How to Buy Art

Brooke Le Poer Trench, Allure magazine

An Interview With Courtney H. Pettit, a modern- and contemporary-art consultant and the codirector of Pettit Art Partners in New York City.

People are intimidated by the idea of buying art, but art collecting is about your personal relationship with the object. There are no right or wrong choices, just a learning curve when it comes to identifying your interests.

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Train your eye. Establishing your taste is the first step in collecting, and the way to do that is to visit museums and galleries. What appeals to you? You may gravitate toward Picasso in a museum but love photography in a gallery; think about which style you'd rather live with-not for a season, but for years.

Be brave. Most galleries are open to the public, so simply walk in. Even if it's quiet and the person at the front desk seems frosty, the gallerists truly want you to come in and look around. Very few people are there to buy.

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Hang smart. Before you buy something, think about where you want it to go. A large wall needs a large piece. And consider the light, too-you don't want to hang a lithograph or a photograph on a wall that gets hours of direct sunlight every day. Even behind UV-protective glass, it will fade.

Set a budget. Consider how much you want to spend. For $500, you can get original art. Paintings are usually the most expensive, then photographs and lithographs or prints. Many artists make prints similar to their work on canvas, so if you love an expensive painting, don't be afraid to ask if there's a more affordable version of it in a different medium. You can also check out student work at an open studio at top schools, such as Yale, RISD, UCLA, or Columbia.

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Spend wisely. Whatever you buy, the most important thing is that you love it. But if you're considering artwork as an investment, there are factors that can help you assess whether a piece will hold or increase its value. Ask the gallery where the artist has exhibited previously and what museums or collections hold his work.

Negotiate. Ask if a discount is possible; it's not rude, and it can't hurt. Just remember that if the artist is really hot, the price probably won't budge.

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