Can a total novice buy art?

From one of the millions of hits you get from a google image search for “art”

My sister and her husband are condo-shopping, and she’s been sending me listings of places they’re interested in. One place, an absolutely gorgeous, HUGE condo, was made all the more gorgeous by the really amazing art collection the current owners had all over the walls. My mom, who went to see it with my sister and who knows some things about art, said she was “shocked” by the breadth and quality of the collection, given the owners’ relative youth. (This perhaps explained the seller’s total unwillingness to negotiate on price of the condo at all- seems they perhaps are people of substantial means and can afford to sit an unsold condo for a while. Bummer for my sister, she really liked it.)

While we are unlikely to be shocking anyone with our art collection any time soon (framed print of a beer poster, anyone?) this conversation did get me thinking that I’d like to be a person who has art. I feel like a fraud even using the term – I certainly harbor no delusions that I know anything about “art,” and what makes good art, and which artists I should “collect” or anything high-flying like that. But I’d like to own one or two things that are pretty and interesting and not mass-produced. I’d like to start by buying a painting (probably) to go over the mantel in our bedroom. We have this huge, HUGE blank wall in our bedroom where the previous owners clearly had a painting hanging, and 2.5 years after moving in it’s still as empty as the day we arrived. I’d like to change that.

Trouble is, I don’t know where to begin. My parents have art that they bought when they were young- stuff from then-young artists, bought to decorate their first apartments as young adults, then their first home together. It’s not necessarily fancy stuff- while some of the pieces have appreciated (they have a super cool Jud Fine pencil drawing from 1971 that now hangs in our entryway, for example, bought by my dad for a song in the early 70s,) mostly it’s just stuff they really liked, that they’ve kept for all these years. Most of the pieces will never be hugely valuable, but is now a cool and important part of our family home.

It seems like a concept from a foreign time- people in their 20s and early 30s buying original art to decorate their places? Huh? Was that a normal thing in the late 60s/early 70s, or were my parents just the sort of people committed to the arts who prioritized that over other purchases? (That *seems* unlikely, knowing them now, but I could be wrong…) Are behind, having never bought any kind of art-thing? I suspect our hastily-framed concert posters will not have similar staying power. (Though I do still have my dad’s original Monterey Pop Festival poster hanging in our basement. It’s pretty rad.)

I’d like to start filling our empty wall spaces with some stuff that we could pass on to our kids some day- not because its valuable, necessarily, but because it’s part of our family history. But my question is…how? I am willing to save up a little to invest in something we really love- but I’m not interested in (or in a position to) drop several grand on a traditional oil landscape, you know? I would love to find something a little more modern, or by a younger artist…but I frankly don’t even know where to begin. Go check out galleries in the edgy hipster part of town, where I’m sure to feel like a poser but maybe I’ll find something fun? Look online somewhere?

Guidance welcome- artists you love, galleries in Chicago to check out, online resources- I’ll take it. Otherwise we’ll probably just end up framing another beer poster.

19 Responses to Can a total novice buy art?

  1. k says:

    So a college friend of mine is married to a young, hip artist (she’s a young, hip artist, too, just of the musical variety), and I think his work is fascinating and beautiful, though I’m not sure how *accessible* it is (or how well it would work in a bedroom), but it’s probably worth checking out: Jordan Martins | Current Work. I think he has a show up right now, in fact, at a gallery on North (link).

  2. Elizabeth says:

    I started by buying art off of Etsy. It’s a nice place to begin because the prices are much cheaper and sometimes you can ask them to customize the art to match your house. I had a woman change the color of the background to match my blue dresser. Also, if you can find something before it becomes wildly popular the prices are very good. Years ago I bought a Mincing Meerkat painting for about $200-300 and it look like they’re selling in the thousands now:

    This may be a lot harder in Chicago (I’m in SLC), but some galleries can have reasonable prices. Also, restaurants and other venues might feature art that you would like. The theater company at the University of Utah recently featured an artist that I loved so much I’m trying to decide between buying one or three pieces.

  3. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” If you think a piece of art is pretty or attractive or fits well in your home, then who is anyone else to tell you otherwise? When I bought my first condo years ago, I started buying one piece of “real” art (i.e., not framed posters) each year. I bought things from the Wells Street Art Festival, Etsy, art galleries on the Cape and street vendors in Barcelona. I think you just have to pick your price point and start looking … you’d be surprised how easy it is to find things that suit your taste and your wallet.

  4. Erica says:

    I agree with Elizabeth, I’ve found some great stuff on etsy. If you know the basic size of the piece you want above the mantel you can put the dimensions in the search to narrow down all the results. I also use words like “canvas” and “original”. I got a great print of koi (not original but I love it) for our bedroom on amazon. I wanted koi and using that word really narrowed the results. Little art fair things in th summer are also nice because they are a fun activity and you meet the artist. I bought a little painting at the blathering even for $40. Oh yeh, vacation is a nice place to look because you have free time to look nd then it’s also a souvenir. But I stck to open air type places and not stuffy art stores. I don’t care about value, just sprucing up the walls. I also bought a nice frame for something Anna painted and that looks good if you don’t have too much of it. We are lucky to have some really big landscapes Uris mom painted … They make a room immediately beautiful. I have the digital file of one if it was something you liked you could pay to have a giclee print made. I think it’s around $350. We did it ourselves so both uri and his brother could hang the painting. We have the print and it looks really good. I also have a lot of these huge wooden vaginas but I doubt I could wrestle them from my husband. I could take a really high res picture though and you could make a print. Ha ha ha.
    Really though with art I just have fun with it and go eclectic. I’m no collector I just buy stuff to make our walls not bare. Especially as lowly renters stuck with white walls.
    That’s my assvice anyway.

  5. Katie says:

    We’ve had good luck at the summer art festivals that come through here. We’re in the Twin Cities, but I imagine Chicago has a few. :) Some of them can be kind of craft heavy, but a lot of them have a surprisingly good selection of artists with pieces in a range of prices. I like Etsy, but for big art I like to see it in person to really get a sense of whether I like both the look and also the texture. Art festivals of the sort I am thinking in Minneapolis are the Stone Arch Bridge Festival ( and the Powderhorn Art Fair (, the latter of which is a part of a bigger weekend set of art fairs. There’s a calendar of Chicago ones here ( though I can’t vouch for it or anything. They tend to be fun outings — usually with snacks and music and stuff, and my 4.5yo LOVES them.

  6. CM says:

    We buy a piece of art together every year as our anniversary gift to each other. I love this tradition.

    Don’t be intimidated! Just have a budget in mind and look for something you like. Walk into galleries. You don’t have to commit to buying anything. Craft shows are also a good place to look. Like others, I’

  7. CM says:

    oops… I’ve found good stuff on Etsy. 20×200 is great too. And check out

  8. Lisa C says:

    Etsy and 20 x 200 have great original art for reasonable prices. “Art” is simply what you like. My husband and I like vintage advertising posters, so that makes up a fair amount of the art in our house, but we also like to buy art when on vacation as a memento of the trip (cheap, under $100 usually).

    Emily Henderson did two great posts on buying inexpensive art:

  9. K says:

    T and I have had good luck at local art shows, but also with galleries and sometimes snagging things when we used to travel (Sigh. Travel.). My parents are avid art collectors and so I think, by proxy, I have a hard time with a nudie wall.

    I often think that the most wonderful looking homes are the ones where the wall decoration (because “art” can mean lots of things) is eclectic and reflects the people that live there.

  10. Ginger says:

    Oooh, I have lots of opinions on this! My husband is an artist, so I’ve learned a lot about the buying side of things in the 13 years we’ve been together. I’ve also learned that it’s art if you say it’s art, and all that matters about it is if YOU like it. IT doesn’t matter if you’re a novice, if you see something you want to look at in your home, THAT’S all that matters.

    First: figure out what you like. Do you like edgy, pop culture, landscapes, watercolors, funky, traditional, figurative, illustrative, (and on and on)? There’s a lot of variety, so finding a few styles you prefer will help you narrow things down. You can also start with an artist you like–if you know you like artist X, check them out on the web. See what galleries they’ve shown in (if they have) and then check out that gallery and the other artists they’ve shown. See what artists they talk about/are friends with on social media. See what other names come up with their name, or if a “genre” gets talked about with their name, and then search for other artists in that genre.

    Once you have some ideas, you can figure out where to buy from. Etsy is a good choice for some things.
    Many artists have their own stores besides Etsy. Some will respond to email inquiries. Galleries of course, though you’ll tend to pay more from a gallery (sometimes newer galleries aren’t as established with buyers and so may have better price points). Art fairs, or sometimes even just community events that have vendors will have local artists. There is also ebay, but I tend to point people away from that because the chances that you’re going to get gouged are a little higher there, but it can be a place to look to see what you like.

    I never do this, but I wrote a whole post on buying art without breaking the bank that I’m going to link here in case it helps…some of this stuff I never would have known/figured out if I wasn’t on this side of it, so hopefully you can get some ideas here.

    Whoa, ok, that’s enough of me taking over your comment section. I can clearly go on and on about this (& if you were to determine that you like pop/urban surrealism or lowbrow, I could definitely point you toward a bunch of artists to check out), but the key gist is: buy art that you want to look at wherever you find it.

  11. HereWeGoAJen says:

    I have been looking around for something for the baby’s wall, but I haven’t found anything I want. We do have a bunch of giclee prints for our house which is kind of a nice way to get stuff that looks like real paintings but aren’t quite as expensive.

  12. andie says:

    here in Arizona, I frequent art fairs. I have a painting (watercolor on silk-framed $300) and 2 prints (unframed $35 each) in my living room from a Chinese artist that I adore and set the Oriental-ish theme for the room. I buy lots of different things at the fairs-handmade soap and moisturizer, repurposed metal sculpture, pottery that I use, clothing for my daughter, hand tooled leather purses, one-of-a-kind jewelry. Sure they have crafty stuff, but they also have fine jewelry at low prices, gourmet foods, all media.

  13. Jesabes says:

    I would love to have art in our home, but I don’t even know where to start. Mostly I lean towards enlarged and matted/framed photos of the kids or whole family but I really want paintings to add to it – at least a big one for over the couch. I’m excited to check out Ginger’s post!

    I’m not gifted in the whole decorating area at all. We’ve lived her four years and our master bedroom is still the stark white it was when we moved in. We’ve both said a million times we need to do something about it, but haven’t.

  14. christina says:

    One great thing is that there will be all the art festivals coming up. I know the Rogers Park art festival is in August/Sept and we always leave with some pieces (at least 1 last year three!)

    I know that there is an art Store called Sacred Art in Lincoln Square that has some fun affordable pieces too. More pop art like.

    Just find what speaks to you, you will make it work.

  15. CharlieSue says:

    I’m going to double up on the etsy, 20×200 and independent artist websites (for the overall style of painting you like.) I will ALSO say that I’m probably biased as a photographer, but buying short run prints (like 20×200) or photos of stuff you LOVE? Is pretty cool and I think they’ll still become pieces that represent your style and become a great part of your home. :)

  16. Gabi says:

    I have no idea what your style is, but I know a few artists so if you want to describe your style I can maybe point you in a direction… In the meantime you can check out a small sampling of my own stuff, just for fun, although I’m pretty sure its not of the size you were looking for.

  17. Jessica says:

    I live in Georgia and in Savannah there’s an art college, Savannah College of Art and Design. The college has a shop that sells art/products that the students make and they’ve got a website for it: Maybe there’s something like that in Chicago?

  18. Carmen says:

    I wish I could buy art, but my MIL is a painter of sorts and she keeps giving us framed paintings of hers, which we then have to put up. I have only a couple of things hanging on the walls that aren’t hers: 2 pages from a 16th-century astronomy textbook that have very cool line drawings of planetary motions; and a postcard that I bought in the Canary Islands many years ago. I would love to have more actual artwork.

  19. Maggie says:

    A friend of ours is an Artist and I LOVE her work. Love love love it. I just don’t have $500 to spend on a painting right now. But one day! Oh yes. I will have A Collection.