It is an important moment when you look at your walls one day and decide that , at last, you are going to hang there an original work of art, if you can find one you like and can afford.
When that moment comes, according to Ronald Feldman, a New York gallery owner , an exciting new creative world opens itself to that person who goes searching.
''People who buy a painting to match the sofa or the rug, or just because it is pretty, miss the point,'' he says. ''People who buy too quickly miss the point. Selecting a piece of art, at any price at all, can be a rich and growing experience if one makes it so.''
Mr. Feldman left his law practice 12 years ago because he found contemporary art far more exciting than the practice of law. His gallery was first located in the East 70s, and is now on Mercer Street in the downtown patchwork of SoHo, which he considers the new heart of the art market in New York.
His words of advice to the beginning art collector include the following points:
* Take the time to look leisurely. I think that movies, television, and photographic images have confused us about the nature of looking at anything. Seeing can't be accomplished in 10-second takes. I can assure you that before an artist paints an image he is thinking about it and looking at it mentally for a long time. In working with any medium, it takes the artist a long time to realize his concept. So the work is not intended to be perceived in a few seconds.
Try two minutes, then five minutes, then a half hour. Find something in the painting that interests you intensely and let that lead your eye to other things in it. Pretty soon you will begin to get into the picture, and you will begin a dialogue with it. When that happens you will be ''seeing'' and not just looking. Seeing is a cognitive process. It is a willingness to open up your mind and recognize what is there. Some people return many times to a gallery to imbibe a work of art before they eventually purchase it.
* Never allow yourself to feel inferior, even in the finest galleries. They are not sacrosanct but are there to serve people who love art. Engage the gallery owner in conversation. Consider him a resource of valuable information and guidance and ply him with questions. Meet the artist whose work you admire, if possible, and discuss his work with him. Listen with the inner ear, as well. Read anything he has written (or that has been written) about his career, his work, and the specific piece which interests you. Refer to what the critics have written about the artist and his work.
* Be quite frank about your budget. I love the young person who comes into my gallery and admits, ''I don't have much money to spend right now, but I am interested in finding out about contemporary art.'' I will drop everything and try to show him and help him. And I know that it saves embarrasssment for everyone if the potential buyer says at the outset that he has $500, or whatever , to spend. Then I do not show him the $10,000 numbers, but show him everything I have that is within his range.
* The most important clue that can be given to any beginner is that he is going to actually ''use'' his art work. By that I mean that, if he makes a wise choice and buys something he loves, it is going to touch and affect his life. His dialogue with it will increase, not diminish, and his art will grow on him as he lives with it and perceives it more deeply.
* Remember that it is a myth that all original art is very expensive, or overpriced, and out of range of ordinary people. Such myths work real financial hardships on many artists and deprive people of the joy of owning and living with original works.
* Once you have found and established contact with a work of art that you love, buy it and live with it. Let the work be an educative process and what I term a ''priceless experience.'' Some people spend all their lives trying to make a decision but never quite making the leap.
* As for how to enjoy art for many years to come, don't get caught up in keeping it in just one location. Change things around occasionally. Paintings look new in new locations. You also see them afresh when you juxtapose them to other things so they have a different reference. Changing the location of art also is a way of rethinking and reappreciating the art work that you have.