How to Buy Art: What to Keep in Mind if You are a First-Time Art Collector


by Hannah Jo Uy


In 2017, Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci made headlines for breaking records as the most expensive painting ever sold, going for USD 450 million at an auction held at Christie's New York. Two years prior, “Bridge” by Robert Ryman sold for USD 20.6 million, shocking the world, which could scarcely understand why an all-white canvas would fetch such an amount.


These exorbitant prices making rounds in mainstream media add to the illusion that collecting art is reserved for high-net-worth individuals, celebrities, and members of the royal family.

While it’s true that a Picasso would probably set you back hundreds of thousands of dollars, the fact is you don’t have to be a museum or millionaire to be an art collector.

Art is meant to be enjoyed by anyone and everyone from different walks of life, and while it is a luxury, it is one we can all indulge in no matter where we stand financially.


So, stripped of all pretension, here are a few things to keep in mind when you want to start your own collection…


Reflect on why you want to be an art collector

The first step is to reflect on why you want to buy art. Chief Art Consultant Veronica Howe, One East Asia, an international art advisory and management firm, says, “It helps to establish what your motivations are and what kind of art you like. Do you want to acquire art for decorative purposes, or as an investment, or establish a characterful collection for the next generation to inherit one day?”


It is only natural that in curating our homes, we want to have paintings that not only fall in line with our décor but also somehow evoke a certain feeling in a way that the IKEA paintings would not be able to. This could mean opting for paintings that represent your viewpoints and values while being aesthetically pleasing to create a more meaningful experience in your own space.


When looking towards art as a means of investment and keeping in mind succession, having a long-term view could lead one to opt for more traditional pieces to pursue a more timeless collection.

Thinking deeply about your motivations will help guide you in your process of obtaining a collection that you will truly connect with for years to come.


Refine your personal taste

The next step is to dive deep into the art world so you can figure out what you like and what you don’t like. “Educate yourself further by researching the art and artists you’re interested in,” says Veronica. “Visiting museums, art fairs, exhibitions, reputable galleries, and discerning online platforms to see lots of different art is a great way to figure out your tastes. You will also learn more about the various mediums, techniques and genres that exist.”


Traditional mediums such as oil, a favourite among great artists, dating back to Buddhist murals created circa 650AD in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Watercolour was used by Egyptians on papyrus and in traditional Chinese painting as far back as 4,000 B.C. The modern era has also seen its fair share of unusual and amusing formats. From American artist Brian Dettmer’s work carving stunning visions from old books, maps and record albums to French artist Anastassia Elias’sminiature sculptures made out of toilet rolls, the possibilities are endless, and you have the opportunity to explore and indulge in them. Learning about them is half the fun.


Resolve your budget

The next factor Veronica urges first-time buyers to consider is their budget. “This will help you narrow down your choices,” she says. “If you see something you love, but it’s out of your budget, you may use it as a point of reference.”


Your budget does not have to be a source of constraints. There are countless affordable art fairs, end-of-the-year student shows, and select open-studio events geared towards cultivating new collectors.


World Art Dubai is one such example. It is considered one of the headline events of the Official Dubai Art Season, and organisers have been about their commitment to “making art accessible for collectors and enthusiasts searching for diverse, affordable and original art.” The highly anticipated annual event typically attracts more than 2000 pieces from around the globe, with varying price points, starting from USD 100 upwards. The event’s success underlines the increasingly inclusive nature of the art world.


Remember to have fun.

Last but not least, remember to have fun. Buying art should not be stressful; it is meant to be a journey of discovery and self-discovery. “Everyone has ‘hero pieces’ in their collection,” reminds Veronica. “Pieces that fatally attract them. Things that are futile to forget. Only the heart would reveal these pieces. So do listen to it.”


At the end of the day, collecting art is a celebration of authenticity, yours and of the artist. When you are confronted with a work of art that moves you, you learn something about yourself, and you learn something about the world. An artwork captures a moment in time and, often, a piece of someone’s soul, of their creative energy. As Thomas Merton said in No Man Is An Island, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”