YOU’VE GOT this adulting thing down. You own a coffee table that didn’t come from IKEA. You possess a fully stocked bar cart, complete with jigger, muddler and julep strainer. You even have an entire shelf devoted to gift wrap. Now you’re ready to own that most grown-up of items, the one that will take you to the next level of adulthood: an original work of art. But it’s … daunting, especially given that the last piece of art you bought was a concert poster.
When you’re talking about something that you don’t buy, but “collect,” it’s hard not to be intimidated. But fear not. To help prepare you for the procurement of your very first genuine objet d’art, we’ve solicited advice from our educator, artist and collector Brad Cushman. When he’s not scouring galleries for figurative and outsider folk art, Brad serves as the gallery director for the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, a position he’s held for nearly two decades. Here, you’ll find all the guidance you’ll need to kick-start your collection, from sourcing the perfect piece to what to ask the dealer.
Get out there.
Do you like abstract art? Is realism more your thing? Do you prefer figurative art or landscapes? Folk art? Photography? If you’re an art-collecting newbie, it’s possible you don’t quite know. And that’s OK. Uncovering your art preferences takes exposure, Brad says, and to get that exposure, he recommends approaching art the same way we do music. “I tell people, over time you have cultivated a taste for music by listening to a variety of musicians,” he says. “And over time, you have gravitated to types of music you like more than others. Art is no different; you have to interact with it, look at it, experience it to know what you like.” To expose yourself to a variety of art, go to galleries, museums and exhibitions. It helps to flip through art-focused publications, too—both regional, like The Idle Class, Number: Inc and Burnaway.org, and national, like Art in America and ARTnews.
We live in a world where everything is a click away, but first-time collectors shouldn’t buy art over the internet unless they’re able to meet the dealer and see the piece in-person first. “Nowadays, if you buy online, you just don’t know what you’ll end up with,” Brad explains. The good news is the Arkansas art scene is on fire. Dozens of galleries now dot the state (see our guide on page 32), with concentrations in Little Rock and Northwest Arkansas, including a solid number of university galleries. A handful of in-state art exhibits take place throughout the year where art is for sale, most notably the
traveling Small Works on Paper exhibit, which is organized through the Arkansas Arts Council (and is currently on view at the Arts Center of the Grand Prairie in Stuttgart until July 13); the Delta Exhibition at the Arkansas Arts Center (on view until Aug. 28) and the Delta des Refusés, which takes place in downtown Little Rock June 8 to Aug. 25. Art walks and art festivals are also becoming de rigor in downtowns across the state. And thanks to the Arkansas Arts Council, there’s an incredible local artists’ registry that allows collectors to search for Arkansas-based artists by region and medium, connecting collectors directly to the artists themselves.
Don’t break the bank.
Compared to larger urban markets across the country, it’s possible to get an outstanding piece of original art by a local artist here in Arkansas for a relatively low price, even as low as $100 to $200, Brad says. Pro tip: One of the best places to get great art for a great price is at a university gallery, where you can often find student work being exhibited. And who knows? You might just nab a future Picasso.
Get the facts.
In addition to the basics—the name of the artist, the title, when the piece was completed, the medium—it’s not a bad idea to ask the seller if the piece is a one-of-a-kind or if it’s an editioned piece. “In this age of digital reproduction,” says Brad, “this is info that you might want to know.” Some collectors enjoy having more information about the artist, like where they’re from and information about their body of work. If you fit that bill, don’t be shy about asking the gallery owner to supply the info. It’s part of their role as liaison between artist and collector.
Just do it.
Many important purchases warrant sleeping on, but this shouldn’t always be the case with art. Art, by its nature, is meant to move us, so if you’re blown away by a piece of art, then by all means, buy it, Brad says. That’s not to say this should be the case with every piece that floats your boat, though. “I’ve bought stuff on impulse when I immediately reacted to a piece, and not regretted it,” he says. “But there have been other times when I’ve been more thoughtful, and I’ve paused.” The risk of thinking on it, however, is that when you go back for the piece after mulling it over, it may be lost to another collector.
Buy for love, not money.
For the most part, collecting art shouldn’t be viewed as an investment opportunity, Brad says. The exception to this is if you’re a collector with substantial financial resources. “If you are just beginning a collection, don’t think about your purchase as a financial investment, but buy what you like and want to live with,” he says. As you learn more about the art market, the focus of your collection will likely become more layered. For his part, Brad says, he’s intrigued by figurative art and outsider folk art. In addition, the artist in him is drawn to craftsmanship. “I have different niches that interest me,” he says. “But sometimes it’s just a visceral response where the image is powerful.” The financial piece, whether it will appreciate or depreciate, is the least of his worries. “I’m never using that as a reason to buy art. The reason to buy art is that it enriches our lives. It touches us and changes our hearts.”