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How To Start A Meaningful Art Collection (Told To Us By A Pro)

One of the best, most undisputed facts about art is that it is highly personal. What you like, dislike, and find emotionally or spiritually stimulating is completely up to you. Even when monetary value is placed on art, it is still up to the individual to decide whether they appreciate it or not. A piece could be worth one million dollars but that doesn’t mean I or you have to like it. Perhaps this is why the art world can feel polarizing, overwhelming, and even intimidating. There are no set rules for buying art that is meaningful so it can feel debilitating to start. So how does one navigate such unfamiliar territory??

Enter Liz Lidgett, an art advisor and gallery owner who represents 50+ artists from around the world. With 10+ years under her belt, she has a refreshing attitude toward art and emphasizes an approachable, non-pretentious experience for clients. After being introduced to her work, I was pleased she was willing to answer the rudimentary questions I have about buying art. Of course, she shared sage insight with me that I could not, in good conscience, keep to myself. If you have ever wondered how to start building your own art collection that is meaningful and personal, this post is for you. Let’s get into it.

design by scott horne | styled by emily henderson, velinda hellen, & erik kenneth staalberg | photo by sara ligorria-tramp

Can you give us a brief background on how you became an art advisor/gallery owner?

For as long as I can remember, I have loved art and being around art. As years went on, I realized I could turn my passion into a career. After living in Los Angeles for a few years and receiving my Masters from USC, I moved back to Des Moines, Iowa, where I grew up. The Midwest art scene was and still is changing so much and I wanted to be a part of that shift. I worked as an in-house corporate curator for an amazing collection, but truly loved helping people start their collections. That’s when I started my own art advisory company and after seven years of that, I opened Liz Lidgett Gallery three years ago. Each step has been an important part of the journey to get me closer to my “why”. I believe art is for everyone and owning a gallery that helps clients find their perfect piece of art for their style, space, or budget is a dream come true.

What advice would you give someone who feels intimidated by art?

The art world can feel so intimidating but I urge you to keep looking for what feels right for you. Find a gallery that makes art accessible or find an artist whose work really speaks to you. The art world is for you— you just have to keep looking for the right open doors to step in and explore all there is to offer. When someone is beginning a collection, my first piece of advice is to be intentional about looking at a lot of art. I love to recommend a fun date night with your partner or friend and imagine that you have an unlimited budget. Pretend you have to pick one or two pieces in the museum to go home with that night — what would you choose and why? If you can articulate what you like about those pieces, that will get you a step closer to understanding your style and what your first purchase should be. 

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: living room update

Are there any Dos and Don’ts when it comes to collecting art?

The DO that matters most is: Buy what you love. Don’t worry about whether the artwork will “go” with your decor or if anyone other than you likes it too. You want to live around pieces that you want to spend time with and that make you feel good. With that in mind, here are some other dos and don’ts:

DO Get to know the artist and their technique for a better understanding.

DO Know your budget and where you’d like the piece to go. Have a photo and dimensions of the wall while you’re shopping.

DO Confirm and consider the shipping price as a part of your budget. Shipping for artwork can be expensive so be sure to ask for that before you purchase if you are going to ship.

DO Keep a file with information on the artist or gallery and a receipt. 

DON’T ask for a large discount or attempt to cut out the gallery. All creatives deserve to be paid for their work and pricing within smaller galleries doesn’t have much room to negotiate. 

DON’T forget to add your new artwork purchase to your home insurance. You can send the invoice straight to your insurance provider to have it added.

photo by tessa neustadt | from: my house tour from good housekeeping

What are some ways people can spot worthwhile investments?

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, buy art you love, not because you think you’ll be able to make money on it later on. However, I do, of course, want you to buy artwork that will at the very least hold its value. With that in mind, ask the gallery you’re working with about the artist’s career. Have their prices gone up consistently year over year? How prolific are they? If the artist is further along in their career, you can also ask about any potential collaborations with brands or upcoming shows that may raise their notoriety.  

Do you have any tips for mixing and matching different styles of art?

I think one of the best ways to mix and match different styles is by being cohesive with the framing. If, for example, you are creating a large gallery wall with multiple styles or artists represented, then keeping the framing within 3 types of similar framing helps to keep things cohesive. Additionally, I often like to put several different styles in one room, but I try to keep it within one color story for example. My rule is that they should have something in common whether that’s color story, framing, style, or subject. 

design by jess bunge for ehd | styling by emily bowser | photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: jess’ living room reveal

What is your advice on how to build an art collection that is personal and meaningful?

Oh no, I am going to say it again — buy what you love! But also, think about buying art to mark certain occasions like a wedding, a new job, or a birth of a child. Think of bringing back artwork from an amazing trip you never want to forget or from an artist you had a special connection with. Buy art that makes you think of wonderful things and that you love being around. 

design by velinda hellen design | styled by emily bowser | photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: velinda’s first client reveal

Do you have a #1 tip for building a lasting art collection?

I won’t say it again but here’s another tip: Don’t be afraid to ask questions and have conversations. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and welcomed into the art world. If you are working with a gallery or an artist that doesn’t treat you with the respect you deserve – move on. There are so many galleries that would love the chance to work with you and are wonderful to work with. I opened my gallery three years ago because I believed (and still believe) that both artists and clients deserve the best. The art world is a joyful, beautiful place to be a part of and I believe everyone deserves to experience that!

Big thanks to Liz for imparting her wisdom and expertise to us. Be sure to follow her and check out her shop here.

Opener Image Credit: Art Direction by Emily Henderson | Design and styling assistance by Emily Bowser and Julie Rose | Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp


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31 thoughts on “How To Start A Meaningful Art Collection (Told To Us By A Pro)

  1. This is a great article and has a lot of really good tips. I disagree on the one point about not buying giclees/open edition prints. If your goal is to invest in art for future value, that advice is spot on as open edition does not hold investment value. However, if you are just starting out buying art and find an artist you love, buying a giclee/print may be the way to support that artist (and enjoy their art!) while you save to purchase a more expensive original. I’m an artist and also collect other artists’ work. As a collector, my collection is a mix of originals and giclee/prints as my budget doesn’t always allow for the purchase of originals. As an artist, giclees/prints are a good revenue stream for working artists to help continue driving revenue from originals that have already sold.

    1. I have a couple prints that are signed by the artist, and I 100% realize they’re not as valuable, but enjoy looking at them and weaving them into my spaces in small doses. I also have a couple prints that have the details of a very specific exhibition I attended at a museum. They have the dates, the location, and remind me of trips I’ve taken and museums I’ve visited.

  2. Great article! I totally agree with Liz’s advice. Look at lots and lots of art to figure out what you love and buy that!
    I have purchased art directly from artists and from galleries and the galleries have often been very helpful. One of them offered a “digital preview,” where I sent a photo of my room, with measurements, and they sent me digital renderings showing the pieces I was considering in my space. Not sure if that is a common service, but it was extremely helpful in making a decision.

  3. Well written , Ryann.
    Some great tips n tricks.

    My personal collection includes originals by known artists, my own work (paint, textile, mixed media and ceramics), framed event posters aaaaaaaand *shock* a couple of framed favourite calendar pages!!!! 🤣🤣

    Art = what makes your ‘sparkle’ light up!!! 🙂

  4. I mean, I’m going to buy a print if I find one that I love. I won’t feel bad about it, and I won’t believe that it’ll make my home unsophisticated. Plus, offering affordable prints is a great way for artists to make a living from rubes like me who can’t afford to spend the big bucks or simply don’t have time to scour local galleries.

    Also, the idea of art as an investment vehicle is sometimes at odds with the idea of art as an accessible way to surround yourself with beautiful things you love.

    1. This blog has shown framed prints and canvases from Target, so the overall message can seem mixed, but just look at it as different perspectives. I have a Target print to my right as I sit here that I enjoy (making me even farther along the rube scale than you) and I’m not going to feel bad about it just because a connoisseur wouldn’t dream of owning it. I recognize that some people would like to know how to get started in the world of original art and this post was obviously for them.

    1. I’m an artist that regularly exhibits at local art markets. At a market, talk to the artist, ask questions about the art and the artist’s process. We love to chat with folks about what we create. If the art they have on display is out of your budget, be honest with the artist and it’s quite possible they also offer prints or smaller originals that are more affordable. My personal opinion is that art should be accessible for everyone, so I try to offer multiple price points ranging from 5×7 note cards at $6 or small mounted prints around $20 to small originals around $50 to big original canvases in the thousands. They might not have the less expensive inventory on hand, but they may have it available to order. At art markets you do business directly with the artist.

      At a gallery, I’d recommend checking out the artist reception night/opening night. That gives you the chance to talk directly to the artist to understand their work more. A good gallery will also be able to answer questions about the artists they represent and can help you through issues of shipping art, etc if you aren’t local to the gallery. If you love the style of an artist they represent but don’t see a piece that makes your heart sing, sometimes the gallery can set up a studio visit for you so you can see other works that the artist is working on or potentially arrange for a commission. (This will vary depending on the artist.) Know that if you are looking for investment value for original art, no gallery will be able to give you an accurate estimate of how the value of any particular piece might grow. (They can estimate it, but it’s just an estimate.) Every investment, including art, includes an element of risk that can’t be predicted with 100% accuracy. My thought is you should love the art first and foremost. If the value increases during your ownership then that is a perk. When shopping at a gallery, all sales are handled by the gallery who then will pay the artist their share of the sale less the portion that the gallery retains for the work of running the gallery/making the sales.

      1. This is so helpful. Thank you! I’m mostly on a smaller budget and I love going to art markets. I would never de-value the higher priced original art, but I’m also delighted when artists make some of their work accessible at lower price points. I don’t know if posting links to your own work is ok here, but I’d love to see if you’re willing to share your website.

    1. You could always visit Liz’s gallery website and find out about the pieces you are seeing and artists behind them…. I think thats the whole point.
      Also, we don’t know how old this photo is — A lot of galleries cycle through/rotate art quickly and some of the pieces in these photos may already be sold…
      There is one way to find out! 🙂

    2. The only photo featuring Liz Lidgett Gallery artists is the last one of her (the artists are Kristi Kohut and Michelle Armas). I wish we could have seen more spaces with art from her gallery. I follow her on social, and the glimpses I’ve seen of her home look so inspiring with the variety of art, and so much beautiful wallpaper.

  5. I love this interview! Great tips. And as an artist,
    I whole heartedly agree that buying what you love is the best advice ever. Art should be a hell yes. It should ring some bell in you that will not unring. Maybe it’s a loud clang that’s impossible to ignore or maybe it’s this small sound that grows with time away from the piece. That’s how I buy art myself as well. Great article thanks for sharing it!

  6. I recommend looking in coffee shops for original art. They usually have lower prices than art galleries and still support the artist. This summer while on vacation in Hood River, Oregon I bought a stunning painting and am so in love with it. It brings me joy every time I look at it and remember our vacation this summer. The artist has other paintings:

  7. As someone who enjoys buying original art, I really appreciated this post. I can certainly understand the desire to buy art that will retain its value but for the vast majority of us that just isn’t realistic. At some point I accepted that when I buy original art it is because I want it to be part of my home and the expense is worth it to me. I am not going to make a profit or even come close to making my money back if I sell my original art, particularly if I purchased it with the gallery markup. But I do love that the original art of an artist becomes an expression of me in my home.

    1. I feel this deeply. I buy original art because I want to support the artist and I love their work. I don’t go in to it thinking how much money I’ll eventually make from it and am pretty doubtful about the 100+ pieces I have that I even will. However, I love looking at it and it makes my home homey to me. That’s all that should really matter.

  8. This article makes such key points, particularly about buying art you love, exposing yourself to lots and lots of at to start building your confidence in what appeals to you, and getting to know the artist whenever possible.

    Art is a rich and beautiful world. For an artist (at least this one!) both the deep, personal time of creating AND the sharing and seeing someone’s eyes light up with something they love is a big part of the whole creative cycle.

    All price points are possible…I mix originals with high-quality giclées, letterpress cards, paper quilts…I can tell you, once you get started, you will always find more to love!

  9. I’ve been collecting art all my life. Yeah, I started with posters and friends’ works when I was in high school, but every time I’ve been to an art show I buy something. Too bad I’m running out of wall space!

    1. I’m in the same boat. I try to collect smaller works now due to limited wall space! I like to take my kids to art shows to pick out art for their own little collections. I’m trying to raise the next generation of art lovers. 🙂

      1. That’s wonderful! My parents took us to museums, and they bought a few (not a lot of money) things, too. My problem is finding too many pieces I love.

  10. Great article! I can really get a sense of Liz’s passion for art and wanting to represent the artist and their work in the best possible way. I think any way you can adorn your walls with things you love is a win, I don’t think she is giving us struct rules to follow… I think she is giving insight on a particular way of buying/collecting art.

  11. My husband and I started a savings account so that we can buy that piece when we want it. I know it’s the right thing when my hands grab it with without my brain’s help.

    1. And if I am getting something framed and they want to know what are the colors in the room in which the piece will be hung, I can’t work with that person. Art should not have to match the sofa.

  12. My art collection has grown through the years and includes 4 Salvador Dali Alice in Wonderland lithos (the most expensive art I own, but I LOVE them), A few huge vintage movie posters including a vibrant blue Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon with half of Liza’s face on it and a poster that was included in Judy Garland’s Forever, Judy album that I had beautifully framed in a large brass frame. I also have some original paintings,, a Vuillard lithograph, Dr. Thornton Botanical Prints that cost me virtually nothing at a garage sale and a watercolor of the Three’s Company apartment that I got on Etsy. But, nothing tops that Picasso lithograph that I found rolled up in a 1957 newspaper in the attic of my 1875 farmhouse! I love art and my main source is estate sales, though I also visit thrift stores weekly and have found amazing finds for under $50.

  13. Very informative article. I have found some wonderful oil paintings and original art in Antique shops. The artist might be listed or it’s just an amazing piece. Often these paintings are a bit less than a gallery. My 2 cents

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