A Beginner’s Guide: Starting an Art Collection

Collecting art sounds like a daunting task, something that perhaps requires an art-history major, loads of disposable income, and jet-setting to the latest “it” art fair. Not to mention all the questions that come along with it: How do you know what’s good? Where do I look? How much should you pay? Rest assured and definitely don’t be intimidated—anyone can collect art, whether you’re bidding for Klees at Christie’s or thrifting at garage sales in search of an overlooked gem.

Ready to dive in and start your own art collection? Click through for our guide to starting an art collection you love (without breaking the bank).

1. Browse a ton of art.
The best way to start your personal art collection is to figure out what types of art you like. Are there certain styles, colors, or subject matters that draw you in? Do you gravitate toward black-and-white photos, modern abstract paintings, Dutch-inspired still lifes? Note what you love.

Seeing art up close and personal, of course, is the best way to get acquainted with art. Visit local museums and galleries, attend MFA shows and exhibitions at nearby art schools, check out nearby First Fridays art strolls and chat with the exhibiting artists. In addition to browsing art in person, flip through art magazines at the bookstore and browse the many online resources for great (and affordable!) art: Minted, Etsy, 20×200, Artfully Walls, Saatchi Art, just to name a few.

Click through for more tips on buying art and starting your own art collection

How to Buy Art

2. Buy what you love.
This is the cardinal rule of art collecting. Sure, art is an investment and perhaps your piece will increase in value over time, but your focus should be on aesthetic rather than monetary appreciation. You’re going to look at it every day, so bring something home that you’ve fallen in love it.

How to Buy Art

3. Start small.
As are most things in life, the bigger it is, the more expensive it will be. So a good way to start is to start small—not only are the price tags more modest with smaller artworks, but being able to buy several smaller pieces lets you explore your tastes, not to mention expose you to new styles and artists you might never have found otherwise. Prints are a great place to start—since they’re produced in multiples, they’re more affordable than an original (a one and only piece). But then again, don’t completely rule out originals just based on budget: Once you find an artist you really like, search to see if he or she has an online gallery and keep tabs on their site for new works for sale. A small original painting or drawing can be more affordable than you think. Lastly, don’t forget—photographs are art, too, and are priced at a more affordable entry point than many other mediums.

4. Frame it.
Now that you’ve collected a few pieces, it’s time to display them in your home. When it comes to choosing a frame, a most common mistake is to choose a frame to match a specific space in the home. Instead, work the other way around: Select a frame to complement the piece of art. That way, you’ll only need to frame it once; then, you can move it from room to room later or to another home if you happen to move.

Here are some general rules of thumb for choosing the right frame for your piece:
• If the piece is classic, choose a matte: this will create a museum-quality display for painterly art.
• If the piece is modern, choose float mounting: this will best showcase graphic art and photography.
• If the piece is eclectic, mix and match finishing options for a one-of-a-kind look.

How to Create an Art Gallery Wall at Home

5. Display it.
Large gallery-style walls are popular right now (check out our guide to creating at gallery wall at home), but there are many other places to hang art in your home. The kitchen, for example, is a great place to display art (just make sure it’s not in the splatter zone). Also, don’t overlook small walls or next to another piece of art you already have up, creating a duo or trio. If committing to a hole in the wall is too much for you to handle, lean your art up: on art shelves, a bookshelf, or the mantle.

Photos: Zeke Ruelas Photography (1); Marie Claire (2); Lonny (3) Melanie Acevedo via Domino (4); Framebridge (5); Minted (6)

  1. Angela Kohls

    Wonderful guidance! Thank you for putting little pieces like this together for those of us who don’t know a lot about art but want to know where to start. I am developing a great passion for it so thank you! Well Done

    • Heather

      So happy you enjoyed the post–good luck putting together your own art collection!

  2. Duke Vukadinovic

    Regardless of how much we know about what we collect already, we should always remember that the educational process is an ongoing one. We should be informed buyers learning from the pros. We should take every opportunity to discuss the fine points of what we’re looking at with as many different experts, curators, artists, collectors, gallery personnel and other informed art people as possible.