How to Build an Affordable Art Collection
Courtesy of Ohara Davies-Gaetano
No trust fund? No problem. Here are our favorite places to find reasonably priced art.
Is it time to retire that Backstreet Boys poster you’ve had since college? Are you starting to suspect that a shelf full of souvenir shot glasses does not qualify as an art collection? Maybe you’ve just stopped seeing what’s on your walls and want to take your home decor to the next level, or you’ve moved to a new place with more wall space. Whatever your reasons for wanting to buy art, we know it can be daunting to think about curating a personal museum. But buying art doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are a few of our favorite sources and tips for acquiring affordable art pieces.
We love the minted.com site for its wide variety of images to put on your walls. From 5×7 prints to wall murals, from abstract painting to street photography, there is almost certainly something to fit your style and budget. If you’re willing to find your own frame (or put your purchase on the wall as-is), prices start at around $25. Minted can also handle framing with a good selection of materials and matting options.
We also like Society6.com’s site for an even wider selection of art. It’s not just things for your wall—you can also shop objects like tapestries and home decor including throw pillows and furniture. You can choose your size and material (paper, canvas, or metal), and prices start in the low double-digits for unframed pieces.
If you’re willing to fall down a rabbit hole full of beautiful things, Etsy.com will reward your exploration. Etsy is less curated than some sites, meaning that the volume can be overwhelming, but the upside is an extraordinary range of products. Beyond wall art, you’ll find textiles, glass, sculpture, and all kinds of objects that defy easy categorization. Some you’ll pay a premium for, but others are less than $10. Filters giving you the ability to sort by price, color, and whether or not the piece is handmade make sorting through thousands of entries a surmountable task.
Museum Gift Shops
Once when visiting a museum with my mother, she spontaneously asked me, “If you were allowed to take any one piece home with you, which would it be?” Now I keep that question in mind every time I visit a gallery. No one has let me walk out of a museum yet with the Ai Weiwei of my dreams, but sometimes the gift shop lets me come close. Don’t skip out on a museum visit without taking a glance at the posters, reproductions, miniatures, and other objets d’art that are always much classier than your average souvenir. Pro tip: You often don’t even have to pay admission to get into a museum a gift shop—look for an entrance directly from the street.
Craft fairs were what the creative community had before Etsy, and they’re still a great place to search out artistic treasures. Yes, the goods can be a little heavy on needlepoint cat pillows. But it’s also possible to find exquisitely beautiful pieces, especially in the realm of woodworking and ceramics, that you would be proud to display in your home. Look for juried shows—these are events where vendors have to be vetted and the quality of the work is the highest.
Don’t overlook thrift stores, either. True, there’s no such thing as a curated junk shop, but if you’re the kind of person who loves a treasure hunt, you may be pleasantly surprised once in a while, because you just never know what’s going to turn up. While a signed Picasso is unlikely (but possible!), you may just find that quirky, pre-loved piece that looks great in your living room.
Fancy downtown galleries can feel out of reach, but your community may have smaller, more accessible galleries that you’ve been overlooking. If you’re lucky, your city has organized events to encourage visitors to explore arts districts, often under the name First Friday. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, Oakland has a lively First Friday event every month that finds Uptown galleries open late with lots of food trucks and live music in the streets. Denver’s RiNo neighborhood has one, and so does Portland. Lots of cities have similar events, so if you do find a gallery you like, ask if they know about gallery crawls in the area.
Raid Your Own Collection
For ultra-affordable art, patronize an artist whose prices are always reasonable: you. With a little work, it’s possible to turn your own photographs and possessions into art. An image on your phone is just a snapshot, but have it printed on canvas or metal, and now it looks like something you’d find on a gallery wall. A collection of knickknacks on a shelf is clutter, but one piece by itself, on a stand or in a float frame, is art. That stack of vinyl records in the corner is a statement about your devotion to analog media, but three or four framed and hung on a wall….yep, art.
This trick works for lots of things—almost anything can be elevated to the level of art by putting it in a frame. Postcards, international paper money, stamps, flowers, feathers…anything colorful and eye-catching can go in a float frame. Experiment, switch it up, and recycle/compost it when it no longer sparks joy—your own things are the most affordable art pieces ever.