Types Of Collecting
In addition to traditional Western European art, there are several specialty areas that are becoming very popular with art collectors. Here is a brief summary of some of these areas.
African art can be either traditional or contemporary. Collectors can specialize in certain types of art, such as wooden masks or ceremonial statues, or the art from a special tribal group or country. African art constitutes one of the most diverse legacies on earth. Though many casual observers tend to generalize "traditional" African art, the continent is full of people, societies, and civilizations, each with a unique visual special culture.
Despite its diversity, certain themes are present in art forms from Africa. These include:
Emphasis On The Human Figure: The human figure has always been the primary subject matter for most African art, and this emphasis even influenced certain European traditions. The human figure may symbolize the living or the dead, may reference chiefs, dancers, or various trades such as drummers or hunters, or even may be an anthropomorphic representation of a god or have other votive function.
Visual Abstraction: African artworks tend to favor visual abstraction over naturalistic representation. This is because many African artworks generalize stylistic norms.
Emphasis On Sculpture: African artists tend to favor three-dimensional artworks over two-dimensional works. Even many African paintings or cloth works were meant to be experienced three-dimensionally. House paintings are often seen as a continuous design wrapped around a house, forcing the viewer to walk around the work to experience it fully; while decorated cloths are worn as decorative or ceremonial garments, transforming the wearer into a living sculpture.
Emphasis On Performance Art: An extension of the utilitarianism and three-dimensionality of traditional African art is the fact that much of it is crafted for use in performance contexts, rather than in static ones. For example, masks and costumes very often are used in communal, ceremonial contexts, where they are "danced." Most societies in Africa have names for their masks, but this single name incorporates not only the sculpture, but also the meanings of the mask, the dance associated with it, and the spirits that reside within. In African thought, the three cannot be differentiated.
Asian art can include artwork from the Far East, including India, China, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, and Korea. The artwork reflects the various religious and cultural traditions of these countries.
Indian art spans the time period from the 3rd century to modern times, and is characterized by voluptuous feeling and ornate design. Indian art is heavily influenced by the ideas and rituals of the Indian civilization, particularly the philosophical world view of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. In the Indian worldview, there is no separation between flesh and spirit, or between creator and creation. Thus, symbolic themes relating to death and rebirth, sex and creativity, and time and eternity are reflected through both religious and secular images. In Indian art, the secular and the religious cannot be separate; they are part of an integral whole. Images such as the female figure, the tree, and certain animals such as the lion and the elephant, are prevalent. Indian art, especially Buddhist themes, heavily influenced the arts of other Asian countries, such as China, Japan, Korea, and Thailand, as well as others. India is famous for its paintings, sculpture (Hindu and Buddhist), textiles (cottons, silks, and wools), and jewelry (particularly fine filigree work).
Chinese art, spanning the time frame from the Neolithic age through the 21st century, reflects the world’s longest continuous civilization. The principle of harmonious balance, which underlies all Chinese culture, is exemplified in Chinese art. Chinese art is a balance of tradition and innovation, native and foreign ideas, and religious and secular images. Buddhist influence from India can be seen in much of Chinese art. China’s emperors were patrons of the arts, and most artists were government employees. In contrast, amateur artists, free from restraints of the Chinese court, produced individualistic works. Artists were highly trained, and skills were handed down from generation to generation. Chinese art features calligraphy, brush paintings (especially landscapes), carved jade, carved lacquer, and ceramics, especially porcelain.
Japanese art reflects the tumultuous history of the Japanese people, with sudden invasions of new ideas followed by long periods of minimal contact with the outside world. The Japanese absorbed, imitated, and assimilated various foreign cultures; thus, their artwork is a mixture of native and foreign influences. The earliest Japanese art was influenced by Chinese Buddhism. Painting is the preferred form of artistic expression in Japan. Writing was traditionally done with a brush rather than a pen, and the familiarity with brush techniques influenced their artwork. Japanese ceramics are considered to be among the finest in the world. Japanese art is valued for its simplicity and its colorful exuberance, and had a considerable influence on 19th and 20th century Western painting.
Korean art is a synthesis of Chinese influences and native traditions, and features bold color, natural forms, and lively surface decorations. These styles influenced Japanese art. Thailand, famed for its architecture, Buddhist sculpture and dance, is best known among fine art collectors for its fine silk textiles. Indonesia is famed for batik art, a textile technique using wax resistant dyeing. In batik, melted wax is used to paint designs on both sides of a piece of cloth. The cloth is then dipped in dye, which is absorbed by the unwaxed areas, creating a light pattern on a darker background. The wax is then removed, and the process is repeated, until the desired design is achieved.
Latin American Art
Before European colonization reached the Americas, the cultures of Latin America developed civilizations that rivaled the artistic and intellectual accomplishments of China, India, and the Mediterranean. Latin American art is characterized by an awareness of dualities in nature: land and water, sun and moon, day and night, and life and death. Cultures include the Maya, the Aztec, Toltec, Olmec, Inca, and Mixtec, among others. In addition to impressive architecture, these cultures produced sculptures, wall paintings, and pottery.
After European colonization, Latin American artists continued to be influenced by pre-Colombian cultures, mixing European traditions such as oil painting with Indian themes and images. Latin American artists include those working in Mexico, Central and South America, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Caribbean, as well as US artists that come from those countries. Famous Latin American artists include Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and Jose Orozco. Many of the works by these artists feature autobiographical, political and social themes.
The term “Southwest Art” refers to artwork produced by Native Americans from the Southwestern United States, and generally reflects traditional Native American themes. Historically, art was not considered a vocation by itself by American Indians, but was linked to crafts and the design of beautiful and useful items for ritual purposes, storytelling, or daily living. Modern American Indian arts reflect the native heritage of the artist, and contain elements of traditional culture and modern Western styles. Some Native artists adhere closely to tradition, preserving older art forms, while others feature more modern themes.
Contemporary art can be defined variously as art produced at this present point in time or art produced since World War II. The definition of the word contemporary would support the first view, but museums of contemporary art commonly define their collections as consisting of art produced since World War II. Some people, however, consider contemporary art to be art produced within the viewer’s lifetime, or that dating from the 1960s or 1970s.
Whatever terminology you use, contemporary art tends to have certain characteristics. These are a tendency to rebel against artistic and social constraints, a trust in the artist’s inner vision, personal expression, an emphasis on real life and current social issues, and a tendency to experiment and innovate as often as possible. The best way to describe contemporary art is “anything goes.”
Historical American Art
Many people find an old painting in their attic or at a yard sale. While most of these works are the products of amateur artists, some turn out to be quite valuable. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, American artists primarily painted landscapes and portraits in a realistic style. A parallel development taking shape in rural America was the American craft movement, which began as a reaction to the industrial revolution. Developments in modern art in Europe came to America from exhibitions in New York City. After World War II, New York replaced Paris as the center of the art world.
Since then many American Movements have shaped Modern and Post Modern art. Art in the United States today covers a huge range of styles. These include Southwest Art, Abstract Expressionism, Folk art, the Harlem Renaissance, and New Deal Art (art commissioned by the Federal Government during the Great Depression). Major American artists include Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, Georgia O’Keefe, Thomas Hart Benton, Edward Hopper, Grant Wood, Jackson Pollock, illustrator Norman Rockwell, Mary Cassat, and Andrew Wyeth. Folk artists such as Grandma Moses and Howard Finster are also well known.
Fine Art Photography
Fine art photography refers to photographs that are created in accordance with the creative vision of the photographer as artist. Fine art photography stands in contrast to photojournalism, which provides visual support for stories, mainly in the print media, and commercial photography, the primary focus of which is to sell products or services.
Fine Art Prints
In addition to producing original works, many artists have prints made of their work and sell these at a reduced price. As printmaking technologies have improved, prints themselves have become collectible forms of art.
Giclée prints have become a major part of the limited edition fine art world. Giclée prints are archival quality fine art digital prints. The image is scanned into a computer and digitally enhanced to match the original work of art. The image is then printed with a high resolution ink jet printer onto various substrates, including canvas as well as paper. Sometimes hand embellishments are used to give the look of an original piece of fine art.
Signed and numbered fine art prints usually sell for $5,000 or less, and are an affordable option for the novice art collector.
Outsider and Folk Art
Folk art encompasses art produced from an indigenous culture or by peasants or other laboring tradespeople. In contrast to fine art, folk art is primarily utilitarian and decorative rather than purely aesthetic. On the other hand, many 18th and 19th century American folk art painters made their living by their work, including itinerant portrait painters, some of whom produced large bodies of work. Contemporary folk art can be viewed includes artists who have been self-taught, whose work was often developed in isolation or in small communities across the country.
Beginning An Art Collection
Starting an art collection is not as expensive as you might think. You don’t have to start with a Van Gogh or Picasso original. There are many lesser-known artists whose work is valued in the art world, and up-and-coming artists whose works are becoming well-known and will increase in value. In addition, signed artist prints can offer a stepping-stone into the art world and can be purchased for much less than original paintings.
The first step in beginning an art collection is to know how to determine the value of a piece of art. For this, you have to know how to do research.
If you already have a piece of artwork in your possession and want to determine its value, take multiple photos of the piece. Measure it and weigh it, and take notes on what it is made of, how it is made, the title and subject, any inscriptions or marks on the piece, and the artist’s signature and date. Turn over the canvas or sculpture and locate any stamps or marks on the back or underneath. If you have the artist’s name, look it up in an encyclopedia or online resource such as Artcyclopedia.
When you have exhausted online resources, go to the main branch of your local library and consult reference books or speak with reference librarians. Find out the names of art appraisers or experts who can help with more advanced questions. Sometimes your local art museum will have an art library or a curator with whom you can speak.
Fine art reference resources include signature and monogram directories, indexes and dictionaries with biographical information on various artists, and price guides for artwork, such as The Art Sales Index and Mayer International Auction Records.
If your piece is unsigned and you have no idea who created it, consult an art librarian at your local library or museum. If you live close to a major university, there may be an expert in their art department who can help you. Or you can find an expert such as an art appraiser, who will evaluate your art for a fee. The American Association of appraisers and The American Society of Appraisers provide online lists of certified fine arts appraisers. Sometimes local auctioneers will have a free art appraisal day. However, you should be wary of placing your complete trust in someone who has an interest in buying or selling the artwork.
Finally, you need to find out if your particular piece of artwork has a tainted past. Just as you would not purchase a home or a car without a clear title, you must make sure your work is not stolen. The Art Loss Register is an organization that will conduct a search (for a fee) to determine if your work has a questionable past. They have a website with information on various forms of art theft. Most stolen art can be identified by looking at auction catalogues.
If you want to know the selling prices for a given artist, there are organizations who specialize in providing the latest art auction results. These include ArtPrice and Telepraisal. For prints, the International Fine Prints Association has a website where you can search for print dealers in your area and a detailed guide to prints.
Tips For The Beginner
If you are planning to start an art collection, here are some tips that may prove helpful.
First of all, even though your art collection is an investment, you should begin by purchasing art because it appeals to you and will enhance your life. Not every piece you purchase will increase in value, but every piece can bring pleasure and add to the beauty of your environment.
To become more knowledgeable about your areas of interest, visit as many art galleries as you can, and talk to the staff there. When you visit, be sure to get on their mailing lists. Also, become a member of your local art museums and take advantage of the resources they offer. Talk to other art collectors about what they have learned about collecting art. Read books on art history and subscribe magazines on art and art collecting. Also, be sure to read reviews by local and national art critics. You can also work with a professional art advisor who will guide you in your purchasing efforts.
After you get an idea of what you like and the areas you want to explore, you will probably begin to specialize in one or two artists or genres. It’s hard to be an expert in everything, and most collectors specialize in order to gain experience. Decide how much money you can afford to invest. If you have less than $30,000, you will probably want to specialize in contemporary art (30 years old or less). Prints and drawings are even more affordable, generally selling for $5,000 or less.
To familiarize yourself with basic art concepts, a good beginning text is The Story of Art by Ernest Gombrich. Magazines like Art & Antiques and Art in America are also good resources. The latter publishes an annual guide that lists galleries by genre. Prices at galleries tend to be set, and bargaining is discouraged. However, it is acceptable to offer a trade of a work you already own. A red dot stuck on the label means that the work has already been sold; a green or half-red dot means that the work has been reserved by another buyer. If you cannot visit a major gallery or auction house, you might want to participate in an online auction at a site such as eBay.
Many experts recommend, however, that you develop a relationship with a reputable art dealer, who can advise you, place bids for you at auctions, and let you know when items of interest come available on the market. Of course, there is a charge for using a dealer; a dealer’s commission is sometimes as much as 50% of the work’s selling price.
However, if you are careful and do your research thoroughly, your art collection can increase in value and pay for itself. And, if not, you will definitely broaden your horizons, enrich your life, and surround yourself with objects of beauty.