A Beginners Guide: How to Start an Art Collection


Thinking about what art to collect can be anxiety-inducing. While nearly all of us have something hanging on our walls, starting an art collection isn’t something most of us have given much thought to. There are a few questions that immediately come to mind. How much should I spend? What type of frame should I get? Will I still like that print in 6 months? It’s also undeniable that the art you hang on your walls says something about you. So will the people who visit your home like your art collection? Will they think it’s inspiring? Will they perhaps think it’s weird?

Don’t fret. We at Livestock are here to help.

Step 1: Trust Your Instincts

Art Collection Scaled

Putting together an art collection doesn’t need to be overly stressful. In fact, one of the worse things you can do is over-think it. This leads to what I believe is the single most important aspect of collecting art: buy what you like. It’s an indispensable piece of advice I received early on from an avid art collector, and it has never let me down. And while it’s admittedly easier said than done, it really does boil down to trusting your instincts. Anytime you visit an art gallery – whether physical or virtual – some pieces of art are going to resonate with you more than others. If you’re lucky, there’s a piece that really grabs your attention. In some cases, you’ll be able to articulate exactly why you like it. In others, you’ll have no idea. You just can’t stop looking at it. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. Those are precisely the pieces of art that you should buy.

Step 2: What is Your Aesthetic?

Aesthetic style

But where to begin, exactly? As a starting point, I recommend giving thought to your overall aesthetic. If you live in a more traditional home with decor that skews more reserved or conservative, your starting point will be much different than if you live in an eccentric home with eclectic decor. So it’s important to figure out where on that spectrum you’re most comfortable. From there, indulge in your interests. Do you like to travel? Do you love going to the movies? Nature? Are there points in history that are of particular interest to you? The list of interests could go on and on, but think of those things that appeal to you most, and that’s a good place for you to start your search.

Step 2.5: Look at Lots of Art

Art Fair

For those that are still a little unsure, there’s simply no substitute for seeing a lot of art. Those living in close proximity to urban centers or Universities should consider going to art fairs and graduation shows. Art fairs are typically set up as a series of booths that are occupied by individual galleries, and they’re a great way to see a large and varied selection of art in a single afternoon. They’re also a great opportunity to engage directly with experts. For example, don’t hesitate to speak with the gallerist about a piece that stands out to you. There’s even a chance the artist themselves will be in the booth, and you can speak with them about their work and their process. Regardless of who you speak with, it can be entertaining and also a terrific learning experience. Graduation shows are also a fun way to see a lot of art in one setting. As the name implies, these artists are just graduating from an art program, so they and their work tend to be less seasoned than what you’d find at an art fair. But everyone starts somewhere, and there’s always that chance that you purchase an early piece from a soon-to-be emerging artist who ends up being the next big thing in the world of art!

Step 3: How Much Should I Spend?

Now that you’ve successfully narrowed down the types of art that appeal to you most, it’s time to give thought to the most talked about concept in art – money. But just because you happened across a headline about that record-setting sale at the recent Sotheby’s auction, there’s no need to despair. There’s a terrific selection of art available to collectors at every price point. For those with a more modest art budget, I recommend prints. Prints are a terrific way to get top-quality art at more approachable prices. You’ll likely find the best value in open editions or very large editions (say editions of 500 or so), while sacrificing very little in terms of the quality of the work. Aside from the possibility that someone else might have the exact same image hanging on their wall, the only real downside is that the work is likely to be of limited value over time. But then, you didn’t spend much on it to begin with. For those who’d like to spend a bit more money with the hopes that your art collection will appreciate in value, limited edition prints are a great alternative (think along the lines of 25 or fewer). Of course, there are no guarantees that your prized, limited edition print will be a great investment, but it can be fun to invest in an artist and follow the trajectory of their career. Just be sure you do so with eyes wide open.

Step 4: What About Framing?

Simple Art Frames

No matter how much you’ve spent on your art, cutting corners on framing all but guarantees that your art collection will disappoint. So be sure and leave some room in your budget for custom framing. There are nearly as many framing options as there are styles of art, so do your research and don’t be afraid to solicit the opinion of a professional framer. I personally think that the frame should help augment an artwork rather than compete with it, so I prefer a simpler style of frame in more basic colors like white or black. Another benefit of a simpler frame is that it looks good in any environment. So if you decide to move your favorite photograph in an elegant, white frame from your living room to your den, chances are it will be right at home in its new place. Lastly, if you’re collecting original or limited-edition works of art, I highly recommend using UV-protective glass and an acid-free mat & backing. After all, it would be a shame if that artwork you purchased from the next big thing in contemporary art were to fade over time.

Step 5: Where do I Buy?

Young girl and boy enjoying the beach

So, now it’s time to bring it all home. Let’s say you want to start an art collection on a modest budget and prefer more traditional subject matter, you can’t go wrong with vintage illustrations of roses or orchids. Perhaps you’re more inclined to the animal world than plants & botanicals? Try illustrations of birds or fish. On the other hand, let’s say your tastes are more eccentric. This collection of historic photographs of American roadside attractions and other kitsch might be perfect for you. History and travel? These vintage, black & white photographs of New York City by photographer Berenice Abbott are stunning. And there are always vintage movie posters for the film buffs out there.

For those looking to spend a bit more on original works and limited edition prints, there’s no shortage of online options. If you’re interested in contemporary art, Saatchie is a great place to start. They have a wide variety of options available, including sculpture. They even have a team of art advisors that can help you work through your decision. Another option for limited edition prints is New York based 20×200. They’re mostly affordable and are a great place to browse works from emerging artists.

Now that you have the blueprint for building a beautiful art collection on any budget, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the need to include personal images and artifacts. The goal isn’t to make your house feel like a museum. The goal is to make your house feel like a home. So don’t be afraid to display that trinket you picked up on a family road trip years ago. Be sure and have plenty of personal and family photos mixed in with your art collection. After all, it has never been easier to have those iPhone photos professionally printed and framed thanks to services like Livestock Framing.

And finally, what should you do if you’re worried people might think your art collection is weird? I say nothing. Don’t overthink and never forget the number one rule of collecting art: buy what you like.