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Tips for collectors of fine art




With the Arts Council of Big Sky’s Auction for the Arts fast approaching and the Big Sky Art Auction this July, Explore Big Sky consulted with Curtis Tierney of Tierney Fine Art in Bozeman to offer guidance for the aspiring and seasoned art collector on how to build a quality art collection.

As a private art dealer specializing in 19th and 20th century American, Western and Sporting art, Tierney spends much of his time helping collectors locate and acquire sought-after works of art. When beginner collectors ask for assistance on the art of collecting, Tierney offers the following tips.

Educate yourself – Before your first purchase, acquire knowledge. Visit museums, galleries and attend art exhibitions and auctions. Read everything you can, including art magazines, catalogues and articles on collecting. Talk to artists and other collectors, and develop relationships with local gallerists and art professionals. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Immerse yourself in the fine art world by looking at as much artwork as possible. The more art you observe, the more knowledgeable you become about your own tastes, which aids in identifying the art and artists you truly love.

Develop a focus – The art market can be overwhelming, with tens of thousands of artists and innumerable forms of expression. As you gain knowledge, you will find a collecting focus—a style, genre and/or specific mediums and subjects you most enjoy. For example, you will quickly discover whether you prefer representational, contemporary or abstract art. Narrowing your field of focus enables you to develop an expertise that, over time, will help refine and enhance your collection.

Buy quality – Quality defines “good art,” meaning that it follows principles of color theory and value, composition, drawing, use of light and shadow, texture and harmony. Buy original works of art by experienced, highly regarded artists. My number one piece of advice is to identify these artists and buy a standout example of his or her artwork.

The purchase decision – Ask yourself these questions to determine it’s a “winner”:

Does the piece make your heart sing? Just like your first love, artwork should make your heart race and evoke an emotional response.

Does the piece represent a fair value? To get a reasonable price one needs to understand market value. Do your homework—research the price points of other artists with similar experience.

Does the piece fit into, align with, complement, your collecting focus?

If you’re considering a period work of art, you also have to educate yourself about the condition of the piece.

Follow these basic tenets:

Develop knowledge, define your focus, understand and select quality, and carefully weigh every potential purchase. If you do so, you will build a collection of aesthetic merit.

Collecting artwork is one of the most gratifying and enjoyable pursuits in life. If you choose wisely, your paintings will be a never ending source of pleasure.

Curtis Tierney served as the lead juror for the Auction for the Arts silent auction, a key element of the Arts Council of Big Sky’s fundraising event on March 22 at Moonlight Lodge. Visit for tickets and more information.

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