How to Collect Art on a Budget, Big or Small

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Step1 Figure out what kind or kinds of art you really love. Remember you will be living with it for a good while. Is it photography? Expressionism? Realism? Sculpture?

Step2 Begin following the art scene in your area. Start going to student art shows at universities and museum schools, as well as artist studio exhibits. Begin frequenting art galleries and their openings.

Step3 Get on the mailing lists of the studios and galleries that you decide you enjoy and prefer the most. Keep in mind that galleries have a stable of artists and usually change shows monthly. This will allow you to receive invitations to their public openings.

Step4 Decide on your budget per piece, even if it’s a temporary budget. We all understand that your budget will grow with time.

Step5 A few things to consider:

1. Artist’s Studies: They are usually the artist’s original thought for the final piece, but are always priced much lower. It’s a great way to start a collection, own a fine piece, without a huge investment. In some cases, these become very valuable, depending on how the artist’s career goes.

2. Works on paper, are also priced lower than canvasses and a fine way to collect. I actually prefer works on paper, for some of the artists that I collect. I find they are pure.

3. Limited editions, prints, and photographs will always be priced lower because they are re-produced. The only ones I recommend to beginners are “artist proofs”, which are originals. I also recommend photographs that have been made into an original by adding painting, drawing, or some mixed media.

4. Framing costs and pedestal prices: Most pieces come framed, but not always. Sculptures never come with their stand, so figure out how you will display it. Feel free to request the piece be framed by the gallery and/or for advice on finding the right pedestal.

5. Some galleries are way above your budget, so do not frequent these as often. You should still go, learn and enjoy, but do not get in over your head and fall in love with a piece you cannot afford.

Step6 Have you been dreaming of a piece you have seen? You are now ready to buy, but only if you really love the piece! Remember you will be living with it for a long time!

Negotiate with the dealer or artist, without being insulting. Keep in mind the following:

1. Their expenses and overhead.

2. How desperate they are to complete a sale.

3. Ask about a payment plan, credit cards, framing. Most galleries will let you make payments at 0% interest, if there’s not too many payments.

4. Make a reasonable offer. Most dealers will offer 10% off the wall / list price. More is nice, but not necessary! Don’t be insulting by throwing out a number that’s way too low. Be reasonable. Remember that you are not buying a super expensive piece. You are just a beginner. The lower the price is, the less wiggle room they have.

5. If negotiating for more than one piece at once, you have more leeway in how far they are willing to go.

6. Most galleries keep between 40 and 50% of the total. The artist gets the rest. Step7 You will now own your first piece or pieces of fine art! You will most likely start getting invited to the private openings / preview openings, that only collectors get invited to. These are great! There you will learn much more by listening and visiting the homes of other collectors in your area.

Good luck and enjoy!   It can become addicting!

Tips & Warnings

  • If you are new to the art world, do not buy art online. Get some experience with your own 2 eyes first. Get a feel for the textures, media, etc. before you venture into making purchases without seeing the real thing first. Once you feel like you are comfortable with your taste and previous purchases, you won’t need any of this advice.
  • Always buy signed works. Some artist’s do not like to sign the front, but make sure they sign the back. Sculptures should be signed as well, somewhere.
  • Avoid having the art dealer go to your house. It’s common for them to offer to go and hang the piece for you. This allows them to see your place and plan on the next thing they can try to sell you.
  • Get a biography, catalog and anything else that they can give you on the artist and keep a file.
  • If buying directly from an artist, make sure they are not represented by a dealer in that city or town. Word gets around very quickly and the one that will look bad is you. That gallery will not want to do business with you after that. It’s just ugly.
  • Correct behavior for an opening: Do not drink too much or talk too much. Dress nicely, you are not the artist. Do not call a painting or photograph a picture. Do not say you don’t like that specific artist’s work, just suggest that you don’t prefer it or better yet, stay quiet.
  • Do not negotiate during the opening, you do that later, in person. Do not let the dealer pressure you into making a final decision. If you are interested in a piece, during an opening, say you like it and if you are worried about someone else buying it before you do, just ask to have it placed on hold for you. Make an appointment or show-up during the week, when the dealer is not too busy. Do not negotiate by email, phone or text. Always do it in person.
  • Learn by listening to other collectors. Listen to the artists and dealers.
  • Use your judgement on whether an artist will have a future or not. If the artist is really young and does not have a gallery yet, you might be ok buying a piece from him/her. If the artist is older and still does not have a gallery representing him/her, you might want to think some more.
  • Do not mention things like: “A kid could do this”, “if I would have known how much these pieces go for, I would have become an artist”, “I’m looking for a piece to match my couch”. It just shows your ignorance in a negative manner. Believe me, art dealers and artists are tired of hearing these type of comments. They are not original.
  • Avoid art auctions as a beginner. Only a collector with many years of experience should consider buying at auctions. Museum school auctions, on the other hand, are ok and in fact a good way for you to make some wise purchases.
  • Avoid artists that do not dedicate a good part of their time to art. If it’s just their hobby, then it will most likely never become a good investment for you.
  • Avoid galleries that aren’t really galleries. An art gallery should exhibit and sell art, and that is all. If they are selling framing on the side, etc. then it really isn’t a serious gallery.

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