How to Start Your Own Art Collection

By Tara Bennett

Was that Rothko poster in your old dorm room the last piece of art you ever bought? Do you fear not being able to afford actual pieces of art, or not knowing a masterpiece from your child’s finger painting? Time to squash those hesitations. Plenty of fantastic art sells at affordable prices. It’s all about knowing how to start. 


Photo by Jonny Caspari on Unsplash


Learn what you like. Not sure if you get abstract art? Don’t know your impression of impressionism? Then take in as much art as possible. Go to galleries, visit museums, flip through magazines. Don’t worry about what’s popular or what you’re ‘supposed’ to like. Develop your own taste. Start a Pinterest page and track what appeals to you and notice when you start gravitating towards certain mediums, styles, or themes. If you find you keep coming back to a piece, grab it if you can. 

Get to know the artist. Knowing where the artwork comes from can play an essential role in how you connect with it. As an aspiring art patron, when you attend openings or artist talks, please don’t be shy about asking artists about their process, materials, and inspiration. You can find out more about what went into a certain piece, or if there is a story behind it. Chances are you’ll find artists are excited to discuss their work, put you on their mailing lists, or even invite you for a studio visit. 

Embrace galleries. You’re not committing to buying anything when you visit an exhibition. It’s all about finding out. If you like a show, but it’s too expensive, you can find out if the artist has any works that may be smaller, a different medium, or something else well within your price point. Often, galleries will let you pay over several months, layaway style. 

Don’t limit yourself to only galleries. Non-profit organizations host auctions each year that will include works of art from emerging contemporary artists or staples in the local community. Art markets are even more accessible financially. And if a piece at your local coffee shop or restaurant catches your eye, chances are it’s for sale. 

Establish an art fund. To address the looming, “can I afford this?” question, start saving a small amount of money every month. Set a goal, say, to buy a piece a year. You might even create a sensible plan, such as purchasing a piece on your birthday or when you get a tax refund. If you’re a couple, rather than buying separate gifts, buy something together for your anniversary. 

It’s not an investment. You can’t predict which artists will make it big. Unless you have the money to spend to diversify your collection with big names, you shouldn’t think of this purchase as a ticket to a future payoff. That said, if acquiring something that will hold its value is important to you, focus on editioned works. 

Put it up. Move the work around. Experiment. Sometimes a powerful, small work can anchor a big wall or vice versa. One rule to follow is to pick a height—say 60 inches—as the center point for every piece in a room to create a sense of continuity. Or consider creating a gallery wall in your home by using a bunch of smaller works in a cluster. Start with several pieces at the center, and then expand outward as you buy more, maintaining a consistent distance between them.  

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Just as your taste in clothes changes, your taste in art will, too. If you tire of something, move it to a different room or pass it on. If you donate it to a charity auction, you can write it off. Have fun. You might find that purchases that once seemed discretionary become so enriching you can’t live without them.