How do you buy interesting art?
January 10, 2020 11:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking to buy art for my walls. I want original paintings, not prints. Affordable - less than $500 each, maybe significantly less. In addition to eBay, where do you go?

The key piece of art I'm looking for needs to be rather large, for a big open wall. Finding what I like is unfortunately a bit of a "know it when you see it" type of thing, so there's no easy process. I'm largely not looking for pieces by current working artists, just because realistically, the materials and labor necessary for a big original painting make it too expensive for me. Artists have to eat.

So I'm looking for a vintage piece. I don't care about art as an "investment," or having it be a "famous" artist, but I do like the idea of being able to google an artist's name and get even the barest bit of a story behind that artist.

I'm finding eBay a great resource. could be a great resource but unfortunately it's not really set up to search very efficiently in this respect. I've found places like SaatchiArt and Zatista but they seem particularly focused on current artists. Where else?
posted by lewedswiver to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I have had good luck buying all kinds of art on Etsy.
posted by OrangeDisk at 11:45 AM on January 10, 2020 [3 favorites] (pricier)

On both sites, you can make bids for less than the asking price (just make sure to watch out for shipping costs).
posted by sallybrown at 11:46 AM on January 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

My library has local artists that have shows. I just bought three of the most stunning art I've seen just casually not in an expensive art gallery. I gave one away and put two up. Feel free to MeMail me if you're curious. I spent $236 for three original paintings that you could point out in a museum and I'd think yeah that belongs. Really surprised and overjoyed.

Before that, living in Austin, I went to a store that had awesome local artists original work on various themes. It was mostly nerdy sort of stuff in that case.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:58 AM on January 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

Check out shows at your local post-secondary art school, or even an arts high school- you can find interesting stuff by student artists.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 12:04 PM on January 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

Does it need to be purchased online? In my experience (my family was in the business), antique malls and similar dealer co-ops (shops with multiple dealers under one roof) always have at least one dealer specializing in old paintings and framed art. Even better would be large antique flea markets like The Alameda (CA) market or Brimfield (MA) or Stormville (NY) or the equivalent large outdoor antique show that is local to you.
posted by niicholas at 12:07 PM on January 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

Local galleries, coffee shops and artist-supporting restaurants, and art fairs, though galleries might charge more than you're looking to pay for pieces of that size (in fact, it's pretty likely).

Additionally, seeing it in person could give you a different experience and relationship to the size and scale of the work, and could give you a better feeling for how they'd fit on your walls.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:10 PM on January 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

Everything But the House is a site similar to Chairish and 1stdibs--kind of an auction clearinghouse with centralized and vetted items. Here is their current art up for auction. I have purchased some beautiful pieces of art through them, although as sallybrown says do keep an eye out for shipping costs especially if you're looking for oversized pieces (thought not all are already framed and this can be a way to keep costs down).

I have also had really good luck signing up for newsletters of local estate sale businesses--they often will run closed bid auctions over their website and email and at least where I live there is often original art with a bit of a story that you can get quite inexpensively. Also if you have any smaller or resort-adjacent towns near you, make a habit of stopping by their thrift stores and antique stores and checking to see what they have. I've found several amazing original works that I am assuming came from liquidated estate sales of rich person vacation homes where the donators either didn't know or care to google the artist's name ahead of time!
posted by stellaluna at 12:11 PM on January 10, 2020

Seconding Etsy as a good source. You can fine hundreds of large originals in your budget. TIP: Get the seller to ship the canvas rolled in a tube and have it re-stretched when it arrives, you'll save so much on shipping. (Check the seller is willing to do this before buying!)
posted by DarlingBri at 12:32 PM on January 10, 2020

Your city + art walk (or art crawl) are good search terms.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:42 PM on January 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

My state university Art School has a sale of student work towards December each year: paintings, drawings, prints, pottery. A mixed bag but much of it pretty cool and affordable.
posted by tmdonahue at 1:00 PM on January 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

"Art in the Park" fairs or art crawls and the like. University art departments sometimes have student art fairs on open house days.
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:26 PM on January 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

We've bought most of our art through local estate sales run by LiveAuctioneers. You can search to see if there's one coming up in your area.
posted by octothorpe at 1:54 PM on January 10, 2020

We buy from friends, local artists, paintings at bars, the hair stylist's, and in one case from a Vermont rest stop (we took pictures and emailed the artist.) Incidental meetings.

We've also bought from student artists.

I don't know if this interests you but there is also DIY....I painted a big rectangle a nice color of blue and it's hung above the fireplace for years, along with some material from an old bathrobe I loved but simply couldn't wear....I stapled it to a canvas and hung it on the wall, and it's colors are emphasized in Big Blue Rectangle. It was nice because I couldn't bring myself to throw that bathrobe out and now I get to enjoy it as I was apparently meant to: as wall art. I'm going to assume that's not what you're into and restrain myself from additional Ideas.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:10 PM on January 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

An art gallery local to me buys collections and resells them. You may find something similar in your area. the one I linked to often has good markdowns.
posted by Duffington at 3:15 PM on January 10, 2020

Many communities have an auction house that handles fine and decorative art collectors' estate sales and downsizing. (John Moran in the L.A. area has nice stuff.)

Subscribe to the emails from Sale announcements often have dozens of photos so you can window shop ahead of time.
posted by Scram at 9:26 PM on January 10, 2020

Where are you located?
posted by pinochiette at 8:32 AM on January 11, 2020

Most of my original "vintage" art has come from estate sales, galleries or from the artists themselves. (The more notable the artist, the more likely it came from a reputable gallery and included documentation of provenance/authenticity—and also that it was correspondingly a LOT more pricey than the other venues.) But I've also commissioned custom paintings from artists on Etsy.

Regarding that, I've noticed that there are some artists who seem to basically subsidize their original (and sometimes custom) works by retaining the rights to sell prints or other reproductions of the paintings through the same Etsy shop. (As I understand it, this can frequently make considerably more long-term income for artists, both known and obscure, than the original sale).

So if you see someone whose style you like, and you have some specific ideas or requirements about the size or imagery, commissioning a painting can sometimes end up being an affordable win/win.
posted by obloquy at 5:05 PM on January 11, 2020

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