I would kindly request that people stop buying mass-produced prints from dead artists. Art, real art by living artists, has never been more accessible and affordable than it is now. As a BONUS, you get more than just some decorative objects in your home. Houzz, a decorating site, argues that original art “brings richness and personality to the home — factory-made furniture and slickly printed posters simply cannot compete.” You might be thinking that original art is way out of your budget and only for rich snobs. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Start your collection
In the day to day of life, it’s easy to forget The Big Stuff That Matters. Look around your walls. Are they filled with gigantic printed posters? Department store prints? Are your walls blank? That’s sad. Your walls or shelves can be windows into a vision of a world you want to live in; they can make you smile; start conversations with guests; remind you of what you value and hold dear.
Having that vision expressed by living artists who speak your local or cultural language-or use images from your region- will be more evocative and meaningful. Likewise if they are artists from other places in the world you love. This is why living with living art is wonderful.
Collecting art for profit is for a**holes with no taste. Collect art because it means something to you. Because an image or object expresses something that you can’t say in words. Because it reminds you of who you want to be.
Set a budget to get an idea of what is affordable for you. Perhaps you will budget that you can spend 1% for art each year. If your salary is 20,000 you might set your budget to 200. Or if your salary is 60,000 you might spend 600. You don’t necessarily need to spend it all in one place. If you have a grip on debt and reduce spending on dumb stuff you don’t need, you will find you do have money you can dedicate to collecting actual art. Most of the pieces I’ve bought have been between £20 to 200.
The Arts Council in England has a good guide to buying art which includes some terminology about art, media and formats if you’re unfamiliar. If you’re in the UK, there are also a number of schemes to help make art more affordable by providing interest-free loans to purchase. Own Art can turn an art purchase into a manageable £10 a month payment, and there are the same programs in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.
Why buy art by living artists?
There’s something magical about having a piece by a living artist. You can own something they have touched and created out of nothing. You can own something that never existed before. And it’s wholly unique and yours only. That is special.
Artists choose a challenging life, often of incredible frugality because they are compelled to say something about the world we live in. You might think they are “living the dream” but it is an arduous path of self doubt, solitude, introspection, rejection; altogether more lonely than you think. They are providing a valuable service, though we make a terrible mistake when we compare them to essentials such as doctors. Artists are tastemakers who influence material culture and express something unique about life and our time. They continually slough off the previous generations’ vision and replace it with a new vision that better reflects our time.
You don’t owe anything to artists, but supporting them by purchasing their artwork has a massive positive effect on their lives. Once you start supporting artists, you may find you feel a warm connection to them and want to follow their progress and help promote them. You become a fan and supporter. I bought a painting from Amanda Blake and I love to follow her progress, and share images of her new work. This is a very different relationship than buying a printed poster by a dead artist, because I might actually be helping her gain an audience.
I was touched by Amanda Blake’s painting of a woman sitting with so much stuff, memory and nostalgia. I can certainly relate to that.
Discover in person
Keep an eye out for ‘studio open days’ where groups of artists in a local area will decide on one day to invite the public in so they can view work. Go with a friend, visit studios, meet artists in your area or maybe in a city or town you love to visit.
On the first Thursday night each month, Belfast has an art event, Late Night for Art which can make it easier for people to access galleries and see what is going on in person. Your local art community might have similar events. Keep an eye out for ‘small works’ exhibitions at galleries. These shows offer an opportunity for you to see smaller and usually more affordable pieces of art. In Sligo, Ireland, the Yeats Society has an annual small-works exhibition where you can snap up lovely sculptures and paintings.
Independent restaurants and cafés also often have artwork for sale by local artists. The Rabbit Rooms in Bangor have a great selection of work. For example, they have paintings by Andrew Hamilton of MyTarPit.com I purchased this one a few years ago. I love the way he transforms unloved prints and paintings into something fresh and fun. This creature has a sewn on sparkly laser zapping this cottage.
Art schools have their shows in the spring and summer. These degree shows are a good chance to see affordable art and support someone and have a positive impact on their lives. There’s so much great work, and very affordable.
Student shows are great! I was amazed recently at a student show at GMIT in Mayo. I was delighted to make my purchase and see the little red dot get placed next to this painting by Ciara McCormack. This meant the painting was sold and it would be coming home with me soon after the show finished. Ciara did a series of paintings from film images, she also staged scenes, filmed or photographed them and then painted them. I loved the narrative quality and movement in this isolated figure on a height.
Pinterest and Instagram will help you discover and find artists. On Pinterest, start searching something you’re familiar with and you know you’d like. Abstract or figurative (realistic)? Colourful or muted? Painting, Prints or Collage? You can even start by searching for specific artist names or genres if you’re familiar with some of those.
For example I was searching for a gift for a dear friend of mine. She loves French surrealist artist Odilon Redon, whose evocative images came from his from dreams. If I start there, and look on Pinterest I can see there are people who have boards dedicated to ‘Surrealist art’ or ‘Symbolist art.’ These folks might pin images from dead artists like Redon, but they also pin works by contemporary living artists. This is where you can find familiar topics and connections. Pinterest is a great resource to find similar work collected by casual curators.
Prints, editions and multiples
You may find that single original objects/images/sculpture are just beyond your price range. Some artists will create editions of their work. They might have a concept or idea they want to explore in several ways.
I was talking with an artist friend recently which made me think about affordable art. She doesn’t believe in making $5000 USD easel paintings. She actually wants to make art people can afford. There is a populist legacy in art that many contemporary artists are dedicated to. If they can’t sell their original paintings at low prices, they produce high-quality prints. Some also produce multiples of sculptures and objects.
For example, David Hochbaum is an artist who combines media (photography, drawing, painting, sculpture) to create magical images and dream objects. He does multiples of certain works, where there’s a slight variation between the objects in a series. This could be why he was able to make this a more affordable item.
I found something quite special in his collection that will be the perfect gift for my friend. Two little bird houses, standing in conversation. It refers to an in-joke we’ve had since highschool. I was nearly in tears when I saw it – it’s just so perfect! I knew this gift would tickle her brain, remind her of her dear friend who loves her when she passes by it in her house. I also know that because it’s by a living artist, that thrill will crackle when she thinks of how special it is. Here it is on her shelf at home 🙂
So don’t think that art is out of your reach. Of course I’ve pointed out events and locations nearby me in Ireland, but it’s likely you have a cafe near you, or even an art school near you getting ready for their Christmas sale. Keep an eye out and give it a look. It will likely be more affordable than you expect. Art has never been more accessible, enjoy it!
If you have discovered some affordable art, I’d love to hear whose work you purchase, where you bought it and why you chose it.