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Why you should drop 2 months’ rent on a piece of art

Last year, I bought my then-boyfriend a $1,800 limited edition photographic print of Mendocino, Calif. by Canadian photographer Michael Levin. As a 24-year-old on a budget, I was paying no paltry sum.

I’d like to describe this gift as thoughtful and premeditated, but it was actually one of the more impulsive decisions I’ve ever made. Instead of settling for a nice bottle of cologne or a trendy t-shirt like a rational human, I chose, in the heat of the moment, to stop in a Soho gallery, intrigued by Levin’s work.

Yes, perhaps, spending that much on a gift is utterly irresponsible, but is buying art a waste of money for a 20-something?

Recently, I took a trip to online art auction house artnet to talk to an expert who could give me a few tips about art — where to start, what to look for, and how to avoid buyer’s remorse.

Artnet’s Jacqueline Towers-Perkins, who’s just 28 herself, rightfully admonished me for buying a piece of artwork that I loved only to give it away. She also gave me the lowdown on why young professionals should invest in art — now, while they’re still young.

“There’s never a better time to start a collection than now. Art is not just for the super wealthy. There’s all sorts of budgets that can cater to a young collector,” Towers-Perkins, specialist in post war and contemporary art at artnet auctions, told Yahoo Finance.

Though everyone has a different definition of “affordable,” now is a good time to buy because there are more affordable options than one might imagine. It might be worth stretching your budget and forgoing a few meals out in exchange for a piece that you can get years of enjoyment out of. Towers-Perkins says there are a lot of pieces for under $1,000, specifically limited-edition prints by international contemporary artists like Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and David Hockney.

Despite a lackluster global market for art, the online market experienced significant growth — up 24% to $3.27 billion in 2015, according to the 2016 Hiscox Online Art Trade Report. The lower end of the art market could be more resilient to a slowdown than pieces in the mid- to high-end price range, according to Robert Read, head of fine art at Hiscox, a UK insurance provider.

Most young professionals don’t have a casual few million to spend on fancy wall decor, and might be intimidated by the idea of bidding on a work of art. Reasonably so, considering we oftentimes hear about Sotheby’s (BID) or Christie’s auctions where Rothko paintings sell for $82 million and Picasso works go for a cool $160 million.

“These prices can be very off-putting to younger people who are just trying to start a collection,” Towers-Perkins says. “Starting online is a great way for those young collectors to start bidding without the intimidation and without the pressure.”

Key tips for young art collectors
Of course, the most important thing for potential bidders is to educate themselves like they would when making any smart purchase, says Towers-Perkins. And don’t worry if you haven’t taken an art history class in your life — there are tons of learning opportunities at your fingertips.

“Educate yourself by visiting galleries, museums and art fairs to see what you love and ask as many questions as possible and just start building relationships with people in the art world to figure out what you like,” says Towers-Perkins.

She says young art collectors tend to make the mistake of blindly following trends rather than actually buying what they love. “When thinking about the hot, young, new artist that everyone’s talking about, really ask yourself whether it’s something you do want to live with. And if the answer is no, and that you wouldn’t be happy if it wasn’t considered a good investment, then maybe it’s not right for your collection,” she says.

Moreover, young professionals may also misjudge the condition of a piece or buy pieces that aren’t in good enough shape to stay valuable; art isn’t like a book for sale on Amazon where “fairly good” condition with yellowish pages will suffice.

“Don’t try to scrimp and save on something that has serious condition issues just to save money because those flaws will only get worse,” she says. “Buy the best you can and at the very least it should hold, if not increase, in value.”

The online wave
The emergence of pure-play online auction houses like Auctionata, Paddle8, and artnet has created tons of opportunity for young, inexperienced people interested in starting a collection to bid from their home, office, or anywhere their heart desires. Even traditional players are pivoting to the web for more customers. Auction house Christie’s reported $162 million in online sales last year.

But art collecting very much remains an activity for the more established generation. The majority of buyers on artnet Auctions are Gen Xers, specifically in the 45-54 age group.

“Our market can grow exponentially because we’re not catering to everyone out there,” Towers-Perkins says. “Now you can bid on a laptop, search through choices on your phone, and you don’t have to be entering an intimidating sale room or walking into a gallery that could be very standoffish or intimidating to young people.”

Artnet hosts pieces with bidding prices ranging from $3,000 to $300,000. Except for rare cases where a viewing is arranged beforehand, the vast majority of the people who purchase art online don’t actually see the artwork in person before making an offer.

Timed auctions on sites like artnet last for around 9 days, which means buyers have to make a decision within that time frame or lose out. Specialists like Towers-Perkins provide one-on-one personal service over the phone or online and talk someone through the piece.

“So just because you can’t be there in person, we can be your eyes and provide them with all sorts of details like a condition report, high resolution images and provenance information about the work so they can be very comfortable and confident about buying online,” says Towers-Perkins.

How Instagram is changing the art-buying game
Online auction houses aren’t the only forum for artists to gain exposure; social media platforms present ample opportunity for both emerging and established artists to widen their reach. The actual discoverability of art has gotten much easier with social media platforms like Instagram.

“We see a lot of people purchasing works, or at least becoming interested in a work, because of something they’ve seen on Instagram, which is really exciting. It’s being used as a real tool by galleries and auction houses to get people to purchase works of art,” says Towers-Perkins.

According to the Hiscox report, 31% of people surveyed in 2016 acknowledged that social media influenced their art purchases (up from 24% last year). Particularly in the new art buyer segment, 38% of new collectors said social media impacts their decision on when and what to buy. The report highlights Instagram, in particular, as the primary way that artists, galleries, museums and auction houses market their offerings.

Beyond finding and following new artists, Instagram is also becoming a revenue-generating platform — primarily in the fashion world, with companies like Like2Buy and Soldsie allowing people to buy items featured on your Instagram feed. The report finds that the art market will deploy similar strategies to actually monetize the time browsers spend on the platform.

But what if you’re still not convinced?
Given 20-somethings’ capricious nature, would it be wise to commit to purchasing a piece that you might love in the heat of the moment? Perhaps if you’re not ready to take that full step, you can turn to alternatives like TurningArt, which describes itself as the Netflix of Art (before Netflix decided to spin off its DVD subscription business and focus on its streaming service).

Consumers sign up for a monthly subscription service — $15 per month — which gives you a frame and lets you choose from over 20,000 prints to fit into the frame and keep it as long as you want. When you get tired of it, you can swap out the one you have for a new piece.

TurningArt co-founder and VP of Marketing Jason Pavel, 34, says that his co-founder and CEO Jason Gacilieri said this idea was intended to be a vital service for millennials.

“Taste kind of fluctuates. From an economic standpoint, the real cost comes from purchasing something you don’t really want,” Pavel says. “It’s great to have a long-term rotation and try new things. Art gets stale and can become kind of a fixture. By changing the art periodically, you notice it again, and you get a lot of value out of it.”

And if you’re particularly smitten with one of the rental prints, you can purchase the originals for between $500 and $5000. While the offerings aren’t blue-chip, several artists are nationally and internationally recognized, according to Pavel.

If you, like me, are fairly capricious, a service like TurningArt sounds intriguing. It’s low commitment but potentially high reward if you find an artist you do love.

Towers-Perkins agrees that after you finish college you should also graduate from the “disposable Ikea posters that you’re going to probably chuck out a month later.”

I think I’m ready to ditch my Andy Warhol pop art posters for perhaps another print of Michael Levin. Except this time it’ll be for my own collection.

Do you collect art? How much are you willing to pay for a piece that you love? Tell us in the comments below or tweet me at @melodyhahm.

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