How to Discover Your Taste as a New Art Collector

Artwork Archive | August 2, 2018 (Updated April 12, 2021)

Are you ready to build the art collection of your dreams?

We hope your answer is yes! But, that was an easy one. The harder question may be, where do you go from there?

Starting out as a new collector, it can feel like miles and miles of unknown terrain stretched out ahead of you. You see those who have found success, and you wonder, “How can I ever reach that level?” Just remember that all established collectors had to start somewhere.

And one of the most important first steps to building a great collection is figuring out what kind of art you even want to collect—which involves lasering in on your own tastes.

How is that possible? We’ll show you.

Learn how to discover your tastes, so you can actually build the art collection of your dreams.


First, get to know yourself

If every collector rigorously followed what was trendy and deemed important, every collection would look the same!

That being said, the first step towards becoming a collector is to get a true sense of what you like—all trends and talk aside.

Which styles and mediums of art speak to you? What subjects are important to you, and why? Are there any artists currently addressing these subjects and styles in a new, meaningful way?

“Most art is bought because the viewer has a visceral reaction to it; it speaks to them, and they want to own it and live with it,” admits conservator Gordon A. Lewis Jr.

Scott Nussbaum, head of 20th-century and contemporary art in New York for the auction house Phillips, wants you to consider these questions: “Do you want to live with objects that challenge you intellectually? Do you want to live with objects that inspire you? That are decorative? Once you get a good understanding, it helps you focus,” he said.

Because you are the one who’s going to have to live with it.

It’s easy to get caught up in promises of “the next big thing” says Nussbaum. But, it makes a risky decision easier if you love and believe in the piece, too, minus all of the external chatter.

Look through a LOT of artwork

Having your own tastes is a must, but not when they are uninformed.

The best way to develop these tastes and help them mature is by viewing and studying as much art as humanly possible.

And, the best place to start is visiting art museums.

As the old saying goes, “You can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.” Museums provide crucial historical context—helping you understand everything from the brilliance of the masters to the shifting movements in contemporary art—so you can start identifying some of these same markers for success in the current art landscape.

But, don’t stop there! Social media is becoming one of the easiest and most popular ways for collectors to explore new art. Pair this with boots-on-the-ground research at art galleries and fairs, hitting up the local art scenes in your favorite cities, and scouring any and all works online.

TIP: Websites like Artwork Archive's Discovery aggregate and spotlight interesting works from thousands of artists. There are even features allowing you to search for artists near you, message artists directly, and see the latest happenings in their art business through the News sections on their Public Pages.

Finally, don’t be afraid to network with gallery owners and emerging artists. These personal connections let you learn the story behind the art and the creator, which can enhance a piece's cache down the line.

They key is to be patient and open-minded. Because the more you see and the more you learn will help refine your tastes.


Keep an archive of discoveries

Consider starting a journal or online portfolio where you can save your artistic discoveries. As you find new art and ideas that interest you, write them down. This is also a good place to keep more informal notes about a purchase—what drew you to it, how you see it fitting in with your collection, etc.

You’ll gain a lot of insight by looking back through this journal, and it will help you more thoughtfully understand your collecting tastes.

Know that your tastes will change over time, too, and that’s okay. Collecting, much like creating art, should be thought of as a journey, says Nussbaum.


Keep in mind, tastes are not only aesthetic

While you need to have an eye for the aesthetic quality of a piece, you also need to develop your eye for quality—or get someone who can assist you.

That’s where having a trusted art advisor on your team can come in handy.

Annelien Bruins of Tang Art Advisory offers her clients advice without revealing her personal responses to the pieces. She says: “My job is to give them my professional opinion on the quality of the work they are considering buying. For example, an artist may have a number of works available but there may be only one or two that I think are worth buying—because the composition is better, the technique is better applied, it is more representative of the artist’s work, and the price is more appropriate.”

True quality should always be valued in the art world, even more than the hype.


There’s more than tastes when it comes to developing an art collection

There is so much art out there that it's important to identify a focus for your collection. To help determine your collections’ scope, set up some filters that art must pass through in order to be considered.

These guidelines should meet both your needs and tastes pertaining to the medium, time period produced, budget, care requirements, etc. You can learn more about how to start a great art collection here.

Finally, you have to put time and effort into researching the art market.

Take a look through all the auction catalogs, gallery websites, and art collecting books you can get your hands on. Ask dealers and other collectors you admire for their wisdom. Learn what different artists and galleries are charging. Travel to art fairs and see what other collectors are buying.

In the end, an informed purchase is the best purchase.

Ready to get started? Check out Discovery on Artwork Archive to find the artwork you love.

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