Right off the bat, I'm going to ask you to pause and ask yourself what kind of person collects art. Write it down. (Or just get a clear image in your mind.)
What demographic groups are they part of? What is their age, race, gender, class? What do they do for work, or do they work? What is their reason to buy art?
I'm not going to pretend to know all the preconceptions you've picked up through life, but in my case, I used to have a very narrow idea of the kind of person that buys art. Firstly, and most importantly, they had to be wealthy. Somehow the idea that only people with massive amounts of money would identify with the term "art collector" had snuck its way into my brain, for myriad reasons.
I had the idea that mostly older people, of any gender, collected art, and this was definitely connected to my upper-class assumption. No, this does not mean I think or ever thought that older people are inherently more rich- I know that's not true. I also even thought that mostly white people bought art, and this was also due to class bias, knowing that white people experience a privilege that makes acquiring wealth easier. My Collector (with a capital C!) was a higher-up at a major corporation, a politician, an inheritance child. In short, nobody I'd ever met.
I found a great picture of my Art Collector stereotype:
You might have thought of some of these ideas when you brainstormed your Collector of art. You might have even thought of institutions instead, like museums, hotels and hospitals. Because it's inconceivable for one person to have Art money.
You can probably tell where this is going... I'm making an argument here that art collectors are everywhere.
But let's talk about the last part of the brainstorm. What are the reasons people buy art? Here's what I thought of:
- Sentimental: Commissioned art with personal meaning, like a pet portrait, or an artist's personal work people connect to for its meaning, like the place they painted, a feeling it evokes, etc.
- Visual: The color, imagery, size, or something else about the piece will go well in their home. Or they just think it's pretty.
- Ethical: Some people feel strongly about small businesses, young people, women, etc. so choose to shop from people they want to support. If they need a piece for a certain wall, they'll go to a craft fair or a gallery, but never HomeGoods. (Not all people shop values-first, and that's okay. It's a learned habit afforded by privilege.)
- Financial: Investing in an artist you believe in before they "make it" could allow you to have a valuable asset in a few years' time, without spending the kind of money you expect they'll be making one day. (I don't hear this often in a serious context.)
- Personal: NGL, a lot of my buyers are friends. Some were friends first and some bought art first, but people who connect with the artist for one reason or another tend to like their art more. Just like others hang photos of loved ones on the wall, I hang their art. It's a little piece of their soul.
- Educational: Maybe this is just me, but I've totally bought art because how did they do that and I want to stare it down like it's going to answer me.
Clearly, any of these reasons could resonate with people of any age, class, race, etc. They're not limited to Mr. Monopoly or Jeff Bezos.
I got to thinking about this because my collection of art is growing. With a dozen or more pieces on the wall hung salon-style, I wondered at what point my collection of art would make me an art collector. There were a few qualifiers that held me back until I started to question why those things didn't count as art for a proper Collector's collection.
One reason was that I am not wealthy. Some of the art I have is my own, so it didn't cost very much to make it with what I already had, just my time. I have a pastel painting of my grandparents' house with my late cousin's shadow entering the frame as a tribute. I have a digital drawing of my partner and I in various animation styles, which I printed at Walmart a few years ago for $2ish. I collaged his dog's face from a catalog. These are things I don't plan to sell, so they're in my collection, but I seemed to hold back on counting them toward being an art collector because I didn't have to buy them.
There's art that didn't count to me because I traded for it. It's nice to have gone to an art school and made friends in the local art world, because so many of us are down to trade. It can be an awkward conversation to tell someone you won't give them money, but you'll give them your art, which they may or may not even like. Even so, I've had that conversation and often, it works out.
Trades happen most often at craft fairs for me. I do my looking around, and sometimes tell the artist that if they walk by my booth and they want something, I'm open to trade with them. This puts the ball in their court, and if they aren't interested, they just don't have to bring it up again. Or, if someone is actively shopping my art and I know I like theirs, I offer because I know they're already interested. For example, at a recent fair, a potter was having a hard time choosing between my stickers. I told her she could take several if I could take a little vase I had my eye on, and she gladly accepted. The retail value of four of my stickers added up to the cost of her vase, no money was exchanged, and everyone was happy!
Then I have prints. This happens to me all the time: I see art somewhere- in person, online, occasionally via advertising. I look up the artist to see more work. I fall in love. (That's usually how it is for me: it's never one individual piece, it's that I love all of them and want to choose my favorite as a representative of the style.) I find that the artist has work for sale- hooray! I check their prices, and they amount to a paycheck or more that I can't spare. I know the artist knows their own worth and just because it's not in my budget, doesn't mean they priced it wrong. It's a little sad for me but makes me happy that they're fetching whatever the price is.
I check out some more of their offerings and (often, not always) find prints! Oh, I love prints. Lower prices mean I can get them, and smaller sizes mean I can get more of them. My prints are only $25 (as of 2023) and I see artists I love charge from $20 up to usually around $100, depending on the size and quality. (Some do canvas prints, limited edition giclées, oh my...) I have prints I traded with friends, some I straight-up bought, two I won in giveaways, and even greeting cards I view as small prints. For some reason, I thought for so long that anything but the original piece of artwork isn't proper art for a Collector's collection.
So there are many ways that even someone with limited income can come to have a collection of art. If you find some emerging artists you love (insert shameless self-promo here), you can often spend the same amount of money that you would at Target for manufactured "art." You can spend even less to get some prints of art you're fond of. I recently bought a print from Sari Shryack, whose originals fetch several hundred to even thousands of dollars, but a less-expensive print means I get to support her and feed my own desire for art without a massive sacrifice. There are even ways to find free art through giveaways, friends (if they're okay with it! Be cool!) or by making it yourself. All this is to say, I've let myself own the title of art collector, and you can too.
Note: You know this post is partially to express my true feelings and partially to sell my art, but honestly, if you can own the title of collector and you want to go support someone else, go for it! A rising tide lifts all boats, when it comes to the art world.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Did you think of yourself as a collector of art before reading, or do you now? Why do you buy art?