How to Become an Art Collector: It’s Easier than You Think!–Part 3

[This is Part 3 of a five-part series by Seabrooker Barbara Burgess. The first two were “Getting to Know the Artists” and “Developing a Theme”.–Ed.]

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Part 3: Train Your Eye

Training your eye is the most subtle part of becoming a collector, yet it is the most critical. Julia Norell, the Washington D.C. collector who influenced me, can walk into a room of paintings and her eye will automatically pick out the best ones in the room. This is because she has spent her life looking at art. Even after selling 1,000 pieces of art to the Morris Museum, she went on to collect 1,000 more pieces many of which are in traveling shows today. She has been looking at art since she was 16 years old, and she is 78 today.

Training the eye is only done through years of exposure to art. Getting to the stage where you are described as someone who “has a good eye” takes time, a lot of study of the work of many artists, many conversations with dealers, collectors, and even curators, all to be able to tell a good piece from a mediocre one. It takes time to develop the ability to spot distractions in a painting that limit its effectiveness in telling a story. You will always be subject to the different tastes of many people who will disagree with your assessment of a painting. What looks good to one person, may not to another. The only person whose taste you have to please is your own. You will develop this confidence in your own taste as you advance further along the path of being a collector.

If you spend considerable periods of time studying art as well as your surroundings, you will find a subtle change takes place. First, you start to see the big picture of what the artist is trying to put forward, like an old church that needs a new roof; but the smaller details of how the artist shows the love the congregation has for this church creep up on you in more emotional ways.

Training your eye is about becoming aware of the visceral reactions you have to a painting. It’s a combination of a reaction that goes from the eye to the heart. You know when you’ve been touched by this painting because your body tells you so.

Would-be collectors worry that their taste is not ”good enough” to be at the collector level. The good news is you can train your eye to discern good art just as you can train other parts of your brain to different tasks. It takes a good amount of study, but it also requires that you become aware of the world around you. What does the beach look like to you when it is crammed with people enjoying the delights of the sun? What does the beach look like when Autumn colors are playing over the now empty sands?

Developing an eye for art is learning to discern the emotional reactions you are having to a given piece of art. It can be a very satisfying feeling indeed.

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In the next part of this series, I’ll discuss the fourth guideline on how to become an art collector; namely, Considering Your Pocketbook.

—Barbara Burgess

Barbara Burgess


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