The Insider's Price Guide To Great Art

What will my money buy?

How much do you have to spend to buy art? I am talking here about actual dollar values, not vague airbrushed generalisations. Read on to find out.

Image: Early, North Melbourne. (detail) Oil on canvas. Alexandra Sasse

Art is often in the too-hard basket. I frequently see homes and professional offices kitted out with stunning interiors and then saddled with pseudo-modernist junk art.

It’s not that they couldn’t afford better. They didn’t have the time to figure it out.

It doesn’t have to be hard. This market, like any other has some widely accepted benchmarks. It also unfortunately has a lot of people yelling ‘original’ ‘talented’ ‘top-selling’ and others hollering ‘exclusive’ ‘rare’ ‘iconic’.

You need to know what you can buy for your money, here and now. Can you afford great art or should you pop down to Ikea? Those walls are waiting.

It’s good news for most of us. Your money will buy you more than might expect. I am assuming here that you want the best art your money can buy and are not interested in folk or amateur work. If you don’t care, then this is the wrong article for you. Stop reading now and head for a decent market where some creative will get paid and you will take home something with a bit of soul. And skip Ikea.

But if you are more serious about it, this is what you need to know:

$500 - $1000

Even in this price range – which is peanuts in a furniture store – you can find serious quality work by professional artists that you can love now and hand down to the next generation. How? Look for works on paper. They are not of lesser quality than paintings but they are cheaper. Why? It’s mostly an historical distinction. You can get amazing value here.

Galleries don’t always have these on view. Ask to see drawings, watercolours or anything unframed on paper. (See my Guide to choosing the Perfect Frame for how to care for works on paper).

Printmaking – etchings, lithographs and silkscreen prints are a great option in this price bracket. These are produced in limited editions, handprinted and individually signed. Each is considered to be an original work, unlike photographic reproductions. This is important as originals are more likely to retain their value. Every print will be slightly different. Variations occur as the works are handmade individually.

You get the best of both worlds with printmaking – the original work of art, but at a lower cost as there is an edition (multiples) of them. The size of the edition (e.g. 50 imprints) is a consideration in the cost. Large editions should be priced lower than smaller editions – this makes sense, as the smaller editions are less economical to make, and the smaller output means the work is rarer.

$1000 - $5000

This seems to be the price point for a lot of junk art. Many top-quality paintings are also in this price range.  Works will range from quite small up to medium size. Anywhere from around the $2000 mark and up will buy you top of the range original work by significant mid-career contemporary artists. If you shop in the wrong places it can also get you over-sized thickly painted rubbish. Read my ebook Don’t buy junk. The essential insiders guide to finding great art. so you know how to value what you are looking at and avoid the trash.

$5,000 - $10,000

This can buy you work that will make whichever room you put it in, unforgettable. You are starting to get into real statement pieces here.

$10,000 - $15,000

 The work is not necessarily larger but the artist will be senior enough to have work in significant collections. You will be paying for reputation now – late-career artists with extensive exhibition histories. If you can afford it and you love the work, this is real value.

You don’t need to be wealthy or a collector to have great art in your life.

Got a question? Email me and I will respond to you as soon as I am able.


Who is Alexandra Sasse?

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This guide should be read hand in hand with this pdf download Don’t buy junk. The essential insiders guide to finding great art. I can’t stop people from trying to sell you rubbish, but I can inform you, so you can confidently find the best work at the price you are budgeting to spend.
You may also like this guide on my blog Confused About Art which takes you through different kinds of art and sorts out those tricky art words .