Below are a few random thoughts that might be helpful to those who are just beginning to build a collection. Most of the ideas expressed come from mistakes I (Richard Rossello) made along the way as a new collector.
Buying art is intimidating. It is expensive. There are many variables, and sources of information run the gamut from comprehensive to incomprehensible. The saying, “I just buy what I like” is fine as long as you don’t care about the financial ramifications of your decisions. When considering purchases that can easily run into the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, making informed decisions is a better way to go. Approaching art collecting as an educational journey rather than a shopping expedition will make for a more rewarding experience. Too many people (my younger self included), start by buying a genre that is immediately appealing to them. Over time, as you look at more and more art and as you learn more about the history of art, you may well (probably!), find yourself becoming more interested in another, entirely different period or group of artists. If you have already invested heavily in art that is no longer central to your primary interest, you may experience that awful feeling of buyers’ remorse. The central lesson is to look at a lot of art before you buy anything. Learn as much as you can about artists whose work strikes you.
Approaching art collecting as an educational journey rather than a shopping expedition will make for a more rewarding experience.
With the fount of information available on the internet, it is tempting to think that you can learn everything you need to know from the comfort of home. Not so. Art has to be experienced in person. A painting that looks wonderful in a photograph can be disappointing in person. Conversely, a painting that looks utterly forgettable in print can be wonderful in the flesh. Talking to people in galleries and museums is often the only way to learn the details of a particular painting – its history, condition and place within the artists’ oeuvre. Art collecting is a contact sport.
It is almost always a better decision to buy one great painting than two or more lesser works. No artist, being human, ever painted only masterpieces. For most artists, there are only a handful of works that fall into that category. Other works might have been good to average and some could be downright disasters. Edward Redfield, a prominent New Hope impressionist painter regularly burned works that he deemed to be below an acceptable level of quality. He referred to them as “battles lost”! If only other artists had adopted his brutally honest self-scrutiny. Learning enough about an artist to determine those great paintings from the merely good is one of the greatest pleasures of collecting. In the marketplace, the great examples of artists’ work always command a premium and are always the easiest to sell. That makes them not only wonderful to live with, but also a better investment as well.
Fall in love with paintings, not signatures. It’s easier than you might think to be swayed by a famous name. Who wouldn’t want to own a Winslow Homer or a John Singer Sargent? If the work doesn’t truly represent the artist, however, and is affordable only because of the signature, it won’t be a part of your collection that provides any real gratification.