When you start your art collection and it is time to select your very first piece to purchase, your first question should always be: ‘Who is the artist?’. You can find the answer from a number of sources, including the artist themselves, the dealer, the gallery, the artist’s websites, exhibition catalogs, art reference books, and more.
It’s just like any other valuable property that you buy. Take the example of a house: nobody buys a house on a whim without any research. Before you decide to buy a house, you will probably research the neighborhood, find out how much other houses in the area are selling for, and check for any structural issues. It is not that different when you start collecting art.
Read and Listen
To make sure you don’t come away with inaccurate or skewed information about how important the artist or the work of art is, you have to get
information both verbally and written down. If you only read or only listen to what people say, there is a big chance that you won’t get the full and accurate picture. Make it your mission to determine the following information from various sources:
• The time of birth and death of the artist
• Where the artist lives/lived and works/worked
• Galleries and museums where the artist held exhibitions
• Awards, honors, prizes, and grants the artist received
• Other collectors who own the artist’s work
• Positions held by the artist
• Publications like books, websites, catalogs, and magazines that mention the artist
• Organizations the artist belongs to
• Where the artist studied
Don’t Over-complicate Things
Once you have gathered as much information as possible, you will be able to make a few basic assumptions about the artist. Unless it is very expensive art, all you really want is a reasonable idea of who the artist is and how significant their work is, so that you can formulate an opinion of whether the asking price is fair. In a nutshell, the more the piece costs, the more established, respected, and documented the artist should be. If the price doesn’t match the reputation, negotiate or walk away.