What You Need to Know to Start a Great Art Collection

Artwork Archive | January 11, 2017 (Updated April 12, 2021)

When you think about your art collecting strategy, think of it like putting together a dream team: you’ll need a diverse and multi-talented group of players united towards a vision greater than the sum of its parts.

You’ll be scouting this team at galleries, auction houses, online, in artists’ studios and at other creative locales. As part of this process, it's important to thematically shape your collection so you can be selective and strategic in what you acquire. 

Here are some things to keep in mind when developing a direction for your collection:

Define your scope.

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 interests and can pertain to the medium, time period produced, budget, care requirements, etc.

The very first screening any piece should go through is the simplest—do you like it? Your collection should first and foremost reflect your tastes. If every collector rigorously followed what was trendy and deemed important, every collection would look the same. The unique parameters you establish in the beginning will lend your collection greater cohesion down the road.

Don’t rush into things.

Research and background knowledge are essential first steps when putting together an art collection. Without prior knowledge, you may drastically overpay for pieces or even risk becoming a victim of fraud. Part of this research should be hands-on, so visit galleries and exhibits around you. Bring a notebook and jot down information about pieces that catch your eye, then conduct further research later on.

In addition to research about art you like, also make sure you know how to read supporting documents that accompany an art acquisition. Provenance matters, and you should know how to determine if the provenance documentation for a prospective piece is legitimate.

Popular auction houses have extensive pricing and provenance information on their websites and are a great place to research established artists.

Work within your budget.

You don’t have to be wealthy to buy great art, and just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t acquire something unique and special. If you collect primarily from emerging artists, their pieces will generally be more affordable. Limited-edition prints, drawings, photography, and watercolors are often more accessible. These mediums can let you own a piece by your favorite well-known artist at a more reasonable price.

Herb and Dorothy Vogel are two collectors who put together an amazing art collection on a relatively modest budget. They did this by defining what they wanted to collect and staying within this budget and framework.

Stay in it for the long haul.

For the most part, buying art isn’t like buying and selling stock. With some exceptions, values rise and fall more slowly, so you should buy something you’re interested in holding onto for a long time. If you choose to sell down the road, you’ll likely see a better return the longer you wait to sell. When a piece is fresh to auction after long-term ownership the price tends to be higher than a piece that frequently changes hands.

You should also plan your acquisitions for the long haul. Perhaps there is a piece you can’t yet afford, but you can start to budget for now. Although the immediate gratification of making a purchase or a sale is appealing, a longer term vision when it comes to buying and selling art usually serves collectors better.

Explore new horizons.

Exciting new art is more accessible than ever, so don’t limit yourself to what's seen as trendy and cool today. Get out there and discover the next big thing yourself!

Your local art scene is a great place to find art that hasn’t yet been discovered by a wider audience. Visit your local galleries and network with gallery owners and emerging artists. These personal connections let you learn the story behind art, which can enhance a piece's cache down the line.

Social media can also be a great place to explore new art, so follow artists and galleries you appreciate on your preferred platforms. Websites like This is Colossal and Artwork Archive Discovery aggregate and spotlight new and interesting art, so keep an eye on their latest features.

Have a preservation strategy.

In order for your collection to be appreciated for generations to come, you need to make sure it's protected in the long run. This means safeguarding both the art itself and all pertinent information about the piece. Take some time to learn about protection and storage techniques in the medium you collect in by talking to a conservator. Get some practical advice with our Essential Guide to Collecting Art.

When you collect a new piece, know what documents will be needed in the future to establish provenance. Keep these supporting documents in a safe place, and consider organizing them using an inventory management system like Artwork Archive.

This will save you the headache of shuffling papers when it comes time to sell, exhibit or insure art in your collection.

Keep an art journal.

Consider starting a journal where you can write down 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 art collection.

Artwork Archive offers must-have tools for collectors looking to protect and organize their collection.

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