How to Buy Art...On a Budget

Art is a many-splendored thing. Art can become a part of the family; it travels with us from home to home, reminds us of special moments in our lives, comforts us when we are feeling alone, and personalizes and adds character to our walls and lives.

Art generally holds its value, and if you’re a bit lucky, art can accidently become a great investment. And you don’t need to surrender your life savings to get started.

GET SMART: Always buy what you love. Always. But also buy other things, such as ideas, concepts, artists’ stories, moments in time, cultural & historical significance, and emotions. Yes, you can buy emotions. Continue to use your instincts of ‘what you love’ but evolve and sharpen your instincts by acquiring a better understanding of the art within your reach and on your radar. Start your acquisition simply by actively going to galleries, opening nights, and launches. Look at the art up-close, meet and talk to artists, curators, gallery owners, and other art lovers. Go to art actions and watch eccentric collectors bid fervently. Sign up to artist and gallery mailing lists to be first to see their new stuff when it comes through, and be notified of upcoming exhibitions.

GO BEYOND GALLERIES:  If you go to enough galleries, you’re likely to find intimidating, often pretentious art snob cliques and giant price tags. But those of us on a budget can still happily keep an eye on artist-run initiatives (ARIs), art fairs, art school graduate shows, group exhibitions at small boutique galleries, open studios, and second-hand art auctions (see also Top 10 Places to Buy Affordable Art). Explore beyond typical art spaces and discover collective artists from unexpected scenes, like design, craft, comics, and graffiti.  Embrace the unknown and outsider artists by supporting places like Arts Project Australia, which fosters creatives with intellectual disabilities. Check out the recent past, too. Vintage architectural drawings are a great addition to any art collection and can be found in the dustiest of corners of second-hand stores and op-shops.

THINK SMALL: If you’ve found an artist you love, but they are above your price bracket, consider the opportunity to buy smaller pieces like sketches, water colour drawings, and prints. Buying lower down the spectrum of an artist’s repitore can be a less expensive way of getting names you admire into your collection. When choosing prints, look for signed and limited editions. And if you care about an artist’s touch, consider handmade prints such as linocuts, woodcuts and etchings.

PRICE TAG: What’s a fair amount to pay? This is a personal judgement call and usually centres around ‘what is it worth to me?’ Art world pricing is complex, involving much more than an artist’s time and materials. So keep an eye on prices at exhibitions and art auctions to help you gauge and scope what type of art goes for what and generally feel more confident when your time comes to pay up.

PAPERWORK: Future-proof your collection. Even if you’re not buying with a specific goal to invest, there is still a chance that your excellent eye may inadverdently lead to artworks of grand prospective value. Set up firm provenance by ensuring you can prove authenticity. Buy works that are hand-signed and keep paperwork relating to the purchase. Archiving reviews and auction catalouges from exhibitions and auctions you’ve bought work at is also smart and could potentially pay off big time.


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