Should You Collect Art?

There are so many questions rising to mind when we talk about art collecting: What to buy? Where to buy? When to start? Who to ask? What style to buy? Focus on well-known artists or emerging artists? How to afford art? Collect for money or for pleasure?

My list of questions can go on and on, as we all at some point in our lives think about buying art for our home or office or as a gift. A lot of people get lost as there are so many artists and galleries that sell works by local and international established and emerging artists for any taste and budget. This theme is very close to me and my practice. I was reading a lot of books and articles recently about art collecting as I want to move from just appreciating art to buying art.

I was really excited when UJA Federation of Greater Toronto selected the gallery I am managing (Jessgo Gallery) as a venue for their “An Evening at the Gallery” event. They organized a panel of artists, art advisors, and gallerists who shared valuable insights on how to start an art collection in an accessible way. Participated speakers included: mixed-media artist Dani Cooperman, art adviser Jessica Herzig, photographer Jordan Nahmias, artist Samara Shuter, and gallerist & founder of Art Interiors Lisa Diamond Katz. The discussed themes included: art selection, making sure artwork fits your space, limited edition prints, how and where to buy affordable art, etc.

Things I’ve learned:

  1. If you want to purchase art, but not sure how it will look like in your space – ask the gallery for an option to “try it out” for 3-4 days. It’s important to see the selected artwork from different angles, time of the day, with and without lightning. This way you get a chance to move it around and to find the perfect spot. If there is no option to take art home, map it out on the wall with duck tape and see if it’s too big or too small in size for the wall.
  2. How to afford art. Many art galleries have installment plans, especially for younger clients, where you make regular payments to the seller until, after some time, you have paid the full price and the goods belong to you. Another way is to go to festivals or holiday shows where you can find artworks for $250 or less. Artist Project or the Trinity Bellwoods Flea are good places to meet amazing local artists.
  3. Many people start collecting by buying prints. If there is no signature or number on the print – it’s cheaper. If you see number and signature – that means that it is a limited edition print and an X amount of prints are available for purchase. Some artists make a small number of prints like 10, others make more money from selling prints than original works and have editions of 50 or 99. A great example is the work of Samara Shuter who makes giant acrylic on canvas pieces that are hard to ship worldwide. She scans the original works and creates signed prints that she can send to clients across the globe with a certificate of authenticity.
  4. Gallerist Lisa Diamond Katz argued that you should see art as an object you love and less as a piece of investment. You have to live with it unless you store it in your storage.
  5. When you buy art from established artists, look at their career, years of practice, what galleries exhibited their works, what artists were in those shows, did artists have any public commissions or only private ones? All of the above adds value.

When people collect art, some want to demonstrate their art history knowledge, others buy using their own instincts and personal taste while the third group buys only what is “trendy” or “on demand.” It’s a personal choice. As for me, I am just a beginner collector. I recently bought a small art sculpture from Toronto-based artist Matthew Del Degan who makes lovebots. I first saw his work in a form of concrete sculpture next to the Mabel’s Fables Children’s Bookstore at Davisville and Mount Pleasant. I loved it. When I saw that the original vinyl sculpture of that robot has been discontinued and was about to sell out – I decided to buy one for my collection.  

I personally love buying directly from artists, if possible, to make sure they are the ones who get the money in full and are not taken advantage of. The downfall, you don’t have a variety of options as you have in art gallery with several artists. I’ve recently read The Global Art Gallery Report written by Magnus Resch about commercial art galleries worldwide. There were roughly 296,000 dealers and gallery businesses in 2016. 40% of art dealers had annual sales of less than $500,000, while the rest had sales totaling between $1 million and $10 million. While helping artists realize their goals, galleries also make lots of money from sales happing through the gallery and take a big percentage away from the artists.


If you want to read more about art collecting, check out this resources:

  • Collecting Art for Love, Money and More by Ethan Wagner and Thea W. Wagner.
  • Art Collecting Today: Market Insights for Everyone Passionate about Art by Doug Woodham.
  • Collecting Art for Pleasure and Profit by Harvey Manes.
  • The Art of Buying Art: How to evaluate and buy art like a professional collector by Alan Bamberger.
  • Art of the Deal: Contemporary Art in a Global Financial Market by Noah Horowitz.
  • The Value of Art: Money, Power, Beauty by Michael Findlay
  • A Poor Collector’s Guide to Buying Great Art by Erling Kagge
  • A Buyer’s Guide to Prints by Helen Rosslyn