Allocating dedicated time, a basic rule for beginners collecting art

Building a small personal library of artworks—this could be as tight as 5-6 coffee table books that are richly illustrated with images of your preferred artist or art movement - can be a simple yet brilliant way to keep the visual connect active.

opinion Updated: Aug 17, 2018 15:50 IST
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Artist Nisha Dial art exhibition at Triveni Kala Sangam in New Delhi, India, on Friday, July 27, 2018. (Image used for representational purpose only)(Shivam Saxena / HT )

What are the ground rules that one should apply when it comes to collecting art? I’ve spoken about this topic extensively. Yet, this is the one perennial question I am asked to address at every speaking engagement I attend. To begin with, there is no formal formula, but there certainly are a few ground rules that would serve an entrant collector well.

This might turn into a two-, or perhaps even an eight-part sub-series within this column, but I reckon I should pen these anyway for the benefit of the younger collectors. Without any ado, here’s the opening instalment.

I’m writing this assuming you’re a rank starter in this domain. If you’ve already covered some ground, the first couple of steps might be redundant and be the ones that you’ve already taken, hopefully with some aplomb.

The starting point, as would be obvious is to allocate time. Not randomly, but dedicated slots that are built into every month’s schedule. This could be as short as 2-3 hours over two weekends every month, but it should be an unbendable rule to observe this committedly.

What should you do during these hours that you’re marking on the calendar for this pursuit? Visit the local galleries and museums, for starters. The general idea here is to become familiar, and going forward, comfortable around art. Spend a few hours simply walking through these spaces, doing little beyond observing the art on display.

The next step would be read about the practice of some of the artists you seem to appreciate. This aspect could as easily be addressed by opening a conversation with the gallery or museum representative. You will also find adequate history and content online about an artist’s practice to keep you duly occupied during the early stretch.

If over the course of the initial few months, you find yourself enjoying the baby steps—that of visiting the galleries and museums within your immediate vicinity, and unraveling the story behind some of these artist’s works—there’s likely a budding enthusiast lurking below the surface.

A point I’d like to make that you should make special note of is that there is no question too silly. Please shake off any concerns about seeming unintelligent when enquiring about a work of art. Some (or perhaps, a lot) of what you see hanging in leading galleries might not seem mighty brilliant to you. When you do encounter a body of work that fits this criterion, you should, without the slightest suggestion of disrespect, ask the gallerist the grounds for it being worthy of collectability. There have been moments of remarkable conversion, following a powerful explanation offered to the cynic—that thoroughly transformed their position on that seemingly meaningless painting.

If, however, the reasons supplied are not adequately convincing, mark that as a score on your side of the board. Not everything championed as genius is necessarily so, and to develop and hone your own distinct position, starting at the earliest intervention even, is a solid idea. However, don’t be overtly rigid in your stance and lend a willing ear with an open mind to those who happen to be veterans of the business.

The act of viewing on an on-going basis should never cease, and remain the one absolute constant. This exposure will result in a robust visual vocabulary, that is perhaps the most crucial component of the bedrock on which collections are created.

If you do happen to commit the sacrilege of missing out on that dedicated slot on a given occasion, make up for it by spending an equal measure of time online, visiting some of the leading art websites. Building a small personal library of artworks—this could be as tight as 5-6 coffee table books that are richly illustrated with images of your preferred artist or art movement can be a simple yet brilliant way to keep the visual connect active. It could be a tome that covers the entire Vatican fine art collection, or an archive dedicated to a solitary subject by your favourite photographer. As long as you respect that requisite of a few hours for art every month, you’ve made a fabulous start.

The next step, and this might pose a touch of a challenge for some, is to make notes. Ideally not mental notes, but written down in response to a series of basic questions. The quest herein is to establish what you liked, as well as what did not appeal to you in the least. The more you question yourself about these two pole positions, the clearer you will find yourself to be in response to artworks you enjoy and those that you detest.

In the following column, I will dwell upon the questions to consider in order to clarify your particular stance—and how to use them to challenge these resident inclinations.

(Arvind Vijaymohan is the CEO of Artery India, a financial datacenter focused on Indian art sales globally)

First Published: Aug 17, 2018 15:50 IST