How to Shop for Affordable Art You Actually Love

You want to add art to your house, but aren't sure where to start (or worry it's not in your budget)? A pro at finding affordable art offers her top tips

Photo: Phillip Reed/Affordable Art Fair

Pretty much any interior designer (or even just your friend whose house is enviably Instagrammable) will be the first to tell you that the best thing you can invest in for your home is art. It helps define a space, is easy to swap out when you want a different look, and – because art is in the eye of the beholder – it can be pretty much anything, from a framed drawing your niece did to a major investment piece. But despite how versatile art can be, and how important it is to a room, it can feel a little intimidating to start acquiring it, particularly if you’re shopping on a budget.

Vanessa Seis, the director of N.Y.C.’s Affordable Art Fair, knows something about making a major impact through art without spending a fortune; she helps curate the show’s large collection of contemporary art that appeals to both entry-level buyers and serious art collectors alike (the fair has a celebrity fanbase that includes Lucy Liu, Kit Harington, Nate Berkus, Bobbi Brown and Stacy London). With prices that start at $100, the fair has something for everyone; but how do you know where to start, if you’ve never bought art before? Seis shares some of her top tips, below.

5 Tips for Investing in Art without Breaking the Bank

Seis has easy-to-follow guidelines for those looking to make their art purchases a little more manageable:

  • Set yourself a budget and stick to it
  • Consider smaller sized works, they tend to be more affordable. A thoughtfully hung gallery wall can just be as impactful as a large investment piece, if not even more interesting and personal
  • Seek out works by emerging artists/artists that recently graduated and were just taken on by a gallery. Often times, their work is more reasonably priced since they are just starting out on the art market and it can feel really good to support a young, up-and-coming artist
  • Try to be open minded about styles and mediums. Editioned works, such as photographs or prints are often more affordable and you can still feel special by buying from a limited edition.
  • No matter if you’re a seasoned collector or art newbie, you should always follow your heart and buy what you love. That strong emotional response ensures you will happily live with the art on your walls for a very long time.

Make Art All About the Mix

So you’ve splurged on one main piece, but the room doesn’t feel finished? Complement it with finds that can come from anywhere: framed menus from a meaningful dinner, a page torn from a magazine or coffee-table book, old snapshots you can have blown up or made black-and-white. Says Seis, “My house is filled with purchases from Affordable Art Fair, works by my talented artist friends, personal photos and randomly found objects that mean a lot to me. It’s that mix that makes my home all the more personal and I love seeing and thinking about the dynamic between the pieces.”

Learn Why Art Costs What It Does

One thing that often deters those new to buying art is not understanding what “affordable” means in context. Why is some art $100, while other pieces are $1,500? Seis pulled some examples from this week’s fair to illustrate what makes art worth the investment.

Affordable Art Fair
Courtesy of Nazli Kalayci Art DealerAffordable Art Fair

“I love the colors and textures that María Eugenia Sáenz Asprea captures in this particular piece from her series Natural Symphony 15. Her abstract shapes are a true eyecatcher and the composition is elegant. Even an art novice will recognize its uniqueness, so this is a wonderful find under $500 that will truly stand out as a piece of original art in your home.

You can find more from this series and other works by our international roster of galleries on the Under $500 Wall, located in the front of the fair. This is a great way to start browsing the fair as it instantly shows what’s possible even on a small budget.”

Affordable Art Fair
Courtesy GEM PROJECTS/Affordable Art Fair

“Inkyeong Baek is an emerging artist, and buying her work early in her career is a great way to get good value. Not only is it a great conversation starter in the home, but paintings such as this continue to bring joy and conversation and a sense of nostalgia. Also, being able to buy an oil on canvas painting for $500 is a great, affordable opportunity and a direct way of supporting a dedicated, emerging, female artist early on in her career. ”

Affordable Art Fair
Courtesy Artspace Warehouse/Affordable Art Fair

“Editioned works may also include sculptural pieces such as this One Way Heart sign by LA-based artist Scott Froschauer. Scott’s work has been exhibited in museums such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC and the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto Canada, which makes buying a piece of his all the more exciting and an interesting investment. I always love learning about the artist once I have fallen in love with a piece, because it can enhance the personal connection and equips you to confidently talk about your most recent buy.”

Affordable Art Fair
Courtesy DECORAZONgallery/Affordable Art Fair

“Prints are an exciting medium to get into, especially if you’re just starting out to collect art. Buying editioned works, such as photographs and prints, often means more affordable prices since they’re produced in multiples. This limited-edition linocut print by Ellen Von Wiegand is a particular gem, as it was created exclusively for the Affordable Art Fair NYC fall edition, featuring the fair’s signature pink. It’s a limited edition of 15, which is a very small run, and the price for the unframed work is $300. You can be sure that none of your friends has this print in their home! It’s exciting to know more about the artist’s process and the idea behind the print. It can deepen the connection you have with a piece of art.”

Affordable Art Fair
Courtesy of Rat Trap/Affordable Art Fair

“Another super affordable print is this bold, mono color screenprint by Colombian artist Paola Acebedo. A limited edition of 20 and priced at $100, Pantera is an eyecatcher that would look beautiful in a monochromatic or colorful gallery wall. What I love about Affordable Art Fair is that visitors have the opportunity to discover and connect with artists from all over the world. How amazing that for just $100 you can own a original piece of contemporary art by an artist that lives and works in Bogotá?”

Draw Inspiration from the Pros

Affordable Art Fair
Courtesy Affordable Art Fair

Even if you can’t afford a decorator, so many professional artists, designers and other experts are now on Instagram that you can save photos of works, rooms and wall designs that inspire you, and use that to inform your own purchases. Says Adam Glassman, the creative director of O Magazine, who has shopped the Affordable Art Fair for pieces like the one above, “You don’t have to be a serious collector to buy a piece that elevates your home. Think about the room and wall you’re looking to fill. Then move to your taste — do you like photography, drawing, abstract, sculpture? — then set yourself a budget. There is something at all price ranges. Art fairs are a great place to start. They take the edge off; not only are you in a friendly atmosphere, but you can trust that the galleries have curated a selection for you that is timeless vs. seasonal, and therefore something you can consider a guilt-free investment.”

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