Buying Quality Art on a Budget
Written by S.T Bridges
Art can make a house feel like a home. It can provide interest and character to a space and it can offer a unique sense of delight among the everyday objects in a home. It can also, in some cases, turn out to be a canny investment. But good art doesn't often come cheap. Many of us would love to adorn our walls with exciting conversation pieces but don't have the means to afford serious pieces. News of record-breaking auction sales, meanwhile, can only serve to dampen hopes of acquiring affordable art. But art doesn't have to be that expensive. Good pieces can indeed be had for reasonable prices.
One of the most cost-effective ways to gain a foothold on the art collecting ladder is to buy prints rather than originals. Prints are not merely reproductions of originals, but rather versions of originals overseen by and executed by the original artist. Good quality prints are the result of a painstaking multi-colour printing process and are numbered and signed by the artist. Print runs can number as low as less than ten and as high as in the hundreds. Low prints numbers are usually the most sought after -- often, though not always, because they are of a slightly higher quality. Prints cost much less than original pieces, although prints by big-name artists can easily surpass the prices of original artworks by those less well-known.
If you live in a major art market, finding art (including prints) for sale is not difficult. Commercial galleries will offer both original artworks and numbered and signed prints, as will many art fairs. Don't buy anything on a whim (art fairs particularly rely on impulse purchases) but rather take an image of the artwork in which you are interested and think about it over the course of several days or weeks. Is it a piece which you wouldn't mind seeing on the wall of your home on a daily basis? If so, contact the dealer and arrange a purchase. If you find several pieces that you want by the same artists, you can ask if the dealer is willing to give you a discounted price for buying more than one. Often they will.
Of course, any purchase from a gallery or art show will invariably mean the involvement of an art dealer who will take upwards of half the price from any sale for themselves. How can you avoid a dealer's commission? One way is by buying at auction. Auction houses take a commission too, of course, but these fees are much less than the markup a dealer usually charges. Of course auctions can have other pitfalls. Set a limit as to what you are willing to pay for a piece and be sure to stick to it. Before the auction, go to see the exhibition of works to be sold so that you know the condition of the piece in which you're interested. Remember, online images can be deceptive, especially as regards colour and size. Try to stick with the more well-known auction houses as these have a reputation to uphold and thus there will be less chance of counterfeit works or fraudulent bidding. If your only means of participating in an auction is online, take extra care in determining the condition of the work and the veracity of the auction. One important thing for the budget-conscious to remember in any auction is not to get caught up in a bidding frenzy. Online it is particularly easy to find yourself swept along in a bidding war. Remember that the point here is to get a work for cheaper than you would otherwise. So be sure to stick to that bid limit.
If you're willing to take a chance on an unknown artist, you can avoid both gallery fees and auction pitfalls by dealing with artists who are as yet unrepresented by dealers. Occasionally artists will represent themselves at art show and their works, lacking the need for dealer's commissions, can sometimes be cheaper. Going to degree shows, meanwhile, is an excellent way of finding talented new artists. After all, today's art school graduates could be tomorrows art world superstars. You should remember, of course, that buying the work of an artist who hasn't yet attained a reputation is risky from an investment perspective. Here it is all the more important that you actually like the piece and are buying it for your own enjoyment rather than for any future earning potential.
This last point should be a guiding factor in any art purchase. Prices are never guaranteed to rise. While art can indeed be a good investment, solely as an investment it rarely makes sense. What should matter most is how you respond to the artwork once it is on display in your home. Remember too, except for previously-owned works bought at auction, you will probably need to pay to have your piece framed. Framing rarely comes cheap, so don't forget to take this into account when budgeting for art. Good framing, however, can often make even a cheap work look like a gallery piece.