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A 10-Step Beginner’s Guide to Investing in Art

 It is a myth that collecting art is an expensive habit for those outside the art world. While its true that in the old days, art connoisseurs moved in a tight circle among the crème de la crème, the scenario of viewing and collecting art has changed considerably over the last century or so.

Author- Ria Sarkar, For Eikowa

 It is a myth that collecting art is an expensive habit for those outside the art world. While its true that in the old days, art connoisseurs moved in a tight circle among the crème de la crème, the scenario of viewing and collecting art has changed considerably over the last century or so. This article is meant to disband the misconception that collecting art will burn a hole in the pocket of the regular art enthusiast. The question is not about money, but about correct research and planning.

Yes, we might not all be able to afford an iconic Raza or Husain with a humble income, but there are a plethora of emerging and established artists whose works are well within the ‘affordable’ bracket. The problem is, despite having a penchant for owning artworks, no one wants to be duped by a smooth-talking gallerist into buying an out-of-budget work of art, just to come home and realize it’s simply an overpriced copy of an original! Therefore, the best course of action is to know what exactly you’re buying.

Here’s everything you need to know to confidently dive into the art of collecting!

1. Setting a realistic budget 

No budget is too small. It is possible to buy more than one artwork with just 15-20k(INR) as a starting budget. So rest assured that buying quality artworks does not mean that you’ll be spending in lakhs and crores. To start off, you can fix a realistic spending range of 10-40k. Or if you’re slightly more invested then 50-80k. Keep an idea of the amount you’re willing to spend and buy what appeals to you within that bracket.

Why are they so expensive? It’s important to know that an artist can only profit from    an artwork once in his/her lifetime. It’s the collector who can benefit from inflation in resale value. Once you know that, their high pricing seems understandable.

2. Knowledge is power 

Going into an exhibition with a blank slate might not be the best idea. For a satisfactory experience, step into the art world armed with as much information as you can gather. The Internet makes this step easy as there are multiple websites, databases, journals and blogs that give you all the information you need about art movements, mediums, concepts, styles and artists. You can also plan outings to browse local art museums and art galleries over the weekend or order an art magazine and flip through it during your daily commute.

After you start reading, you’ll find that there are certain styles, colors or subjects that catch your eye. Make a note of the things you like and explore them further.

3. Go deep into an artist’s life history 

If you happen to come across an artist you like, find out basic information such as the artist’s birth date and death date (if applicable); where the artist lives and works; where and what he/she studied; galleries, museums or institutions where the artist has exhibited, awards, publications, resume and so on. This information will help you to form a basic idea of who the artist is and how significant his or her accomplishments are, which in turn will help you gauge whether the pricing is fair – the more established, documented and widely exhibited is the artist, the higher the value of his/her works.

Once you have an idea of what you want to buy, find out whether you can order them online or whether you need to make a trip to the gallery that represents the artist.

4. Don’t go by trends 

Make up your own mind. It isn’t necessary to like what everyone else currently likes. For instance, you can be into Folk art or Modern Indian painting, or both. As long as it appeals to you, it has value for you. Following the herd blindly is not ideal when you’re starting out as a collector. Until you gain enough knowledge to know whom to follow – trends and waves of art styles are secondary.

5. A little bit of comparison goes a long way

 If you like an artist’s work – try to view a variety of his/her artworks and similar works by other artists before settling on one. If you fall in love with one work then go for it- no questions asked. But if you’re uncertain then take your time to explore your options so that you can make an informed decision.

It is advisable to visit the exhibition and see the works in front of you, but in today’s world of online e-portals, retailers and auction sites that offer well-curated art collections, you can confidently buy art while ensconced in the luxury of your home. Just make sure you get an idea of the dimensions of the artwork so that you can visualize the artwork in the space you intend to put it in. Which brings us to the next step.

6. Instinct is key 

Know when to trust your instincts. Often despite adequate research, its difficult for new collectors to differentiate between what they want to buy, and what they should buy. Nine times out of ten, newbie collectors get intimidated by gallerists and art advisors, who pummel you with their opinions, rather than letting you decide for yourself.

Our suggestion is that you take in as much information and advice as you can, but trust your initial reaction to an artwork. I like to spend a good minute or so just to view a single work, take in all the aspects and closely inspect it. Try to observe details or simply get a sense of how it makes you feel. If you’re in front of the painting then try to view it from different angles and distances. In addition to the front, look at the back, sides, edges; signatures, dates, any writing that’s on them and absolutely anything else you can spot. If possible, get the gallerist to explain all these details. Think of it as buying furniture – we are much more inclined to buy a product if we know the where, what, why and when of it all.

7. Learn how to identify an original work of art

If you’re certain about investing in art and you want it to have long-term value, then you should know how to spot an original. Considering the vast number of mediums that artists are working in nowadays, there are a lot of nitty-gritties with respect to types of artworks that you should familiarize yourself with.

Anything that is one of a kind in a particular medium is original and thereby more expensive than reproductions such as prints and posters. But there are hierarchies of pricing among them as well. For instance a work on canvas is generally more valuable than a work on paper by the same artist; limited-edition prints are costlier than posters and digital reproductions; engravings, lithographs, screen prints, aquatints, linocuts and woodblock prints might be reproduced, but the variety of surfaces makes them more expensive than a work on paper. Nevertheless, your primary objective is to be able to discern whether a particular work is one of a kind, or one of many.

8. Understand the pricing of works 

The art market is very challenging to grasp for a new investor. Even after gathering ample information, things like market statistics, inflation and so on which affect the pricing of an artwork are concepts mostly professional art advisors or consultants know very well. For instance, pieces that are being sold for the first time (primary market) are priced lower than those in demand that have been previously owned (secondary market). Other factors like reputation of galleries, preference for a particular medium or style of works and credibility of the artist in the market also play a part in the pricing.

If you have a very large budget then you could consult a professional. But if you do your research correctly then it might not be needed. Remember, the more people you talk to, the more third party information you will collect that might eventually cloud your instincts. All you need to know is available online.

9. Good provenance is essential 

There should be a clear, traceable path from artist to owner, and it should be well documented. Just like we keep receipts for gold or expensive jewelry, artworks are valued in a similar fashion. The amount of information you’re able to collect about your impending purchase and the origin of the artwork will determine its value. Sounds tedious, but you only have to do it once so be thorough – save all emails, invoices, and receipts during the process. In the future if you decide to valuate or sell a particular work, then this step will save you from any ambiguity. Make a checklist before you buy and tally it with the gallerist.

10. Spend what your purse allows and a little over

Lastly, while setting your budget, you must take into account hidden costs like insurance, shipping, framing and maintenance of the artwork which are not included in the sale price. After a sale, always inquire about how to take care of an artwork – whether any specific conditions need to be met, or what to do in case it gets damaged.

Like everything in life, buying art intelligently takes practice. But if you follow these steps then you can at least take a shot at it without feeling like a fish out of water. If you want to start an art collection without putting a strain on your bank balance, consider investing in works by emerging artists. They have the potential to grow and become more established – which might work out in your favor if they make it big. If not, you have the satisfaction of knowing that you purchased a lovely artwork that helped a talented young artist earn his bread and butter for a few months.