Art Collector’s Guide – Everything You Need to Know

Art collectors are living life the right way, and owned art brings a lot of joy to its surroundings.

You’ve probably heard about some of the outrageous prices for famous works of art sold recently such as Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi or the extreme volatility in the NFT market. You don’t have to be ultra-wealthy or get involved with crypto to be an art collector, however.

You don’t even have to subscribe to an art magazine. In this Art Collector’s Guide, we’ll give you the info you need to get started or manage your collection, whether you want to collect contemporary art, family heirlooms, pieces from antiquity, or any other style.

Salvator Mundi
Salvator Mundi – Leonardo da Vinci

Let’s Start with This – Who Is an Art Collector?

Child with Painting

Art collectors get started in different ways. Some collectors are lucky enough to have parents who decorated their childhood rooms with original works of art or inherit pieces of art from loved ones. Others stumble across an artist or a piece of art they can’t live without and a passion for collecting original works of art begins.

As opposed to museums or other institutional owners of art collections (see the Britannica definition), art collectors are individuals who may generate substantial fame from the quality of their art holdings. Charles Saatchi, Eli & Edyth Broad, Steven Cohen, and Bernard Arnault have some of the most highly valued collections globally. You’ll also find many titans of business and celebrities collecting art these days who might not make any top-10 lists yet. Interestingly, when a famous art collector holds a work of art, the value of that particular piece and others by that artist often go up.

But it’s not just the wealthy that are collecting art. With more and more people working from home due to Covid-19 and wanting to invest in their home offices, some art collectors get started out of a simple desire to decorate a space. Art collecting popularity among the middle-class is beginning to take off, and you’ll find vibrant collections of art focused on artists of local renown in metropolitan areas globally now. All art collectors need to learn how to take care of their collection both physically and from an administrative standpoint. Luckily, new tools for art collecting are becoming available in the cloud.

What all art collectors have in common is the joy that original works of art bring them. At home, in the office, shared with the public, and in other settings, art collectors share amazing creativity with the lucky people in their orbits.

You can find more details in our Who Is an Art Collector? article.

What Does an Art Collector Do?

For an art collection of unknown artists, there’s probably less pressure to make works available to the public periodically, but art collecting is a lot more than just owning art.

First, art collectors typically have defined types of art and artists they prefer. They seek ways to be made aware when works of art they want become available for purchase.

For owned works of art, keeping an inventory is a great idea and makes tasks such as insurance, estate management, and loan management simpler. Using art collection management software is a great way to keep an art collection organized. For each record, it’s important to capture the story of the piece, save a bill of sale or other proof of purchase if possible, and be sure to know where the piece is at all times.

The physical maintenance of works of art is a big task as well. At a certain point, a collection grows beyond a private art collector’s wall space. Whether on display or in storage, ensuring that art is safe from humidity, excess light, pests and other threats to its integrity is an important consideration as well.

When an art collector holds works of public interest, responding to inquiries and managing loans to museums and others who wish to show the piece becomes a part of the art collector’s job as well.

For many art collectors, the biggest thrill is the chase. Hunting and purchasing new works of art to add to a collection can be a little bit of detective work, a little bit of luck, and a whole lot of fun.

You can find more details in our “What Does an Art Collector Do?” article.

Art Gallery

How Do You Become an Art Collector?

The beauty of art collecting is anyone can become an art collector. ETChster member and artist Nathan Sharratt believes the biggest reason that more people don’t become art collectors is they feel like they can’t trust their own judgment: “You don’t need someone to tell you what to like. Collecting art is about buying art that you enjoy.”

Global Map of Public Etchings

So where to begin…Start browsing. You’ll find a global community of artists creating digital records we call “Etchings” on ETChster. Many of them drop map pins showing where they have artwork on public display. Head out into your community and take a look. Remember, it’s about finding pieces that you enjoy, not what interests someone else.

For a beginning art collector, purchase pieces that will make your surroundings more pleasant. Consider your art budget as part of your overall budget for creating an office, living room, dining room, etc. that you will enjoy spending many hours in. It’s that simple.

You’ll want to do a little bit of study about how to take care of art on display and how best to move it without damaging it in the case you move homes, but those tasks are relatively straightforward once you know what you’re doing.

As you start to develop a particular taste for an artist, genre, or art originating from a certain location, there are many ways you can set yourself to know when a piece you might want becomes available. Living artists may also be in the ETChster community, and you can follow their profile. You may find galleries that show art that is of interest to you.

If you start viewing your art collection from the lens of an investment like you would a stock portfolio, then your approach will be different. You may want to get on many gallerists’ lists, engage with art advisors or buyers, network with other collectors, attend art shows, etc.

You can find more details in our How to become an art collector? article.

Is an Art Collector a Job?

For the huge majority of art collectors, collecting art is more of a hobby than a job. However, in much the same way that there are many stocks, real estate, and other types of investors who don’t consider that activity to be their job, there are plenty of art collectors who have invested in an appreciating collection of fine art.

So let’s say there are pure hobbyists and non-full-time investors who wouldn’t consider their job title to be “art collector,” who does that leave?

Professional art collectors would be those who put substantial resources and receive substantial compensation from the purchase and then sale at an appreciated price. These are the people that employ whole teams to care for their art and have developed relationships with the auction houses, art dealers, art critics, museums, artists, and other collectors.

Thinking about some of the famous collectors we mentioned above, Charles Saatchi would probably consider it his job. He isn’t known for being a titan of industry or generating his fortune outside of the art world. Someone like David Geffen probably doesn’t consider being an art collector as his job. He founded multiple record labels and Dreamworks Animations.

Historically, the situation is similar. Peggy Guggenheim spent her entire career collecting art, whereas her uncle Solomon was very successful as the founder of multiple businesses. A similarly fortunate set of circumstances allowed Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, a sculptor herself, to focus on collecting and showing American artists. In 1931, she opened the Whitney Museum of American Art. Being the granddaughter of railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt probably didn’t hurt in getting the project off the ground in New York City.

You can find more details in our “Is an Art Collector a Job?” article.

What Do Art Collectors Collect?

Of the five historical classes of fine art, painting and sculptures are the focus for most art collectors while we’ll talk about digital art collecting in the context of NFTs. Government entities such as cities and municipalities don’t typically purchase digital art to hold but do manage public art such as Macon’s Otis Redding Sculpture, which has a physical NFT held by the Macon Arts Alliance.

In general, we’re talking about works produced for aesthetic versus utilitarian reasons. Some consider commissioned works to be outside of the definition of fine art, but they are certainly just as collectible. Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” was commissioned, for example.

You’ll also find plenty of art collectors focused on photography, a more recent art form. Ansel Adams is a great example of a photographer who is listed along with other famous contemporary artists in conversations about who owns what notable works.

When considering paintings versus sculptures, it’s easy to understand why many art collectors have more paintings than sculptures.

In the first place, there are significantly more paintings. An artist’s investment in materials for a single painting is dwarfed by the cost of producing a sizable sculpture.

When thinking about collectors and where and how works are stored and displayed, paintings take up less space and are simpler to move. Setting aside huge paintings like Picasso’s “Guernica,” a substantial portion of collectible paintings could be on the wall at any art collector’s home. Not so for sculptures, which potentially displace furniture, and for large pieces, may require engineering to install and support them.

When characterizing a particular art collector’s holdings, you’ll typically hear descriptions that center around:

  • Particular Artists – Picasso, Monet, Koons, etc.
  • Movements – French Impression, Surrealism, Dada, etc.
  • Subject Matter – Landscapes, Self-Portraits, etc.

For middle-class art collectors, you’ll almost always be talking about collections of paintings and photographs simply because the resources required for extra real estate to store and show sculptures are not available. Whereas the collections of wealthier patrons may have a more international slant, middle-class collections often center around the local art community.

For more valuable collections, sculptures begin to become a larger percentage, in part, because collectors can “borrow” showing and storage resources from museums and galleries.

You can find more details in our What do art collectors collect? article.

What Is an NFT Art Collection?

A bit of a misnomer, the popular press and more specifically reporters who historically have covered cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum have created a lot of confusion by not adequately educating the public on what an NFT actually is.

NFT marketplaces present the phenomena as if you actually own a Bored Ape, Cryptopunk, or work by Beeple, and thus have the same rights as you would if you own something else with established governmental rights of ownership, scarcity, etc.

An NFT is a digital record that references its current owner in much the same way a video game lets players know who owns what virtual resources within the game. That same record also has a URL that points to a URL somewhere on the internet.

To be clear, an NFT is a digital record, not a piece of art nor a format of art. The “collected” art is of various digital formats that have existed for decades: JPGs, PNGs, MP4s, etc.

The art is within the referenced digital file elsewhere. It’s not inside the NFT. While the NFT cannot be copied infinite times and placed anywhere on the internet, the referenced art can be. So questions arise about the value of art with no true scarcity. Could 10,000 more Bored Apes be made available next week? Absolutely.

In theory, an NFT art collection has value in the same way that a physical art collection does. There are certainly speculators who made money in 2021 by minting or purchasing and reselling NFTs, but did they actually own the .jpg that their NFT pointed at. Perhaps not…

We’ve detailed many of the known problems with NFTs in their present state and explained why physical NFTs are superior to crypto non-fungible tokens..

What we can say definitively about NFT art collections is that comprise digital records on a blockchain that say the collector (more specifically, digital wallet) has the right to control them, and those records have URLs that at least at the time of creation, pointed at a digital work of art.

Setting aside the crypto transactions and speculation in values, the question is do NFT collectors gain anything beyond bragging rights over a Pinterest user who puts exactly the same JPGs on a Pinterest board?

You can find more details in our What is an NFT art collection? article.


We’re glad you’re exploring what it means to be an art collector. Owning art is a fantastic way to add joy to your life and surroundings.

At ETChster, we’ve built a platform used by both artists and art collectors globally to make it simpler to find, purchase, and manage original art through our art collection management software with proof of provenance.

We encourage you to explore the topics covered above in more detail, start developing your art collecting style, and start cataloging your existing collection.

We’re always expanding our resources for art collectors, so if you have a question you would like us to cover, don’t hesitate to ask. You’ll find new articles weekly.

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