ART CONFIDENTIAL Part 1 – Initiation into the Art World November 27 2019

Many people interested in buying original art are intimidated by the art world and don’t know where to turn for guidance. Art Confidential is a 5-part guide for new art buyers. The series is written to assist new art buyers in building a foundation and a starting point for an art buying adventure that will lead to a lifetime of enjoyment and, if you’re lucky, obsession.

Written by Kelly Juhasz, Fine Art Appraisal and Services

Originally published in Distillery District Magazine, May 2019 Vol. 36  

ART CONFIDENTIAL – 5-Part Guide for New Art Buyers

Part 1 –  Initiation into the Art World walks new art buyers through a short process of self-discovery so as not to get overwhelmed by the number of options and approaches to becoming an art collector.

Gaining some early insight will allow smooth navigation through a complex and multi-billion dollar industry, and open art up to anyone believing that they did not belong.

1. Learn and study as much as you can about art. It takes two things to develop your tastes in art: interest and time. Spend as much time as possible looking at various forms of art in museum collections, in person or online. Visiting art fairs, although overwhelming at times, is one of the best ways to see a wide variety of art. Make note of the artists that you like. The more art you can look at the more you’ll start to identify styles and images that evoke an emotional reaction – both good and bad. Make note of what you don’t like too, as this will help you focus on the qualities that are important to you.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I like about it and how does it make me feel when I look at it?
  • Do I want to live with objects that inspire me, challenge me, look good in the room or remind me of a time and place?
  • What subjects or historical times are important to me?
  • Why do I want to collect art?

When possible, talk to the artist, gallery or museum staff. Look at your friend’s artwork and ask them questions about what and why they purchased what they did. Talk about art and begin to bring it further into your life. You don’t have to be an expert and it’s okay to say you don’t know or don’t like an artist’s work. By talking about art, you will learn and begin the wonderful journey of becoming a collector.

Art advisors can help you navigate the complexities of the artworld by working with you to help you answer the above questions. Art advisors can escort you through art fairs, art galleries and/or museum exhibitions helping you narrow down preferences and identify quality works for purchase; more about art advisors is covered further on. Your interests will become more intense as you develop a better understanding and a higher level of comfort with art.

2. Understand how the art market works and what determines the price for an artwork. The art market has two markets – the primary market whereby artwork is sold for the first time by the artist or their gallery representatives, and the secondary market whereby artwork is sold a second time or by a subsequent owner such as on consignment through an auction house or specific fine art galleries. These two markets, which used to be quite separate, now find themselves selling the same artists and it can get confusing for new buyers to understand the differences, and how and why to buy in each.

It takes time to understand why one artist’s work is more valuable than another artist, or why a piece by the same artist is priced much higher or lower than another piece. Pricing can be subjective and at the same time, based on a number of concrete factors including the artist’s career and accomplishments; the artwork’s exhibition history; changes in consumer tastes and decorating styles; the economy and the level of disposable income available for the purchase of art; the cost of materials; and the supply and demand of the artist’s work.

The art markets are competitive as are some collectors. As new art buyers, pick a few artists that you like and follow them in both markets. Identify in which galleries their work is sold and see if any of their works are listed in the secondary markets. Attend talks given by art advisors, gallerists, auction houses and art fairs such as Art Toronto. Read about the trends in the art market. You can start with subscribing to magazines such as Canadian Art or online newsletters from Christie’s and Sotheby’s, Artsy or The Art Newspaper. 

3.  Let yourself fall in love. Just like personal relationships, as new collectors, you will made mistakes. Perhaps the decision to buy was rushed or little thought was given to where the artwork might hang and if it would fit. Here’s a common scenario: The artist is hot and all your friends are buying a piece, so you buy the piece that’s not the best in the show or the exact piece you wanted because someone else beat you to it. You might suffer buyer’s remorse.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I feeling pressure to buy from the artist, dealer, friends or spouse?
  • Am I caught up in the hype surrounding this artist?
  • Have I spent time learning more about this artist and/or their gallery or dealer?
  • Do I really love it?

Accept that your tastes may change. As you develop your eye, you may find that what you love ten years down the road might be nothing like what you’re looking at now. You’ll see a natural evolution in your collecting habits over time as you narrow or expand what you love in art and how it affects your environment. You’ll make decisions faster and you’ll come to understand the art, artists and pricing better. Art, for a private collector, is an emotional experience.

4. Buy what you can afford. For new collectors, limited edition prints can be more affordable and photography can be a more accessible medium because it also often sells in limited numbered editions; the lower the edition number the better (of 10, of 25, of 50). Typically, single artworks will be more expensive as they are one of a kind. This includes original paintings, sculptures and monoprints. Until you gain a sense of the art market and what you like, do not spend more than what you would normally spend on entertainment, vacations or other discretionary purchases. There is no limit on how much can be spent on artwork so as you garner more knowledge and confidence, there will be plenty of time to advance in your buying.

5. Ask for help in buying. To learn more or to help you feel more comfortable, you can work with an art advisor. Make sure your advisor is knowledgeable, reputable and associated with a known art industry association with standards they must follow. Advisors can suggest artists to watch, find artwork that meets your needs and tastes, and in some cases, negotiate prices and terms for purchases on your behalf. Good advisors are part of a network of ethical and professional members of the art world and are always at the art fairs, auctions, gallery openings and following trends in the art market. You don’t necessarily see them but they’re there working for their clients.

If you are interacting with a dealer or gallery owner, understand that they have invested their time and resources in the careers and talents of specific artists and have years of experience in the art markets. Asking questions is expected and those with the knowledge are happy to share what they know to assist new collectors navigate what many feel is an intimidating world. Learning about art and living with art is exciting and rewarding.


Kelly Juhasz is an art advisor and a qualified appraiser specializing in fine art at Fine Art Appraisal and Services. She is an Accredited Member of the International Society of Appraisers (ISA) and a member of the ISA Private Client Services Group. She is principal at Fine Art Appraisal and Services offering collection management, estate planning for treasure assets, buying and selling services, and full appraisal reporting.