Throughout the ages, art and imagery have been a strong component of communication. Cave paintings, portraiture, hieroglyphs, and sanctioned works of art all provided a record of history, inspiration and instruction. Still today, art and design are in every aspect of our lives. It influences everything from clothing to architecture in an effort to market what is most pleasing to the eye. Art is part of human nature and a prevalent interest of collectors.
A common misconception that collecting art is only for the affluent art aficionado. Art collecting can be for anyone on any budget. It is a rewarding pursuit emotionally, aesthetically, intellectually and spiritually. Also, studies have shown that art, music and prayer produce similar brain wave patterns and contribute to healing. Uniquely, art collecting enhances one’s quality of life, stimulates analytical thinking and augments the ambience of living spaces.
Gaining Art Appreciation
To begin any collection, it must be built one piece at a time. Most importantly, seeking art for a collection should be approached with an educated eye. Finding appealing art is instinctual; however it is necessary to understand why it is appealing. By simply looking at a variety of works of art, a sense of appreciation develops but learning about the work and the artist is a key to collecting. Many resources are available just by visiting galleries and museums, searching art on-line, and attending exhibition receptions. Reading catalogues, magazines, exhibition labels and meeting artists will provide a foundation for understanding works of art and the artistic process. Working with an art consultant and networking with other art collectors can also benefit.
Goal Setting for Collecting
Knowledge will assist in determining the direction an art collection should take. A well established collection first and foremost should be in accordance with personal taste; nevertheless, an art collection can focus on specific medium, style, genre, etc. A collection of figure drawings will have more value as a collection since there is a cohesive subject matter and medium. A collection that features realism as an artistic style could possibly consist of a major painting or two and a mix of smaller renderings in varying sizes. Establishing certain criteria for collecting will benefit the collection as much as understanding art.
Budget for Collecting
A budget will guide some factors for collecting. Works on paper are generally less expensive than oil paintings as well as less marketed artists than artists with international gallery representation. As with any commodity, pricing of artwork is based on supply and demand. If a popular artist labors on producing refined paintings, the production level may not provide enough works to satisfy a demanding market. Some artists are able to create a multitude of works in a short time in addition to having established a regaled reputation that the value of their work is extraordinary. A budget will encourage collecting works of art that are within the collector’s means and help maintain focus on the collecting goals.
When considering purchases, quality verses quantity should be a concern in goal setting. Prints can be an affordable addition but close attention should be paid to the type of print. Etchings, lithographs and monotypes are fine art prints that the artist creates utilizing traditional printing techniques. These are closely monitored for quality and include fewer prints in an edition. Typically fine art prints are signed across the bottom with a numbering system that indicates the number of the print and the total number of prints in that edition.
Traditionally, four-color lithography enabled artists to reproduce imagery of their work. Today, digital technology has allowed many artists to use a digital image of a painting and have digital and giclee prints produced for mass marketing. Digital prints can be on a variety of surfaces including canvas and high quality papers; however, the investment value can be sacrificed if the number of prints in the edition is over 500 and the paper quality is low. A letter of authenticity should accompany a four-color lithograph, digital or giclee reproduction along with the signature on the print.
Art collectors need not over look the ability to discover the up-and-coming talents of an artist exhibiting work at art fairs and even student exhibitions. Quite a few of these exhibiting artists have developed a talent comparable to those with established reputations. These works of art can be affordable now and grow in value as the artist’s career excels. Especially at air fairs, collectors have the opportunity to meet the artist and listen to them speak about their work and development. A personal encounter with an artist increases the emotional reward of collecting their work.
Protecting an Art Collection
As with any investment, there are certain responsibilities that must be taken to care for the collection. An art collector must understand the importance of record keeping and insurance coverage. Environmental control, installation, handling and even cleaning are all very important aspects for the proper maintenance of an art collection. Logically, these issues if left unattended can de-value an art collection.
Documenting and Insuring Collections
Once an item is purchased for the collection, a record of the purchase should be thoroughly documented and filed including any receipts, artist biography and letters of authenticity. There is software available to assist in the organization of record keeping of collections.
It is always a good idea to photograph all sides of the item and keep prints of the photographs in the file. These photographs will also document the condition of the item incase changes occur. Important information to record about the item includes the artist, title, date, medium and size. As with any hand-made object, distinguishing marks or imperfections can help identify the object. Having all this information organized will assist in securing the proper insurance whether included in a home-owner’s policy or a fine-arts policy.
Keeping up with the artist’s career and current market value will be helpful in maintaining current insurance value and provide an asking price should the item need to be sold. Obtaining an appraisal via the artist or an appraiser would be preferred to document the item’s current market value. But monitoring auction house websites and other websites like artnet.com are good sources for watching the art market as well. And, signing up for gallery and artist mailing lists is a great way to keep informed of an artist’s career advancements.
Protecting Collections from Hazards
Most art collections are assembled to be in living spaces. Since most homes and offices are climate controlled, temperature and humidity are not typically an issue, but should the artwork be transported or stored, caution must be taken to not allow the artwork to become overly heated or moist. Especially with paintings, works on paper and wood items, fluctuations in temperature and humidity can cause grave damage.
Light and air are environmental elements that can be underestimated for their damaging effects. Sun and lighting can cause pigments to fade whereas air pollution can adhere to the surface of the artwork. If a house has rooms that are lit by sunlight more than others, rotating the artwork may be an option. Pigmentation can not be restored but would have to be re-applied by a professional.
Many materials have to be protected from airborne pollutants that can be absorbed like household cleaners, perfumes, tobacco smoke and candle soot. Aside from the tradition, susceptible artwork should never be hung over a fireplace. Some pollutants will chemically combine with the medium of the artwork. Vulnerable materials include metal, textiles, paint and paper.
Dust inevitably accumulates and will settle on fragile surfaces of artwork. If not removed routinely, the dust will unite with the airborne moisture. On metal, this will cause corrosion; on textiles, this will attract pests to the fabric and requires professional cleaning. Paint, stone, etc. can be cleaned by using a soft bristle brush so that the dust can be gently swept off. The debris can be discarded by holding the hose of a vacuum close to the area being swept. Textiles can be vacuumed if a screen is placed over the fabric to protect it from the aggression of the vacuum’s suction.
Never expose works of art to any liquids especially cleaning agents. More information on specific cleaning methods and mounting techniques are available on the internet. Any repairs or major cleaning should be performed by a professional conservator.
Framing and Archival Materials
Framing of two-dimensional works should use archival materials by a professional. The hanging hardware must be secured to the frame. Frames should never be hung by the top rail as this weakens the integrity of the frame. Acid-free boards are the best to use when matting works on paper. Paper will stain by absorbing the acid from lesser boards and it will deteriorate. Resistant to breakage, Plexiglas is superior to glass when glazing, protect under glass. This is because in the event the glass is broken it may damage the artwork. The preferred way to glaze a work of art is to use a type of U-V inhibiting Plexiglas. Unfortunately, this product is expensive.
Paper should always be glazed, and when cleaning the surface of the glass, cleaner should not be sprayed directly on the glass but on to a cloth first. Paint should be varnished to provide a coating that can be conservatively removed should it become soiled.
Sculptures and decorative items most likely will be displayed on a shelf or table top. Be sure that the item is secure on the surface. If it is unstable or a little wobbly, a product called museum wax can be used to stabilize the item without harming the materials. Collectors in earthquake prone regions would benefit to use this type of product. Unstable shelving or furniture should not be used.
Handling Works of Art
Items made of marble, stone, unglazed ceramics and metal need gloved hands for moving the items, the same with textiles. Dirt and oil get into porous surfaces and have to be cleaned by a conservator to remove stains. Metals should be free of finger prints since the fingers leave behind oil that causes the metal’s surface to corrode.
Paintings on canvas need to be handled carefully. If the backside of the canvas is exposed, a piece of acid-free board can be cut to fit over the back but it is necessary to cut a small square out of the middle so that the canvas can breathe. The backside of canvases should never be touched for many reasons. Oil from fingers can be absorbed into the material and/or the material may stretch; those insults can cause the paint to lift off the surface over time. Stretched canvases should never have anything touching the surface, placing pressure against it or lying flat. Keep the stretched canvas upright or gravity will weaken it and cause the canvas to sag.
Works on paper when framed are less vulnerable to mishandling than paintings on stretched material. When transporting or storing framed works on paper, it is best to sit them in a right-side-up orientation. The artwork may be mounted in the mat by a hinge technique and this mount will fail if the work is sat on its side.
Frames can be stacked against a wall up off the floor for storing, but the rule of thumb is face to face and back to back. Hanging hardware can damage surfaces it comes in contact. If items must be leaned against a wall in this fashion, larger frames should be closer to the wall and the frames should be similar sizes or alternate overlapping so that no frame falls inside the frame of another.
Collecting Art should be an enjoyable experience. With all the available resources, networking and shopping around, a wonderful collection can come together, and last for generations just by caring and attentiveness.
Please contact the art consultants at the Begley Art Source if you have questions or need help finding just the right piece.
Begley Art Source Chris Jackson, Director
A division of the Evansville Museum Shop 812 402 2180
Evansville Museum of Art, History and Science firstname.lastname@example.org