An Experts’ Guide to Starting an Art Collection

Artwork by Kate Scialabba. Interior design by Monika Hibbs. Photography courtesy of Mont Art House.

An art collection is an investment that can enhance many aspects of your life, from making your home more beautiful to building value to opening up a door to an exciting world of inspiring works and creators. But while the benefits are great, the process of building a collection can be daunting, so we reached out to four experts in the art world for advice on how to get started. From getting to know your local gallerists to determining your personal preferences to setting a budget and more, read on for tips for creating a lifelong collecting pursuit. To discover art galleries in your area, browse The Scout Guide directory here

Immerse yourself in art to figure out what moves you. Alice Carrington Foultz, president of Alice Foultz Art Advisory in San Antonio, Texas, encourages her clients to consume art at every opportunity—by visiting museums and galleries, reading articles, and signing up for newsletters from art authorities—to help them identify their preferences. She recommends paying attention to the styles that move you most and taking down notes and looking for patterns in your tastes.

Look locally. Start your art collecting adventure by visiting local galleries or attending local art fairs. “Galleries and artists are always excited to tell you about the artwork they represent or create,” says Jennifer Monteleone, owner of Mont Art House in Houston, Texas. “Even if you aren’t ready to purchase, it’s not always about the sale; it is always about the art.” If this seems intimidating, just remember that learning about a particular topic requires curiosity, Monteleone says. The more you learn, the more you will connect with the artwork and the more confident you will be about what you like.

Train your eye and take your time. “Developing a taste in art is a skill that can be learned,” explains Irina Toshkova of Toshkova Fine Art Advisory in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Everyone can visit museums and galleries to study works of art or read books about an artist’s life and career.” Developing a critical eye can take a while, Toshkova notes, but it is something that will exponentially improve over time, and it’s a fun process of self-exploration. “Approach buying art as a journey of a lifetime. It’s not like buying a pair of shoes,” she says.

Get involved with local art institutions. Every city, regardless of size, has an art scene. Toshkova encourages people to research and support the art-focused entities in your area, whether that means a museum, small gallery, non-profit artist collective, or cooperative art studio space. “Getting involved with some of your local art organizations is a great way of immersing yourself into the art world,” she says, as it will inevitably open you up to other art-centric opportunities.

Be strategic. While purchasing art is an investment, that doesn’t mean it’s out of reach. Like everything else, you just need to budget for it. “Take a look at other ways you spend money decorating your home, or on things like your wardrobe, and determine a reasonable amount to spend on artwork this year,” Monteleone advises. “If there isn’t a budget for artwork yet, start saving and make a wish list of artists whose work you’d like to save for.” As you ease into collecting, prints are a great place to start; Monteleone recommends buying them directly from the artist or a gallery, instead of a big box or homeware store. That will allow you to make a connection with someone connected to the piece and you are directly supporting the artist.

Don’t be afraid to mix styles. It’s important to remember that there truly are no rules when it comes to art collecting, says Erika Olinger, owner/director of Cole Pratt Gallery in New Orleans, Louisiana. “Buy whatever it is that you love—the common thread will be that it’s your taste. And because it’s authentically you, it will work anywhere in your environment,” she says. Go ahead and mix things up. Contemporary and abstract paintings work especially well with antiques, Olinger notes, while traditional works can warm up sleek modernist furniture.

Be open-minded about placement. Expanding on the “there are no rules” concept, Olinger says that you should think outside of just the living room when considering where a new work might be displayed. “Kitchens, bathrooms, and especially hallways are often the most overlooked walls to display art,” she notes. Keeping this concept in mind can be helpful when perusing galleries and art fairs. Monteleone advises against holding yourself back from buying a piece just because you aren’t sure if you have the right spot for it. “If you love it, it will find a place in your home, and maybe move around a bit in the coming years,” she says.

Celebrate with an acquisition. “One of the best ways to begin an art collection is by marking momentous occasions with an art purchase,” Monteleone says. A celebration is also a great reason to give yourself permission to splurge a little. “I love looking at the pieces we have around our home that remind me of a special event or vacation,” she shares. As a bonus, if you buy art while traveling, a gallery can ship the piece directly to your home and it’s typically tax-free when you purchase out of state.

Shop with intent. If you are shopping for a specific space in your home, Margery Gossett, owner/director of Artspace III in Fort Worth, Texas, encourages her clients to be prepared with the necessary specifications and requirements in mind. “Just like if you were shopping for a dress, you would know your size and the event you intend to wear it to,” she says. “Don’t pick a small off the rack when you need a large.” Head out on your shopping excursion with images of the space you’re shopping for, notes on color, and measurements. Also, many galleries allow you to being artwork home on approval, Olinger notes, adding, “It’s an important step, because artwork sometimes looks different at home than it does in a gallery.”

Hire an art consultant. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of building your collection, hiring an expert is always a good option. “Art consultants guide the new collector on finding paintings that suit their style and price range,” says Foultz. “[Because they] have long-term, established relationships and command respect from myriad galleries, it immediately provides a stepped-up level of respect and ease of doing business for the client.” She adds that art consultants can also advise if a painting is priced and valued correctly by studying the provenance of the painting, the artist’s biography, and the collections in which the artist’s works are found. Plus, the consultant can arrange important logistics, such as proper crate shipping, insurance, installation, and lighting consultation.

TSG Tip 413 from Alice Carrington Foultz, president of Alice Foultz Art Advisory in San Antonio, Texas; Jennifer Monteleone, owner of Mont Art House in Houston, Texas; Irina Toshkova of Toshkova Fine Art Advisory in Charlotte, North Carolina; Erika Olinger, owner/director of Cole Pratt Gallery in New Orleans, Louisiana; and Margery Gossett, owner/director of Artspace III in Fort Worth, Texas. Alice Foultz Art Advisory appears in The Scout Guide San Antonio. Mont Art House appears in The Scout Guide Houston. Toshkova Fine Art Advisory appears in The Scout Guide Charlotte. Cole Pratt Gallery appears in The Scout Guide New Orleans. Artspace III appears in The Scout Guide Fort Worth