4 Ways To Start Investing In Art, No Matter What Stage Of Life You're In

by Kate Pollasch
Jovo Jovanovic

When was the last time you invested in art versus the stock market or a savings account? If you are like most Millennials, not recently. Contemporary art galleries can feel intimidatingly aloof, and the art market sounds as mysterious as the latest "The Da Vinci Code."

But your 20s are the perfect time to learn about and collect contemporary art. The art hanging on your wall is a long-term financial investment. Let's remove the college concert posters from our walls, scrap the hanging air plants that died right after you got them and invest in some exciting, original works of art.

Buying art can be a high-reward, long-term investment. But it can also be risky.

Collecting artists' work in the early phase of their careers (known as "emerging" artists) is an affordable option. As the artist progresses and the artwork prices increase, so can the value of your investment. But this long-term appreciation is not guaranteed, since it's hard to predict where an artist's career will end up.

There are a lot of books and resources that provide details of the ups and downs of the art market, but this article offers an introduction to collecting, and the cultural and financial value of art in your life. Here are four ways you can get started on your art collection:

1. Learning About Your Local Art Scene

No matter whether you live in New York City, Los Angeles or a smaller city, you'll have a local art scene. Galleries offer a wide range of art. So find out which ones exhibit contemporary, ancient or modern art, which ones work with young emerging artists and which ones support artists late in their careers.

In terms of cost, the pieces from established artists have higher prices, while the pieces from emerging artists often have prices more amenable to the introductory collector. Attend gallery exhibition openings, when the galleries are open later. They often have free wine.

Art provokes conversation, sparks new thought and reimagines the world, so if you like what you see at an opening, reach out to one of the staff and set up an informational meeting. Gallery staff members are there to help you, and this will initiate a personal relationship for you to learn about their artists, see more inventory and understand their price spectrum.

2. Choosing An Artist

You found a gallery you like, and you are drawn to one or two artists. Now what?

While collecting, go with what you like and trust yourself. Someone can have a PhD in art history and years of experience advising about art, but this person isn't the one who will live with the artwork. Investing in art is a very personal choice.

If you like something -- even if you can't explain why -- listen to your instincts. At the same time, research your potential investment. Look up the artist's background and resume to get an understanding of his or her professional trajectory.

Did the artist get his or her MFA from a prominent art school? Has he or she had solo shows in well-known galleries? Has the artist's works been exhibited or collected by museums? Are journalists writing about this artist?

These questions can give you an idea about the professional path the artist has developed. Emerging artists might have less information available, but your gallery staff connection will help you understand the practice. Online sources for general research can include Artsy, Artnet and publications like Modern Painters, ArtForum and Art in America.

These are some things to consider. Although remember that the art world is highly subjective, so no one piece of information works for every artist. Paper works (like drawings) are usually less expensive than paintings.

For photography, consider the number of editions (meaning how many times the image will be printed). The smaller the edition (such as edition of seven versus the edition of 25), the fewer prints are available to purchase. Thus, the higher the price.

Size can correlate to price, so the bigger the canvas, paper or print, the higher the price. (But not always: A small Picasso is still a Picasso.) In the case of sculpture, new media and video art, be sure you have the space to store or show it.

3. Ready To Buy

You found the work that speaks to your soul and makes your heart race. Now, it is time to buy.

Buying from a gallery can be a negotiation. As you research artists' work, you will get a sense of their price ranges. Two buying tips: Paying in installments might be an option if you can't pay the balance upfront, and depending on the artist, a discount may be negotiable.

Always buy art with a budget in mind. But if you budgeted $800 and the work you love is $950, talk to the director about a discount to help complete the sale. Remember to incorporate framing and shipping expenses in your budget.

The most important thing to note is this: If the gallery person says he or she can't offer a discount, trust him or her. The galleries are not playing a game. No two galleries or artists are the same, and some don't offer discounts.

Now, you want to ensure your artwork remains in great condition for decades. When hanging the work, ask questions like this: Can it be exposed to direct sunlight, or will it fade? If you don't have renter's insurance, get it, or talk to your agent about covering the value of the piece with a rider.

4. Collecting And The Future

Collecting art can be a lifelong passion. Some people build specific collections, like “feminist art from the 1980s,” while some never buy from the same artist twice. To start, you don't have to know your intent for collecting. But it can be something to consider.

After you buy, keep track of the artist and how his or her career is progressing. This can be done by following his or her website, looking at art magazines and staying in touch with the gallery. Art is an enriching and unique cultural investment, and a long-term financial investment as well.

As your artist becomes more successful, so will the value of his or her works. Milestones that can shift the value of an artist's work include museum exhibitions, books, catalogs, fairs, biennales and more. Eventually, in many years, you might consider selling your work either at auction or back to a gallery.

This is when your $800 investment can, decades later, deliver a greater return. If you are interested in the auction world and how the secondary market works, there is a lot of information out there.

Art investment takes time. For now, think of buying art as a long-term process. Enjoy living with a beautiful piece of art that makes your home uniquely “you,” and continue to research and learn more about the contemporary art world.