09/04/2012 03:30 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Develop Your Eye

It's in you. That feeling you get when you see a work of art that hits you like a beam of light? That's it. Pay attention to it.

When I meet people and they learn I am an art dealer, they are often fascinated by the notion of collecting art. There is so much that's intangible and wonderful about collecting art that I'm hesitant to attempt to demystify the process, but I will say that its fundamentals are simple: Develop your eye, and love what you buy. This post will discuss the former, most crucial first step to collecting: noticing emotional connections to the visual (and tactile) world around us.


Walker-Cunningham Fine Art, Boston. Featured artist: Dora Atwater Millikin.

Developing your eye is a fluid process. We all know that tastes change over time. When I was a child I had a strong distaste for the color orange. I know. What kid doesn't love the color orange? But here I am, over 30 years hence, with a wall in my kitchen painted Benjamin Moore rust, and with a love for the entire orange spectrum, from neon to burnt. Like all things that benefit from the honing of time, developing your eye (for art or anything else) and getting to know what you love takes getting out there and looking around.

It's really a function of paying attention to what elicits an emotion in you. Connecting with art begins with the visceral, automatic response we feel when really looking. The art that hews our eye is the art that moves us.

Before we know anything about an artist or delve into historical significance or the art market, and miles before we purchase the first item for our collection, we see the art, and the art shapes our eye. Before we see the art, we see the world around us.

Allow yourself to really experience the moment of viewing art. Spend time engaging your eye in all sorts of different realms. Visit museums and galleries, sure, but also let it happen in your everyday encounters; on walks and drives, take a closer look at the public installations you usually pass without a second glance. See art in your cities and parks in sculpture and landscape design; along the highway in a high-contrast billboard or in the curve of a stone wall running along a country road; in the mad crush of RVs at the beachside trailer park in July or the vacant space they leave behind after Labor Day.

Pattern, light, color, subject, materials, and of course the artist's hand and intention all come together to make a work of art. It's our emotional connection to these factors that make up our response to the piece and thus its impact on our developing eye.