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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Buying & Decorating with Art

When was the last time you saw a showpiece home in a decor magazine that had no original art pieces on display? Never, right? That well-positioned painting or provocative print is almost de rigeur. And yet, buying and hanging art is something many of us know precious little about. If you’d like to start a collection of your own, read on!

How much does original art cost?

It doesn’t have to cost much. A pleasing piece from a beginning artist could cost as little as $25. And that’s a fine place to start. Art collector, consultant and artist Christopher Birt of Birt Fine Art Services in Toronto notes that various media have different price points. That’s something to keep in mind as you begin your search.

Original prints (generally produced in numbered, very limited editions) start at less than $100. One-of-a-kind paper works such as drawings and watercolour paintings typically cost more. And paintings on canvas usually command the highest prices - often in four or even five figures.

Whatever your price point, this is one purchase where you should dare to spend your whole budget: that art piece will last much longer than your laptop or your car. “You don’t have to spend $10,000,” Birt says. “But you should always hurt a little bit: then you can appreciate it more!”

How can I tell if it’s “good”?

If you love something, trust your instinct. “The content of the art simply has to be something that is moving to you,” says designer Glen Peloso, co-founder and principal of Peloso Alexander, Inc., known from his appearances on TV shows like Take This House and Sell It and The Marilyn Denis Show.

That said, there’s a difference between decorative art and ‘serious’ art, says Birt. “Serious art is created by someone who’s committed to their work and their images: not a reproduction and not a poster.” Decorative art can be delightful, but it’s less likely to accrue in value, and liable to feel dated in a few years.

If your tastes change and you feel differently about a piece later, that’s OK. “It’s like wine; what I drank when I was coming out of university and what I find palatable now are vastly different, and neither is wrong,” Peloso says.

Should I buy art as an investment?

Many people do, but it takes time and savvy. “Understanding and collecting art does take a bit of education,” says Birt. “If you buy wisely and you know what you’re doing, you can do much better than with real estate, but if you buy a painting for $10,000 and have to sell it a year or so down the road, you’re not going to make your money out of it.”

“If you’re buying art as an investment, then you’re looking at the artist who already has a reputation,” says Peloso. Rafael Wagner, managing director of Toronto’s Odon Wagner Gallery, (which carries established international artists, modern masters like Chagall and Picasso and some 18th-century painting) agrees, but advises caution. “There are artists who have an established track record that merit being considered as potential investments. But there are no full guarantees.”

If you’re thinking of moving to that next level, get to know the established commercial galleries in your area. You’ll find them through specialized publications like Canadian Art magazine, the art section of the Globe and Mail and local culture magazines.

Is it OK just to walk off the street into a high-end gallery?

Yes. You should feel just as welcome to browse and ask questions in a gallery as you do in an electronics or furniture store. “It can be a daunting experience, because discovering art in a private gallery setting is so different from a museum,” says Wagner. “But there really isn’t any difference.”

“Any gallery that is worth its salt is interested in selling their artists’ paintings,” says Peloso. “In the same way, if you were going to invest in the stock market, you’d talk to someone who knows about the stock market. You may be pleasantly surprised to find out that something you really like is far less expensive than you thought.”

**images Courtesy of Art Basel