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[Borsheim Arts Studio]

How to Start Your Own Art Collection

by Kelly Borsheim

[stone sculpture]
Möbius Mouth

Art Collecting is a personal passion. People collect art for almost as many reasons as there are people. Some want to fill their lives with beautiful things or at least works that help define their individual personalities. Some look at art collecting as an investment or as family heirlooms, while other collectors have told me their passion is to feel instrumental in supporting emerging artists and help them get on their feet a little faster. Some people feel a sense of history and collecting art is a way of connecting them to either a way of life that may be disappearing (such as endangered species - including peoples) or to support organizations that work to insure a healthier future for our children.

Whatever your reason, there are many ways to go about starting your own art collection. The first and most important is to learn what moves you. Start looking at art. A lot. Then start asking "Why?" When I first started to really look at art, I had a gut reaction of "I like that." or "I don't like that." Some pieces I was not sure how I felt about them - or worse, I felt nothing.

I sometimes could not put into words why I liked a piece, so I started off the easy way. I determined what I DID NOT like about some art. For instance, in sculpture, I decided early on that I did not generally like stone works that looked as though they had been carved from a cut block. Why? Because it seemed that the artists did not lose the shape of the block in the sculpting process - my brain automatically "filled in" the carving to make the cube again. And I found that distracting from the piece itself. Ok. Now I am getting somewhere. As an artist, I decided to buy organic shaped stones for carving as much as possible. As a collector, this gave me a start on developing my aesthetic sense.

Keep an open mind. Since I had my one criteria, I looked for sculptures that fit this. But sometimes I found a "square" sculpture that I liked. What? So I created an exception to my own rule. That is: In the proper context (such as in the corner of a building), square stone carvings fit their surroundings and that appealed to me. Another example is one in which the original shape of the stone was PART OF the sculpture.

It was so much easier to list why I did not like something. The next step was to figure out why I did like something. Often I could use the elimination process to define the positives. Another example: I determined at some point that I was NOT attracted to what I call "Paste-y" colors. These colors gave me a feeling of shallowness or sickness. By eliminating these, I came to understand that I enjoy pure and often transparent colors. I see depth and feel stronger emotions with the latter. Your sense of what is pleasing or moving may not be the same as mine - and that's OK - but perhaps you are getting the idea of how to go about understanding what entices you. It is a learning process. You are learning about yourself by way of interacting with (responding to) others.

Here are some things to consider which may help you determine your own sense of what is appealing:
  • Texture (chunky vs. smooth)
  • Style* (loose, impressionistic vs. realistic or detailed; representational, abstract, or nonobjective)
  • Color
  • Light and Shadows
  • Shapes
  • Composition (how shapes are arranged)

You are a unique individual and art is subjective. It is OK to listen to what other people think, but do not let it determine what you like. I love to visit art galleries with a friend. His or her comments about a work often make me see each work in a new way. Sometimes I have learned to see the value of a piece of art that I might have otherwise walked past using my "list". Other times I hear a comment and just do not agree with it. But that's fine, too. I think of it as learning something new about my friend, so the experience is still a good one. I have several friends whose home decor is pleasing and interesting to me, but that does not mean I would want to have my own surroundings look like that. "I just gotta be me", whatever that turns out to be!

One piece of advice I got from a gallery owner is this: Buy the highest quality piece you can afford from an artist you love. Sounds like excellent advice. I just want to add here that you should not feel bad if you do not love EVERY artwork created by an artist. It seems to me that as unique individuals, we won't have everything in common. As an artist, I can tell you that there are some works of my own creation that I like more than others. Or I prefer different ones at different times. I do not "hit" every time I set out to create something and I would tend to beware of (disbelieve) someone who exclaimed "I just love EVERYTHING you do!"

Ask questions. Ask artists. Ask gallery owners. Ask other art lovers. Find out about the processes used to create the various types of artwork. Learn about reproductions, originals, and one-of-a-kind works and how to distinguish between them. People enjoy talking about art. Go to art openings and meet the artists. Visit the weekend type of shows. Don't be shy about asking questions. This is how you learn.

Investment Buying

Another suggestion I heard from a gallery owner is: Look at several works by an artist to make sure that the one piece you love is not a fluke. This way you will have a better idea about the possibility of this artist having a career in art. I have had many artists tell me I am lucky to have sold artwork at my first show at "such and such" since collectors rarely buy from new artists. They claim that people are watching to see if I will come back next year. They want to know that I am "in it for the long haul". I was flattered by a collector who said he bought my painting as an investment. This had not occurred to me and I responded anxiously, "Gee, I hope you LIKE the painting." He laughed and said he loved it. He just wanted me to know he believed I was "going places".

Pricing: I do not necessarily know much about this area. But the more you look at art, the more you will get a feel for what the selling prices are for the kinds of work you like. An important thing to understand is the cost of creating artwork. For instance, bronze casting is a very labor-intensive endeavor. So a good-sized bronze sculpture will probably cost a couple of thousand dollars, minimum. Stone carving is also time-consuming and labor-intensive. You will be buying a one-of-kind work of art. Each stone is unique. Each carving unique. There is no real reproduction method. With each new work, the sculptor starts the ENTIRE process all over again.

As an artist, I often get asked, "How long did it take you to make this?" In truth, most of the time I do not really know (since I tend to have several pieces going at one time). But if I did, I am not likely to give the answer. Why? Because the human response to the answer is to look at the price of the artwork and divide by the number of hours to figure out my hourly wage. That hurts! This does not take into consideration
  • the cost of materials and tools
  • extras, such as framing, bronze foundry fees, and sculpture bases
  • the cost of photographing and marketing the work
  • fees associated with entering shows and commissions taken by galleries and other dealers (generally 40-60% of the sale price)
  • traveling to shows and shipping fees
  • my years of education, which helped me develop the skills necessary to create the work
  • overhead, such as a place to work and a Web site
You get the idea. We do the same thing with doctors. I am sure you have heard or said, "I saw the doc for 15 minutes and wham! there goes $80!"
Let's put this in a little perspective:
If a painter can actually produce AND SELL one 2-D artwork a week (and this is prolific, in many cases) for $500, that artist will make $26,000 per year before paying all of the expenses noted above. If a sculptor can actually make and sell one piece for $3,000 every 2 months, she is making a gross income of $18,000 per year!

Just remember: What makes a collection unique and interesting is that it is a reflection of the personality of the collector. Don't worry about whether the pieces you buy will work together. You, the collector, are the connecting thread. Buy art you enjoy and the rest will take care of itself. Don't impulse buy, but don't regret the "one that got away" because you waited too long. Have fun and enrich your life with art!

Styles of Art

My understanding of the following style types is this:
  • Representational: an artwork which represents something that exists (real or imagined) and is easily recognized as the object depicted (also referred to as realistic art)
  • Abstract: an artwork that is based off of the natural world, but does not look like the true object. For example, a stick figure is recognizable as a symbol of a human being, but no human really looks like that. Another example of an abstracted art piece is a landscape loosely implied by a circle (as a sun) and various geometrical shapes that seem like hills. Many abstract designs are not as obvious as the ones I have mentioned here.
  • Nonobjective: an artwork that is simply a bunch of juxtaposed shapes, colors, or textures that is not necessarily trying to portray anything other than an interesting visual image (usually geometric patterns and shapes).

Feel free to comment on the above.

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