Maybe you didn’t inherit your parents’ collection of Old Master paintings or a favorite relative’s treasured cache of modern masterpieces. But you find yourself hankering to fill some bare walls and perhaps even a pedestal or two with art that reflects your personality, tastes and interests. Are you serious about wanting to collect art, but don’t know where to start?
Fortunately, Southwest Florida art experts have plenty of advice for those who are just setting out on the hunt for their own “wall power.” Art that you will want to live with for many years to come can be an elusive quarry. So, check your bank balance and read on.
First off, “know the pool you’re swimming in.” That’s what Susan Bridges, president of the Centers for the Arts Bonita Springs, emphasizes. In her position directing the operations of two art centers, she often deals with first-time collectors. Her top advice is to ask questions and educate yourself about art before making any purchases.
She recommends that new collectors browse widely and explore their own tastes, both here and when they travel. Close at hand are community art centers, such as the Naples Art Association, Marco Island Center for the Arts and the Alliance for the Arts in Fort Myers. The Baker Museum at Artis—Naples is another top spot for getting acquainted with many flavors of contemporary and historic art.
Make the for-profit art galleries in town your new best friends as well. Get on their mailing lists so that you are invited to receptions and have an opportunity to connect with the artists they carry. Depending on the venue, the art can range from very high-end stuff to inexpensive tchotchkes. It’s good to know the difference. Know, too, that some artists and galleries are open to a bit of price negotiation. If nothing else, they may offer the option of paying in installments.
“I encourage people to go to art fairs and festivals,” Bridges says. “You get to meet the artists, and it’s like visiting 200 mini-galleries in one place.” Artist-run cooperative galleries, like Tower Gallery on Sanibel, also offer a chance to see the work of multiple creators at one time. Or, you can make the rounds in an area like the Naples Art District in North Naples, where many artists exhibit and sell their work from combination studio-galleries.
Don’t forget the internet as an information source, says Bob Edwards, a financial adviser and prominent Naples collector. It’s a remarkable tool for browsing artists, images and price information on sites like artsy.net and artnet.com. Regardless of your economic niche, set a limit on what you are willing to spend for an artwork—and then perhaps be ready to exceed that limit when you really fall in love with a piece.
“When you collect, you try to get the most amazing things that you possibly can with the budget you have. I don’t care who you are; there’s a budget. There are maybe a few dozen collectors in the world who don’t have a budget. Everybody else does, even if they’re in an amazing class of wealth,” Edwards says.
But if your funds are modest, many advisers say, start small. Edwards says that if he had $1,000 to spend on a work of art, he would most likely buy a small-edition print by a famous artist. Art pundits also usually recommend that beginners think about purchasing photographs, works on paper or one-of-a-kind prints.
Another way to stretch your budget is to look well beyond the blue-chippers. Longtime Naples collectors Richard Tooke and Charles Marshall note they have purchased original art by emerging artists in places like the Naples Depot Museum. You can also scout up-and-comers at college and university art galleries. Florida Gulf Coast University’s galleries, for instance, regularly present student shows in which original artworks can be bought for a few hundred dollars or less.
“Once you get bitten by the bug, you look everywhere you are,” Tooke says. “If you’re on vacation, you might select a piece of art as a souvenir,” Marshall adds. “A lot of our collection is works we purchased because we know the artist or the subject relates to something we’ve done or somewhere we’ve been.”
Last, suit yourself when it comes to collecting art. Avoid buying art just because someone tells you it’s going to appreciate in value or it’s the hot new thing. That’s called buying with your ears.
“Don’t buy something that you think you’re going to make a pile of money on. Just don’t go down that road,” Bridges says. “It’s not the thing to do with art. If you love art or even if you’re just trying to create décor for your home, look at it as, ‘It’s me. It’s our estate. It’s our collection. Whether the art is hugely valuable or not, I know all about the artist. I know how it was made. It is personal to me.’ Buy something you love. If you love it today, chances are you will still love it in a month, in a year, in 10 years.”
At the same time, keep in mind that emerging collectors eventually grow beyond a burst of passion into full-fledged obsession. Many collectors find themselves beginning to specialize in a subcategory of the vast world of art, such as an artistic movement, period or art medium. Plus, as you educate yourself about art, your tastes may change. “It takes a while to get over personal biases. The prettiest piece may not be the best work of art,” Edwards says. “Collecting art is a learning experience, and at some point, you have to collect things that challenge you.”
Whatever your level of involvement in collecting, he adds, “It’s a fabulous, interesting world. The people are interesting and the objects are fantastic. Enjoy the ride.”