Building an art collection: follow your instinct, says leading critic

David Whiting knows a thing or two about art… as a regular contributor to specialist journals and newspapers, a member of the International Association of Art Critics and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, he has spent his life interpreting art and guiding others.

modern british potters and their studios jay goldmark

David’s knowledge of the art world is undisputed. He has written numerous publications, and organised and curated art exhibitions and lectures in both visual and literary disciplines.

But his advice to those just starting out collecting art is very simple.

‘Collect what you like, that is the first rule,’ he says. ‘Trust your own instincts, and not what you feel you should like, or what is fashionable.’

David shared his views with ART BLOG just ahead of the RBSA’s inaugural Charity Auction, which takes place on November 2.

The auction features work generously donated by nationally and internationally-acclaimed artists, sculptors, ceramicists and potters.

‘All the art being auctioned here is of the highest standard,’ David observes,  ‘and all will be an investment.

‘But whether you are drawn to the abstract or the figurative, to urban themes or rural landscapes, liking and wanting a piece of art should be a gut instinct, from the pit of your stomach, and should not be something purely governed by the brain.’

There’s a special excitement to an art auction, one that goes beyond investment potential, and David is keen to communicate the excitement to be had in viewing a work for the first time and making that connection so vital to building a collection.

That initial feeling may well lead to a lifetime’s interest in a particular artist, and the joy of exploring the art world further.

‘That buzz of excitement can be quite a visceral experience, as many collectors will tell you. The wonderful thing about acquiring an art work is that it can give the impetus to buy more, to purchase groups by the same artist, or make you keen to look further.’

Collecting art doesn’t have to break the bank either, David believes. Most collectors start small, and those new to the scene may prefer not to splash out at first.

Mathe Shepheard, 'Rainstorm over Brigsteer Estuary'
Mathé Shepheard, ‘Rainstorm over Brigsteer Estuary’

‘You can buy for quite modest prices, particularly if you have a taste for prints, which will be produced in signed limited editions, and make a comparatively small hole in your wallet.’

Most of all, David advises the would-be or new collector to enjoy the process of buying art, and not to overthink things. Art, he says, is about personal joy:

‘I think the key factor is not to have any fear. You don’t have to be trained to buy, to have any special qualifications, to go on any ‘art for investment’ courses.

‘Work that gives you personal joy is just that, personal, and nothing else should dictate your motivation.’

Living with art is, in itself, an enriching experience, and David sees owning original art as adding to your home in ways that will bring pleasure in years to come…

Robert Perry, 'Great Stickle, Dunnerdale Fells'
Robert Perry, ‘Great Stickle, Dunnerdale Fells’

‘Once in the home, you will love the way your purchase adds character to a room, and you can move it around too over the months and years, seeing how it enriches different spaces and gives them life.

‘You may be satisfied with one treasured object, or want to see how other works purchased later will complement it.

‘Art can be spaced out in a contemplative way, or jostle for position on a crowded wall or surface. Both are good, but again how you do this is very personal. But either will give you so much pleasure, an art gallery to enjoy without leaving home!’

Jasmina Ajzenkol, 'Marine Collection 23'
Jasmina Ajzenkol, ‘Marine Collection 23’

The RBSA believes in affordable art, and art for everyone. Every collector starts somewhere, and so estimates at our first charity auction are very reasonable.

  • A fully illustrated catalogue is available online as a downloadable pdf
  • Bidders are invited to browse the catalogue and shortlist works of interest
  • All donated works can be viewed on arrival at the venue
  • After registering, guests will be given a numbered paddle to hold up when bidding
  • The event starts with welcome drinks at 6.30pm
  • The auction itself runs from 7.30pm to approximately 8.30pm
  • Bidding will take place at the auction and is open to ticket holders only
  • Payment can be taken at the end of the evening
  • A 50% deposit can be placed if works are to be collected from the RBSA Gallery

About our Charity Auction

Our first ever charity auction takes place on November 2, and will be run by Bonhams and hosted by Deutsche Bank at their prestigious Brindleyplace offices.

Tickets are £10 with income from ticket sales going to Autistica, Deutsche Bank’s Charity of the Year. All auction proceeds will go to the RBSA: artists have generously donated works to raise funds for the visual arts charity which is one of the oldest Royal Societies in the UK.

Autistica, which both funds and campaigns for medical research to understand the causes of autism, develop new treatments and to ensure that everyone with autism has the chance of a longer, healthier and happier life and include a link to Autistica’s website.

To purchase a ticket:

To keep up with all the latest news from the RBSA, join our mailing list.

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