1.

First Commandment. Collect what YOU really enjoy. Something that gives you continuous pleasure. A point worth repeating. Do not collect to please others. You are unique. What you collect is an extension of YOUR interests and personality. It can be a joyful, guilt-free, selfish act.

 

2.

Grazing. To browse is to collect. Be continually on the qui vive. Seek and ye shall find. Energy, mobility and curiosity are the essential elements of collecting. Not money.

 

3.

Eyeballing. Making comparative judgments is the logical process by which selectivity is determined. It is the very essence of connoisseurship and tastemaking—for all the senses.

 

4.

Information. Nurture your natural curiosity by reading, researching, and looking. Books, newspapers, magazines, and now the Internet, that electronic jungle drum, are essential in becoming an informed collector. Maintain your personal vade mecum, a handbook for ready reference.

 

5.

Networking. Talk with those sharing your interest: collectors, dealers and curators. Consider joining associations, organizations and travel groups which share your same interest. "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." Hebrews 13:2.

 

6.

Action. You must buy something. Otherwise, it's all academic. You may talk a good game (blatherskite: a person who noisily spouts foolish talk), but eventually, action must follow the words.

 

7.

Dollars and Sense. Collect within your means. Otherwise, it becomes an exercise in frustration. But, be prepared to reach. Don't be "penny wise and pound foolish." The tales about what "I coulda had," or the "ones-that-got-away" are endless.

 

8.

Diversity. If there isn't a wide variety (visually and aesthetically) of materials within the object type you're collecting, it can become rather dull going in short order. Remember, size is no measure of quality.

 

9.

Availability. Is there a sufficient number of materials available to make your collection worthwhile and interesting? Is your pursuit realistic given the number of works available in the current market? Get a good sense of the overall market, where you're likely to do your buying, and what may be available in the next several years.

 

10.

Care and Feeding. What and how much will be required from you, especially with metalwork and paperworks? Does the climate you live in have any bearing on the media you want to collect? Should you have climate-control?

 

11.

Condition. To the serious collector, condition is nearly all—what "location" is to real estate. Pass up works if condition is not excellent or better. If suspect, fuhgeddabowdit! Bear in mind, condition never, never improves with age. Be wary, however, of works that look "perfect in every part." Consider age and use as tell-tale signs of authenticity.

 

12.

Pleasure. Consider how best to enjoy what you're collecting. On a daily basis if possible. But, don't confuse collecting with decorating or home furnishing, where carefully appointed objets d'art are strategically placed about the home.

 

13.

Investing. While the two often go hand in hand, investing in art is not collecting. They frequently are at odds with one another, and, clearly remain two distinct objectives. Both pursuits are legitimate and fulfilling. Be honest with yourself. Do you find yourself talking more about value or aesthetics? Decide which route you've chosen then pursue it without compromise. Few are more resistible than the bargain hunter who must tell you how little was paid for a piece, or the purse-proud entrepreneur who boasts about how much was made in his investment. You can always rationalize that funds expended will be returned one day, but "don't bank on it."

 

14.

Fakes and Forgeries. Beware of misrepresentation. As values increase in a given area so does the likelihood of deceit. Be wary of marks, stamps and signatures. They can always be added (and most assuredly are). Many is the story of acquisitions being made principally on the basis of marks rather than common sense. Do not let marks become the most important consideration. They are contributing factors, but nothing more, even if correct.

 

15.

Element of Surprise. Take the initiative. If you like a work, say so, whether to collector, dealer or curator. The leads resulting from a genuine expression of appreciation open endless possibilities. In our mobile society art works change hands at an ever accelerated pace. Give serendipity and discovery a chance.

 

16.

Quality. Assuming you're in the pursuit of artistic quality, aspire to the highest possible. Wrestling with issues of good, better, best will carry over into other interests at home and office. Don't be typecast. Collect what intrigues you, assuming it has some redeeming aesthetic quotient.

 

17.

Focus. Concentrate on a specific area or point of view. Collect in depth, not in breadth. Accumulating is not collecting (oniomania: a mania for buying things). Refinement is a key component of connoisseurship. Resist the temptation to wander off course.

 

18.

Time. You must be prepared to invest time as well as funds and energy. But, it should not be grudging. It should be natural, automatic, if not compulsive, the spark that adds a welcome dimension to your life. If pursued in earnest, it will lead to other avenues unimagined.

 

19.

Deaccessioning. Be prepared to resell, exchange and trade up. Refining one's collection is part of the learning process. It will energize you and keep your collection viable.

 

20.

Provenance. For the serious collector, this is an important consideration (often overrated, however, in judging the aesthetics of a particular work). While it may provide a good story or increase value, it does not guarantee quality.

 

21.

Sources. Choose them wisely. If you acquire a work out of a trunk of a car on a dark and stormy night from an obvious sleeze-ball, expect the worse. Key questions are: can the work be returned or traded in? How reliable and professional is your source?

 

22.

Details. The essence of quality lies in details. Even if 95% of a work is outstanding, the remaining 5% can be a serious flaw that only grows worse over time. There is no minor detail. Cultivate a keen eye for detail.

 

23.

Technique and Execution. Invaluable components of quality, but they cannot override conception or originality.

 

24.

The Plan. Think about what you want to collect before you dive in. Impulse buying is fun, but having a long-range strategy will provide greater enjoyment over time (spannungsbogen: the self-imposed delay between the onset of desire and its eventual fulfillment). Don't become a whiffler, one who constantly changes course according to fashion.

 

25.

Clichés. The old adage still stands: it's better to have a great work by an unknown artist than an inferior work by a great artist.

 

 

David Ryan
Adjunct Curator of Design
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Illustrations by Katherine Slade