration aims at making an artwork look better, art conservation wants to preserve the artist’s original intention and the history of the piece, while making it usable again. At Stella Art Conservation we believe that our role as art conservators goes beyond the mere restoration of artworks: it is our life mission to bring back to light the creativity of an artist, as well as the unique character and significance of heir work of art. 

Becoming a Conscientious Collector

You don't need to be a billionaire to build a collection. Decide on how much you can realistically invest and start with one piece at a time. You must also consider the cost of maintenance and display, as well as insuring your collection. Each of these factors contribute to the price of buying fine art.

In order to properly insure your collection, you'll need to collect every piece of documentation you can as to the artists, exhibition history, your purchase price, and anything else the underwriter needs to determine its value. Make sure to find an insurer that specializes in valuating and insuring fine art. Look to gallery owners and other experts in the filed for recommendations.

Learn how to properly store and display your collection. Paintings and artworks that are created from natural materials like wood, canvas, and paper are especially susceptible to mold. Talk to experts about the ideal ambient environment for exhibition and storage, as well as the best way to display your collection regarding platforms, framing, and protecting your collection.

Closing Thoughts About Investing in Art

Whatever your personal taste or investment goals, collecting art is a rewarding and potentially lucrative endeavor. If you're patient and focused, you can embark on your collection experience whenever and however you wish. Those who lack confidence can consult with an expert. It's no difference than talking to an architect, landscape artist, or other trained professional in their field.

Just make sure to check their credentials and choose someone who's reputable, has a good track record, and has an understanding of your taste and goals.

About the Author

Barbara Stella is the Chief Art Conservator at Stella Art Conservation and a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation.

Stella Art Conservation is specialized in museum-quality art conservation and restoration of paintings, sculptures, artifacts, and other artworks, from ancient to contemporary.

Their expert art conservators have superior knowledge in art conservation techniques and are capable of restoring highly damaged artworks while preserving the artist’s original intention. Considering their meticulous and informed approach to art conservation they have gained an international reputation for excellence and have won several awards for their restoration.