What Art Should I Collect?

When discussing the topic of what art one should buy, invariably, someone brings up the question of investing in art. The idea behind investing is that one would purchase an artwork and sell it later at a profit. Let me just start by putting this notion to rest for the average person. 98% of people buying art are not looking to make money later. The number of artists who are investment-worthy are few, and, like any investment, one has to spend a lot of money to get a good return. Most people do not have that kind of money to invest in art and, quite frankly, at lower budgets there are better more reliable ways to invest your money. I will write an article about investing in art at a later date, but for now, let's talk about collecting art without talking about getting a financial return from it later.

One other thing to clear up up front is that in this article I am talking about collecting original art, not replicas or digital prints of art.


There are several criteria to consider when collecting art. The most important criteria is if the art satisfies you in some way. The artwork should be visually appealing to you, but it could also be intellectually or emotionally appealing. As you explore art you will probably find yourself gradually gravitating toward a style that you like. Explore that style. Find the name of that style. Look up the style online and find artists who have been painting in that style throughout history and find contemporary artists painting in that manner today.

Part of collecting art is becoming an expert in your own personal aesthetic. Why do you like what you like? What turns your cork? Do you like art that is calming or something that revs you up?  Do you like collecting pieces reflecting your own personal experiences and memories or do you like to hear other people's stories? Art collecting is a journey that answers these question. When you begin collecting art buy a few smaller less expensive pieces until you become familiar with the process and determining what you like. Then, at some point, make a statement and go all in on something you LOVE - something that is totally you. You will find developing your personal aesthetic can bring confidence, a sense of "rightness" about your home, and a better sense of your self.
WARNING: while engaging in this process you may discover that some things that have always been in your life are things you actually do not like and never were supportive of your experience of this world. When you discover this, be kind to yourself and others and gently let these things go.


As you discover a style that you like, that you want to have in your life, you will also find subjects you gravitate toward. Who knew you liked urban landscapes as opposed to country scenes? This is the fun part of collecting art - you get to play with your whims and passions. Maybe you like egrets. You can fill your house with egrets. Like lakes? You can have a couple of egret paintings, a school of sculpted fish and a large otter made of fiber. You like sports? Seascapes? A style of architecture? Maybe your style is abstract. Soon you might find you have a thing for orange spikey blobs, or paint strokes, or transparent layers of paint. The sky is the limit. You most likely can find an artist who is painting the subjects you like. If you can't you can commission someone to make a painting for you. Yes! You don't have to be satisfied with what is offered to you. You can commission your entire collection and get exactly what you want. Who knew? It really is limited only by your budget, and for some people, not even then.
WARNING: side effects of art collecting may include, but are not limited to: rash decision making, a disproportionate joy in obscure details, and can lead to loss of friendship, divorce and even death. Consult with an artist.

Whatever you end up collecting, share and develop your passion with others.


If you are spending money on an original artwork, its good to know that the craftsmanship is of enough quality that the piece will last your lifetime. In one respect, it doesn't take a lot of craftsmanship to make something that won't fall apart from just hanging on a wall. Generally speaking, art is a passive engagement, not an aggressive one. But you do need to consider some things when it comes to quality.

Do inspect the art before purchasing it. This means front and back and top and bottom. Look for cracks in frames and sculptures and stains on the back of canvases. Make sure any hanging or mounting hardware seems adequate and isn't loose. Is the artwork sturdy enough to handle your home or office environment?  Is that small sculpture going to get knocked over by the cat? Even if your style leans toward the worn and ancient look, there are artists who do this in a manner that will last.

I would say that the only times to purchase artwork that is not made to last is if you are interested in ephemera or you want to support a young artist who is not yet well-versed in their materials. A young Willem DeKooning could not afford the stand oil for his oil paints so he used mayonnaise instead. There are now issues with the stability of these paintings, but most collectors would be quite excited to own one of these paintings. I own an artwork I purchased several years ago from a young artist that is lined with upholstery tacks. On occasion, a tack will fall off the piece and I have to put it back in its place. But, this artist has become a good mature artist and I am happy to have supported his early efforts.

WARNING: Over time, as you become familiar with collecting, your idea of quality will change. This may leak into other areas of your life and not just pertain to art collecting. Are your chipped dishes really of good quality? Do your bedsheets have the thread-count of a paper towel?


I know a gentleman who collects art to the point that all of his wall space is full to the ceiling with paintings and prints. His horizontal surfaces are all full of sculptures, unique pottery and just odd art. He has paintings stacked against each other and are in the way of moving around the house. I will admit that this might be too much art. But it is his joy to be surrounded by art and to support the artist community - he rarely buys more than one artwork from an artist. He has a story for each piece and happy to share the story and information about the artist with others.

More commonly, people buy enough art to fill empty spaces but not all the way to the ceiling. You may not be in a position to actually support an entire community of artists, but you can support an artist or two that you like. Again, if you know your style and the subject matter that you like, survey your environment and start by buying a piece or two from a local artist that immediately helps the space you live in. Buying one piece from an artist is helpful to the artist. If you really like their work, it is more helpful is to buy a piece from them every few years. In other words, become someone who collects their work. See, you are an art collector.

If you like collecting thematically, there may not be a local artist that does the kind of art you like, but I would suggest buying as much local as you can. Supporting your local artists and galleries means that good quality art will remain more accessible to all the people in your area, local dollars will have a bigger impact on the local economy, and you can actually get to know an artist and follow and support their career.

There are many facets to art collecting. Like everything art related, it often is just about jumping in and figuring out how to swim. Take a friend or spouse to an art fair, a gallery and/or artist's studios. Have discussions and help each other develop a personal aesthetic. Set a small budget to start and go buy something and put it in your home. It will be enjoyable..
WARNING: pursuing art collecting is much more fun when doing it with someone else. It may lead to lifelong friendships and crazy fun outings.