If you are a collector easing into the art world, you may have realised this community speaks its own language. Outside of art history terms one can learn in a classroom, there is a particular art jargon separating this industry from other markets. The 2012 Triple Canopy article on International Art English written by Alix Rule and David Levine started recognising the unnecessary complications that come with speaking in this unique culture and has been parodied by many articles and websites like the Instant Art Critique Phrase Generator. This article will take you through some basic terminology that can make art collecting more beginner friendly and seeks to break down the barriers of understanding the business.

Auction Exhibitions

These exhibitions are often open to the public and are great opportunities for a wider audience to experience art that has been hidden away in private collections for years, decades, or even centuries. Many people do not realise these are open to the public, as they are mainly created for advisors and collectors. In addition, for burgeoning collectors these can serve as excellent opportunities to gauge the market on their favorite artists or artworks. Auction exhibitions hosted by auction houses give galleries, collectors, and museums a chance to check out the artworks and their estimated value at auction before the event.

Art Consultant/ Art Advisor

Want to start your collection but make sure you’re getting the right artists and artworks? Go to an art consultant who will point you in the right direction. The best will tell you which artists are wise investments and will help you curate a coherent collection. In addition to the artworks, the art consultant can aide in creating a relationship between the collector and the artist which is ideal in understanding the artist and their works.

Paul Kneale in collector Ilaria Touegs home Marie Claire Maison

Appreciation (Financial)

Focusing more on the financial side of art rather than the aesthetic appeal, this term is important in maximising your investment in an artist or artwork. While this should definitely not be the deciding factor in purchasing your art, it is worth considering how well the artist is going to grow and become important to the public as well as add value to your collection. If you are wondering how prices for artworks are decided, we suggest reading Talking Prices: Symbolic Meanings of Prices on the Market for Contemporary Art (Princeton Studies in Cultural Sociology) by Olav Valthuis, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art by Don Thompson, or the Art Basel Art Market Report which takes the temperature of the market.

Catalogue Raisonné

This is a full catalogue of all known works by an artist, complete with comprehensive annotations and explanations for each painting, photograph, or sculpture. This will include everything from current location to the actual dimensions of the work. This is a critical tool because not only is it an affirmation of the artwork’s authenticity, but the painstaking research put into this catalogue should be read by any collector looking into purchasing an artist’s work.

Rebecca Salter presents Untitled design (13) on ARTUNER


This stands for a Certificate of Authenticity and is an important document that ensures the artwork you are purchasing is original and has been obtained through legitimate means. This is necessary both for selling or lending a work and when adding it to your collection. A certificate should contain the name of the artwork, the dimension, the medium of the work, the artist’s handwritten signature, and what edition the work is if this applies to the artwork.


A conservator’s job is maintaining the quality of the artwork. While everyone hopes to never need a conservator, life happens. Finding a quality conservator is key, so look for professional associations lists or guilds such as The British Association of Paintings Conservator-Restorers: professionals who are certified by an association usually need to abide by higher standards than those who are not. While conservators and restorers are slightly different professions, both aim to protect paintings from human error and are crucial in the art world for neglected, harmed, or older artworks.


The Tate defines a curator as someone who is, ‘employed by a museum or gallery to manage a collection of artworks or artefacts.’ These art professionals arguably are the second most important figures in the art world behind the artists because not only are they the arbiter elegantiae of quality and import, but also serve as a necessary mediator between the artist and the viewer. Curators ensure the artist’s message is not lost in translation as well as tie together artists and themes that transcend time and location. They are also excellent ambassadors of the institutions or exhibitions they work for and often play a crucial role in securing sponsorships and funding for projects.


Initial Bid (IB)

An initial bid is typically reserved for more seasoned collectors. The initial bid ensures that a painting will sell for at least that amount. A collector is promised the painting if nobody bids higher during an auction, or a percentage of the sale fee if someone does outbid the original offer. This way, the artwork has a set worth and the collector benefits either way for certifying the worth.

IAE (International Art English)

This was the first formal recognition that the art world has a unique language meant to distinguish the novices from the veterans. The IAE established these language rules as a guidebook for entering this culture which can have a very negative impact as the language encourages fanciful but meaningless words and risks curbing the growth of the community. Art professionals and beginners alike can be intimidated by the IAE, but hopefully this article will ease some of the burden, introducing you to some common art jargon terms. Although outward appearance is appreciated in the art world, the substance is far more important, so be wary when you recognise someone speaking in IAE… make sure they actually know what they’re talking about.


A generous act a collector can do is to lend out artworks to museums and galleries who are curating exhibits that include works they own. Lending is vital in helping the artist gain recognition and allows for a better, more comprehensive view on the artist’s work as a whole. Participating in this time honored tradition is also beneficial to you, the collector. Lending the works you own help gain notoriety and will aid in their’ appreciation.

Loan Agreement

If you have agreed to lend parts of your collection or entire collection to a museum or gallery, this is the key to maintaining the wellbeing of the artworks you own. This may include a loan fee and the amount of time you are lending your work for. The borrowing institution should also be including nail to nail insurance.

Buyer’s Premium

An Artspace article written by Andrew M. Goldstein defines a Buyer’s Premium as, ‘the surcharge that the auction house adds to the price of any sale, usually between 10 and [25] percent of the hammer price, depending on the house and the price point of the work being sold. Auction reports most frequently cite the total prices, including the buyer’s premium, and auction records include them as well.’ This is important to understand in order to avoid bad surprises upon getting your post-auction invoice. Buyer’s Premium rates are clearly stated on the websites of reputable auction houses, so make sure you double check.