art collecting tips

Tony Urquhart, Flowers in Pink, 2010,
oil on board, 30 in. in diameter,
signed, titled and dated.
Price: $9500.00

James Rottman Fine Art has been advising clients on Canadian art collections since 1995. Based on our experience with clients building art collections for both their homes and office spaces, or with clients who purchase one or two artworks as focal pieces, there are some key strategies to consider:

  • communication with your partner or colleagues about art collecting goals;
  • developing and defining your artistic preferences and deepening your knowledge of art;
  • determining if you want to have a thematic collection;
  • developing a budget and understanding of market value; and
  • building relationships with art professionals and experts.

Aspiring Canadian art collectors or corporations should start by setting out their goals for buying art and building a Canadian art collection. Some questions to help define your goals include:

  • Is the objective for the artwork solely decorative?
  • Is it for your home and/or office?
  • Do you need the art to stimulate or engage you daily?
  • What subject matter and period of art interests you the most?
  • What is your collecting budget?
  • Do you want your art collecting interests to be long lasting?

if your goals include assembling a curated, thoughtful and more significant Canadian art collection, that will take more thought, time, education, reflection, patience and resources.

For art for the home, the first thing that you may want to do is talk to your partner about your combined aesthetic interests and tastes. Unless you are buying just for yourself or your own place, you do not want to be that loved one who schleps home a painting in the dark of night, hides the art and waits until an opportune moment arises to surprise your partner. Couples that engage each other and discuss the art that they see together, and work together on their art collection together can really enjoy a lifelong passion for collecting art.

Once you are both engaged in a dialogue and partnership around art, then the fun can begin. Before making any art purchases to start your collection, visit galleries (both public and commercial) and take the time to explore, contemplate and discuss the art exhibitions that you visit. This will help refine what type of artworks engage you aesthetically, emotionally, and intellectually. There are a large number of talented Canadian artists, contemporary and historical, who create all kinds of fantastic artworks, in different media and scales.

Another essential tip for aspiring Canadian art collectors is to read about Canadian art to develop an understanding of the historical, contemporary and emerging art movements, schools and periods of art. There is a multitude of fabulous Canadian art academics, art curators, and art dealers that have researched and written many thorough accounts of specific artist’s lives and movements of art. Even with online resources, having an extensive library of art books is always a tremendous resource for the art collector to provide information not always available online.

Greater exposure and background in art will help new collectors follow a theme for their art collection or build an art collection organically, starting with individual pieces. For example, a thematic Canadian collection could be developed around:

  • historical Canadian art that has contributed to the history of art;
  • an artist or groups of artists that have expressed a unique voice, language, or based in a school or movement (for example, The Group of Seven, Painters Eleven, Regina Five, Automatistes or many others); or
  • focusing on either emerging, mid-career or senior Canadian artists who use unique or original ideas, mediums, styles or forums to discuss contemporary ideas in our culture today.

These questions can inform how art collectors can approach building a collection. So look, think and discuss the art that you see in exhibitions, as the reflection and dialogue will ultimately help you determine and guide your tastes for art.

Once you are confident about what you, the art collector, would like to see in your space, our next important tip for the budding Canadian art collector would be to establish a budget for your first few pieces. The budget may change with time as your collection develops, and as confidence and knowledge grows. Many galleries/art businesses offer clients layaway or installment plans to enable the client to afford the cost of an art purchase over time. In my early days of collecting (many decades ago), I was able to use a layaway plan to purchase which allowed me the opportunity to purchase some fantastic art pieces which I could not have afforded in a single payment.

Once you have a budget in mind for your first art purchase this next tip is crucial. Develop a firm understanding of the art market and why the art you see in galleries is priced in a certain manner.

Do your research on the pricing of specific artist’s work. You will generally find that each artist’s work will be priced uniquely according to a number of factors, including:

  • the medium/media used, materials and supports used;
  • size of artwork;
  • date of creation;
  • subject matter;
  • condition;
  • artist’s exhibition history; and
  • commercial success.

Before you decide on your exciting new art purchase, ask the gallerist/art dealer why your chosen artwork is priced in this manner. One must consider that art galleries/art businesses are selling a product, albeit a handmade and unique object, to a consumer, similar to other retail businesses. If the pricing of your chosen art piece meets comparative and competitive pricing, you can feel comfortable in the evaluation of an item with intangible values and qualities, compared to other purchases. If the pricing does not meet these criteria, the purchase may require more thought.

Our last important tip for the novice Canadian art collector is to develop a relationship with a respected art dealer/gallerist, or a few gallerists/dealers, as they can provide a wealth of knowledge to the collector. This guidance and support can shorten the time of a steep learning curve in the art world. Respected and experienced dealers may have twenty, thirty or forty years of handling art and knowledge of artists’ careers. They have seen artists come and go, trends, shifts, stability and change in the art market. Collecting art can be a tremendous lifelong passion and a great source of enjoyment if you start collecting art with the right tools and mentors.

If you are interested in collecting Canadian art visit us at, contact us, or call us directly at 416-893-5784 with your inquiries.