A Keen Eye

Want to buy original art for your whare but don’t know where to start? This beginner’s guide is all about how to find out what you like, where you can look and who can help you.

Want to buy original art for your whare but don’t know where to start? This beginner’s guide is all about how to find out what you like, where
you can look and who can help you.

If you’re like me, it’s highly likely that you follow countless interior designers and stylish influencers
on Instagram. You’ve probably also got a Pinterest board bursting with visual inspiration, from covetable furniture and quirky objects to beautiful works of art.

When looking at these perfectly styled homes, one thing I’ve noticed is that it’s the artworks deftly placed on walls or shelves that complete the picture. It’s also the art that makes one neutral-toned bouclé fabric-filled space stand out from the rest.

Choosing and buying art, especially original fine art, can be difficult. How do you start? How do you get to know what style of art resonates with you? Once you’ve figured that out, where do you find the perfect piece? How do you know if you’re buying an original? Not only are you faced with all of these valid questions, but the art world can also feel intimidating and exclusive. But it doesn’t have to be.

From paintings to sculpture, no matter your personal style, budget or knowledge, here are some tips to get you started on the art collecting path.

Train your eye

Before diving in, especially before spending money, it’s worth taking the time to learn the ins and
outs — as they say, knowledge is power.

Pop-Pocalypse by Dream Girls Art Collective lit up the Tauranga Art Gallery atrium earlier this year.

Visit galleries Yes, art galleries can come across as exclusive places, but I promise once you walk in, pick up a pamphlet and let your senses guide you, any concern about feeling like the odd one out will vanish. We learn to recognise shapes and colours before we talk, so just go with it, see what you’re drawn to. The Tauranga Art Gallery is a good place to start in the Bay.

Explore databases Public institutional galleries have amazing databases of their collections freely available online. From Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Tauranga Art Gallery, and even London’s Tate Modern, you’ll discover and learn so much just by noodling around. If you’re keen to find pieces you can buy, not just look at, artfull.co.nz has more than 60 Aotearoa New Zealand artists to discover, and many artists also have Instagram accounts.

Check out art schools The shows, end of year exhibitions and artist-run spaces are where you’ll discover the most innovative work and future art stars. Be warned, sometimes these shows can
leave you perplexed. But if you find yourself thinking, ‘Is this really art?’ that’s ok!

For young artists, art school is as much about experimentation and pushing the boundaries of expectations as it is about creating something aesthetically and visually pleasing. If you read
the intro text and have a truly open mind, you’ll probably figure out what the artist is trying to communicate. If it gels with some of your own ideas, chances are you should follow and support
that young artist.

Dig deeper online If you’ve found an artist whose work really resonates with you, go deeper. Find
out what style their art practice might be and do a bit of Googling to learn more about that style. You’ll find other artists, both locally and internationally, who work in a similar way or are exploring
the same themes. All of this will help deepen your appreciation for the style.

Start local, start small When you feel you’re ready to buy an original piece, start with an artist
from your local area or from an area you’re connected to. There’s something special about having
a connection with a piece that goes beyond just visual aesthetics; it also means you’ll cherish it always, even if interior style trends change.

Doing all this visual discovery will help develop your eye and figure out what you like, love or loathe. Of course you won’t love everything — figuring out what you don’t like is just as important as uncovering what you do.

Don’t be put off if you don’t ‘understand’ what an artwork is supposed to mean. Art is very personal and subjective. Justin Paton’s book How to Look at a Painting is an excellent read for beginners and aficionados keen to train their eye, but remember, what you like and what an artwork communicates to you is really all that matters.

Green Banana, Avondale by Tim D, 2021 (on artfull.co.nz)

Interiors & styling

Many of us want our home to reflect who we are — from bright and bold and out the gate, to cool, calm and collected. Art is one of the best ways to achieve this. And, better yet, art is not about trends. Absolutely, it’s visual and aesthetic, but it’s also about the intention behind the work, which you’ll be
all over if you’ve gone down the gallery and Google route.

Avoid Instagram trends The beauty of original art is that it’s been created by an artist who was inspired or moved by something far greater than the latest trend (which change in the blink of an eye). That’s what makes original art so enduring and worth investing in.

Price isn’t everything The quality of a piece isn’t necessarily reflected in the price. Unlike with some furniture and fabric you might choose for your home, investing in art doesn’t have to mean spending thousands of dollars. Artfull.co.nz has original works from $100 all the way up to $50,000.

Don’t buy art to match the curtains If you like it, then it will align with your existing interior. Don’t
feel that you must buy artworks that fit in with your living room or bedroom colour scheme. If you
love the piece, even if it’s the ‘wrong’ colour, or a little quirkier than the rest of your home, that’s ok
— in fact, it’s a good thing. Original art is supposed to add texture, visual interest and moments
of surprise and delight. It’s not supposed to blend in… unless you really love the minimalist aesthetic. It’s a reflection of you, after all.

The Flamingo Dismantles the Snowfield by Sam Walker, 2020 (on artfull.co.nz)

Want to get serious?

If you’ve figured out where your tastes and interests lie, and you’re gaining confidence in your visual eye, you might begin to think about investment pieces.

Dealer galleries Growing your collection and investing more significant amounts of money into art
is where having a relationship with dealer gallerists or an art consultant comes into its own. Gallerists are not just sellers of art, they are often mentors to their artists and work with them to grow the artists career from when they leave art school to becoming the next Colin McCahon or Liz Maw.

Go to the monthly dealer gallery show openings. You don’t have to be in the market to buy — you won’t love the work at every show in any case. Think of it more as an opportunity to grow your own sense of taste and connect with like-minded art lovers.

Art consultants Consultants are invaluable resources that often have relationships with dealers
in most major cities and can share their knowledge about emerging and established artists. They’ll work with you to find pieces you like, and really good ones will also arrange hanging the piece and even advise on insurance.

Newsletters Sign up to email newsletters from local and international art platforms that you discovered when you were researching online. Great places to start are Art Forum, Artsy, and
Art Basel (all international), and locally there’s Artfull, ArtNow, and Art News New Zealand. You’ll
be the first to know about new shows, must-see events, artists on the rise, as well as developing
an understanding of what’s going on internationally in contrast to here at home.

Join the gallery You can become a member of the Tauranga Art Gallery from just $30 a year. Regional institutional galleries are the beating heart of Aotearoa’s visual culture — they’re where creativity and experimentation get a chance to shine. They rely on you as much as local and national government funding to keep their doors open, lights on, and to offer an incredible programme of shows, community arts engagement and children’s activities.

Art and art collecting should be fun. Sure, some art can be serious and evoke deep reflection or communicate strong ideas or controversial issues, but even then, the experience of the artwork should leave you feeling like you’ve gained something.  

Art is, for both the artist and the collector, a journey of discovery. It’s about venturing into uncharted or even uncomfortable territory. The art you decide to hang on the wall or place on a shelf at home should say something about you or mean something to you. Just remember, when it comes to art, there’s no right or wrong.

Opener: Dairy Kids, Avondale by Tim D, 2022 (on artfull.co.nz).
Words by Jessica Agoston Cleary, an art historian, art consultant and co-founder of Artfull