The idea of buying a piece of art for the first time can be very intimidating. The art world is dominated by technical jargon that can be impenetrable to the layman. In addition, the field of contemporary art is particularly notorious for its insular attitudes and name-dropping. But this doesn't have to be the case. With just a little bit of knowledge, anyone can be a great art collector.
Now, when I use the term "art" in this context, I imagine that most people think I am talking about paintings, sculpture or maybe photographs. But I intend the word art here to be understood in a far broader context. Art, simply put, is anything beautiful that has been crafted or touched in any way by human hands or ingenuity.
The minor arts - coins, jewelry, miniature sculpture, etc. - are all examples of things that most of us don't consider art and yet are. They require every bit as much technical skill and raw talent to create as an exquisite painting. Even a fine mechanical wristwatch or an elegant fountain pen can be art.
In any case, the massive amount of choice available in the art world can be absolutely bewildering. Where does a novice even start? I think the answer to this question is self explanatory. Buy what you like! There is no point in embarking on the long, but rewarding journey of the art aficionado if you don't get excited by your chosen specialty.
And there really are an almost infinite variety of styles to choose from. Do you love graceful shapes and organic naturalism? Then consider collecting pieces from the early 20th century Art Nouveau movement. Have you always been attracted by sleek lines, bold colors and abstract forms? Then contemporary art may be the field for you. The key is to buy what you like.
This might seem self-explanatory, but there are a surprising number of people who feel compelled to collect hot art market fads. Respected museums might be filled with 17th century Baroque paintings, but if you find them boring, ostentatious and overwrought, then look elsewhere. Likewise, every art gallery in New York City might currently be featuring bizarre Massurrealist works, but if they turn your stomach and give you a headache, keep walking.
In addition to a dizzying range of art styles, a large number of disparate mediums have also been used in art throughout history. A medium is any material an artist uses to create an artwork; almost anything can be a medium. While traditional paintings are often made from oil or acrylic paints, other artwork, like jewelry or object d'art, are typically crafted from glittering precious metals and gemstones. Although they couldn't be more different, both oil paints and gems are considered mediums. They are vehicles for a gifted artist to display his inherent talents.
Artists have used metals, inks, woods, paints and stone for centuries to create masterpieces of the highest order, often in complementary, mixed media formats. Artists have not historically allowed their creativity to be curbed by medium. As a result, art has been made from every conceivable material known to man. I believe the aspiring art collector should take advantage of this variety. Choose a medium that interests you and buy what you like.
However, if you want your art collection to serve an investment function as well as a decorative role, then the dictum to "buy what you like" must follow one other important rule. The art you buy must have good composition. Composition is the positioning or use of color, shadow, texture or shapes within a work. Good composition is innately appealing, although the layman might have difficultly articulating exactly why. In contrast, bad or mediocre composition leaves a work feeling flat and listless.
For example, diagonal lines are a classic tool used by artists to achieve good composition. Diagonals are dynamic and give a work a sense of internal energy. If you examine Old Master paintings, you'll find that diagonals are often employed to improve composition.
Texture is another element that savvy artists use to create works with excellent composition. Texture is often used to break up large, flat surfaces or add interest to otherwise monotonous features. Contemporary wall art is a prime example of a category of art that relies heavily on texture to perfect the composition.
Color is one of the oldest, most venerated tools of the artist. Bold, bright colors can be employed when an artwork is meant to visually "pop", while pastel colors might be used for more subdued pieces. Sometimes the complete omission of color, as with black and white monochromatic works, can result in something unexpectedly powerful.
As an art collector, you should definitely buy what you like. But at the same time you should also weigh your personal tastes against the composition of a work. A well made work of art employing good composition will have a balance and harmony that is at once subtle, but alluring. These high quality artworks will tend to appeal to a wide range of people. If you ever attempt to sell part or all of your collection, having chosen works with excellent composition will result in higher realized prices.
As you gain more knowledge and experience in art, you will naturally become attuned to good composition. This is also known as developing or cultivating an eye for good art. Because judging the merit of composition is such a vital skill to the art collector, it is important to take the time and effort to improve your eye. Read everything you can on the field that interests you and look at examples in museums, galleries or online. After a while, you will instantly be able to discern exactly what attracts you to one work or disenchants you from another. If you buy what you like while using a discerning eye, you won't go wrong.