How to Collect Art (On a Budget)

Collecting art can seem like an overwhelming, intimidating, and expensive endeavor. You might be thinking, “where do I start”, or, “I just want to be done decorating this place”. Before you throw in the towel and buy something average, read our tips for sourcing and collecting unique pieces of art… without breaking the bank.

Collecting art can seem like an overwhelming, intimidating, and expensive endeavor. You might be thinking, Where do I even start, or, I just want to be done decorating this place. Before you throw in the towel and buy something average for the sake of covering the blank space on your wall, here are five tips for sourcing and collecting art… without breaking the bank.


Step 1: Get Educated


The first step to building a meaningful collection involves doing your homework. A little research goes a long way and can help you avoid purchasing something you might regret or realize you don’t love once you place the piece on your wall. The best part: art education is (most often) free! Support your local gallery scene by attending free openings, talks, and tours. These are typically open to the public and present opportunities to meet artists, art advisors, and fellow collectors. Browse your local newspaper’s arts section to find openings and events – these publications typically highlight upcoming shows and weekly art happenings.

Museums and local art fairs are also great venues to immerse yourself in the art market. Fairs draw a range of collectors and, while slightly overwhelming, websites such as Artsy can help guide your approach with helpful previews and insights tailored to each fair.

Pro tip: Before attending an art fair, choose 3-5 gallery booths that you want to see and pinpoint their locations prior to arrival. This will help you become familiar with the fair’s layout before entering, and you’ll go in with a loose ‘agenda’ to navigate the space.

Lastly, if getting out to see art doesn’t fit into your busy schedule, online publications such as ARTnewsArtforum, and artnet help collectors stay up to date, and they each offer a newsletter summarizing the latest art news.

Pro tip: The more art you experience, the better understanding you will have of what draws your eye. Bring a notebook with you to galleries, museums, and art fairs and jot down notes with colors, textures, and imagery that excites you. Training your eye to recognize your preferences will help you build a meaningful, unique collection that you’ll want to live with every day.


Step 2: Search the Web


Today, sourcing art online has never been easier. Websites such as ArtStarSaatchiUprise Art, and Society6 have a wide offering of works that are easy to search by color, size, medium, and price point. For emerging collectors, limited-edition prints and photographs can be an affordable entrance to the art market. Twyla is an online marketplace specializing in limited-edition prints, while the Tappan Collective has reinvented the collecting experience by offering both a wide range of contemporary art online in addition to professional art advisory services. Artsy also has an option to speak with an art specialist as you contemplate your online purchase. These consultation services provide collectors with a second opinion before taking the leap.


Step 3: Support Emerging Artists


While it’s often easy to be drawn by prints and reproductions from trending artists, concentrating on emerging artists will allow you to build a unique collection of original works while supporting the art community at large. Meanwhile, if the artist grows his career and becomes popular, these investments can go a long way! MFA and undergraduate art programs host public shows highlighting student artists, while galleries and art fairs present a host of artists at various stages of their careers.

Additionally, most of the online platforms listed above include works by rising artists, many of whom do not yet have gallery representation or have instead opted to sell their work directly to collectors online. For example, 20×200 partners with talented artists ranging in style and experience to offer an extensive category of limited-edition art and photographs starting at $24.

Becca Sobel, a student completing her MA in Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s, keeps a notepad on her phone with emerging artists she admires and finds in galleries, restaurants, and shops. Her philosophy to collecting these works on a budget? “First, collect what you appreciate aesthetically and want to live with. Personally, I like to collect works that I feel I will grow with overtime. Collecting with a purpose – a subject, medium, or set of artists – that feels important to you is a great way to build a small but mighty and thoughtful collection.” When you find artists you like, follow them on Instagram or check out their websites to keep up to date with their shows and portfolios.

Pro tip: When purchasing a piece from a gallery, don’t be afraid to ask for a discount. Some galleries will also let you bring the work home for a day or two before finalizing your purchase. Take advantage of the opportunity to see the piece in your home before committing to the investment.


Step 4: Think Outside the Box


While options abound for purchasing art online and through galleries and art fairs, many unique pieces can be found beyond these venues. Local flea markets and antique fairs are a fantastic (and fun) way to source both contemporary and vintage art objects. While the origin of these pieces may be a mystery, they can act as treasured keepsakes throughout your home.

Companies such as Framebridge have also redefined the traditional definition of art collecting by offering cost-friendly mounting and framing services that immediately elevate any loved item. Framing personal mementos, from children’s art to travel paraphernalia, adds an intimate quality to your collection.

Lastly, art need not be purchased. Host a painting party with friends and see where your imagination takes you, or dig through old photos and archives – these works just might find a place on your walls or those of a loved one!


Step 5: Trust Your Gut


The most important part of collecting is to trust your intuition. If something draws your eye, look closely and think about why it excites you. Is it the artist? The medium? The color? The texture? Take note of what you respond to, what delights you, and what challenges you. Gallery director Morgann Trumbull explains, “When I add a work to my personal collection or advise a client on how to decide on a work, I always say, first you must love the work. If it turns out to be a good investment, wonderful, but first and foremost, you should love living with your collection.” At the end of the day, you’re the one living with the art, and these works should speak to you and inspire daily joy. Now go ahead and embark on your collecting journey!