How To Buy Art When You’re Not Rich

Contrary to popular belief, buying a beautiful piece of art is not a luxury relegated to the super-rich.
Publish date:
October 3, 2013
the frisky, art, budgeting

If you’re a twenty- or thirty-something, “start an art collection” probably ranks somewhere between “buy a French winery” and “become a Bond villain” on your list of cool-but-unrealistic life goals. But guess what? Contrary to popular belief, buying a beautiful piece of art is not a luxury relegated to the super-rich. It’s actually totally doable, no matter your budget or level of knowledge. I recruited Jessica Breedlove Latham and Lindsay Jordan Kretchun, co-founders of Portland’s Duplex gallery and design collective, to clear up some of the common misconceptions about buying art. After reading their thoughts on the subject, I went to a fine arts fair over the weekend and snapped up two beautiful prints and a small painting from local artists. My grand total was $70, and I guarantee you I will treasure these pieces for much, much longer than a similarly priced dress or pair of shoes. Read on to get inspired…

What are some misconceptions young people have about buying art? Why do you think more young people don’t buy art?

Some of the misconceptions might be that young people don’t see themselves in the right demographic. They might think they don’t have enough money, or they don’t know enough about art in general or where to buy it. However, the access to art and information is more widely available than ever. Young people have been and continue to be on top of what’s happening in the arts and culture. So if you are interested, it can be pretty easy to find, experience, and learn about new developments within art.

Can you tell me a little bit more about what makes buying art a rewarding experience?

It is always a rewarding experience to bring home something that you fall in love with. You love it, you get to look at it everyday, it’s not going to wear out or go out of season and it can travel to wherever you live. You are also rewarded by investing in the artist, their career, and there is enjoyment in watching their career and work evolve. There is a pride that you get to keep a piece of their work in your collection. Plus art in general has intrinsic value. The monetary value of the piece may grow, therefore you’ve made an investment in your financial future.

I think a lot of people just assume that buying/collecting art is an activity limited to super rich people. How can people on a budget get in on the fun?

When you find an artist you are interested in, look for smaller pieces, these are usually more moderately priced. Go to local art schools, colleges, and universities that have an art department. Most will have galleries with openings free to the public. You can find some incredible work from emerging artists, which can be more moderately priced than someone mid-career. If you find an artist online, contact them. They may have more pieces available in a price range you are comfortable with. Lastly, consider a payment plan. Most galleries offer a payment plan, but some artists will also work with you, you just have to ask.

Obviously galleries are a good place to buy art. Are there other unexpected or overlooked sources for art buyers, especially those on a budget? (Websites? Antique stores? Friends in art school?)

Online is the easiest way to start. Find out what local artists are doing and where they are showing. You can look at a huge variety of art to get to know what you are drawn to. For example: Paddle8, Artsy, Amazon Art, Saatchi Online, and Factory Fresh have a huge database of artists and are searchable by location (buy local!). You can familiarize yourself with art pricing by looking online too. Then find galleries, alternative spaces, even coffee shops or places with combination gallery and store in your area. Go to openings and talk to artists. Finding smaller galleries is always a great way to introduce yourself into an art scene. Ask questions! Artists and gallerists love to talk about the work; this is their passion and profession. They have invested hours into the planning, process, and execution. You’ll find out some incredible information you may not have otherwise.

Art schools and universities are great places to find amazing work at budget friendly prices. If you happen to know someone in art school, all the better! Visit them in their studio; ask about their work — most artists in school have work they would be happy to sell.

Should people think about the investment aspect when buying art, or just focus on finding pieces that they love?

You always want to buy something you love. It is something that you will live with for a very long time. The guaranteed reward will come from seeing it as you walk into your own space, discussing it with guests and following the artist’s career. Consider it your valuable treasure, a one of a kind gem you found. Think of that investment as bigger than the monetary value as a starting point. As you familiarize yourself with the art world, you might become more aware of artists that you feel will have long, evolving careers and may grow in popularity. Just like in other fields, the more information you gather, the better you will become at evaluating the work.

If you are in a place with your art collection where you are considering what kind of long term investment you have made in terms of the art market, congratulations! You have spent years collecting work you love, filling your world with enriching conversation and beauty. In the process have learned how to spot a rising star and probably don’t need us telling you how to buy art!

Speaking of which, do you have any tips to help people seek out art they find meaningful/moving?

Again, the more you look at a variety of art, the more you will find what you are drawn to. These pieces often stick with you. You might linger in front of it a little longer than normal, think about it after you walk away, and want to tell people about it. According to a study by Emory University School of Medicine, viewing artwork more strongly activates the brain’s reward system over looking at photographs.

Be open-minded. You might normally be drawn to large abstract paintings, but fall in love with a small-scale photo. If you don’t ‘get it’ immediately, don’t assume that it isn’t ‘good’. Artwork can contain a complex dialogue that requires a bit of probing, so ask questions and read the artist statement. The most astute art critic will ask questions, then come to conclusions based on their knowledge of the artist and their place in history.

Try not to think of a piece of art as decoration; it’s something that you should feel is timeless and will be with you for a lifetime. Your furniture will be replaced, the colors of your walls will change, and your taste will evolve. A ‘challenging’ work of art can be beautiful, thought-provoking, and can lead to rewarding conversations with guests.

Are there any general guidelines regarding the price of an art piece? What’s the difference between a $100 painting and a $10,000 one? Are prices ever negotiable? How can people decide if a particular piece is “worth it”?

The price of the piece depends on the artist’s investment. The value is a combination of time + materials + career level/experience, just like most things. Be aware of this when looking at the price of the work. Don’t haggle when buying artwork. When you have a good relationship with an artist, sometimes a trade can be worked out, but this is something that comes up naturally and is mutually beneficial. Gail Gregg wrote a great article about how to talk to artists. The piece is worth it if you love it. It’s that simple.

Thanks so much, Jessica and Lindsay! Click here to learn more about Duplex Collective, check out their blog, and follow them on Twitter for more art news and inspiration! And if you’re in Portland, be sure to swing by Duplex on First Thursday — you won’t be disappointed! (And hey, you might just walk away with a gorgeous piece of art.)

[Photo of paint palette via Shutterstock]

Reprinted with permission from The Frisky. Want more?

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