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The Art of Collecting: A Virgin's Guide

At the last count London plays host to around 25 major art fairs each year, the very thought of which is enough to make even the hardiest art-lover want to lie down or have a stiff drink.

At the last count London plays host to around 25 major art fairs each year, the very thought of which is enough to make even the hardiest art-lover want to lie down or have a stiff drink. If however you're looking to buy your very first work of art, imagining hoards of maniac collectors barging their way through over-lit and over-heated tents in a nightmarish version of Supermarket Sweep, you might well want to avoid the entire circus like the plague. That said, if Frieze is your idea of hell, there's one art fair whose mission it is to make buying art fun, and with everything on sale under £4,000 The Affordable Art Fair in Battersea Park is a popular choice for down-to-earth types. Ahead of this week's opening (15-18 March) Love Art London shares a few tips for any virgin art collectors.

Compare the Meerkat!

With so many galleries vying for your attention, the art world now offers more choice than ever. And whether your budget is £40 or £4,000 there really is something for everyone. With so much choice you're in a very strong position to shop around so take your time. Top tip: bring a note book and a pen.


If you're a first timer, buying an editioned artwork, be it a print or a sculpture, can offer a very affordable entry point. Always enquire as to the size of an edition as sometimes this information is not explicit. As a general rule of thumb, the smaller the edition the better.

Trust Your Gut

You don't need to be Jamie Oliver to know that when you see food that looks good, the chances are it tastes good. By the same token you don't need to be Charles Saatchi to spot a great work of art. If a piece of art speaks to you there are probably a number of reasons why, so try and explore them. Perhaps it's the execution, the technique, the medium, the subject or the message that strikes a chord. In some instances you may not know why you're drawn to a particular work and in my experience this element of mystery has lead to some of my favourite acquisitions. Like any leap of faith, acting upon your instinct takes courage, so be brave!

Impulse & Instinct

Don't confuse the two. Impulsive decisions are based on superficial information and can come back to bite you. Instinct on the other hand is the nagging feeling you have deep down that tells you if something is a good idea or a bad idea. Take your time and trust your instincts - more often than not they're right.

Love First, Investment Second

Focusing entirely on investment potential can be exhausting and bleed the passion from your collecting experience. When you splash out on a new pair of limited edition Christian Louboutins you don't give a hoot that their value depreciates as soon as they're out of the box. The reason you buy them is because you can't bear to leave them in the shop. That said, when in twenty years time you discover your killer heels are highly collectable and worth ten times the price you paid, you'll probably jump for joy. Buying art should be a fun, emotionally rewarding and fascinating journey. So if you fancy a flutter perhaps stick to scratch cards.

Talk, Talk, Talk

Galleries love talking to new people about their artists, if they don't then something's up! And like anything in life it's easy to spot someone speaking from the heart and someone trying to make a quick buck. Finding out as much as you can about an artist is crucial, but don't just read the jargon-saturated press release, speak to a human being. Any gallerist worth their salt will be able to tell you lots of interesting personal stuff about the artist's life and practice, where they work, if they've won awards or prizes, where they studied, what they're currently working on and what they had for breakfast. Also, don't be afraid to ask for advice on framing, delivery and installation too, galleries are there to help. Remember you're the customer so ask as many questions as you like!

The Horse's Mouth

Often by the time you're standing in front of an artwork it's been exposed to several layers of interpretation (via curators, critics and gallerists) so talking to the artist directly will give you a unique insight into their work. A gallery is unlikely to invite you to tea with the artist on first meeting but they may know of a forthcoming opportunity to hear them speak about their work - and there's nothing quite like hearing a story straight from the horse's mouth. Making these personal connections is one of the most rewarding parts of building a collection.

Join Love Art London

Love Art London will be running a series of eye-opening 'egg-timer' tours (every day at 12:30pm) that provide an informal introduction to 10 galleries in 1 hour. Each gallery has just 5 minutes to inspire you with interesting factoids - with one eye on the egg timer there's no time for them to waffle, making this a fun and highly informative whistle-stop tour. Plus, Love Art London is offering a 20% discount on membership at The Affordable Art Fair so if you want to learn about art all year round, become a member.