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How to Buy Art

By Will Ramsay, Founder of the Affordable Art Fair

How to Buy Art
Danielle de Wolfe
07 October 2012

While you might know your Banksy from your Da Vinci, the chances of getting your hands on a real version of either are pretty slim. But collecting art doesn't have to mean spending wads of cash/grand theft. Will Ramsay, founder of the Affordable Art Fair (the clue's in the name) offers up tips to keep your wallet and walls happy.

1. Live, sleep, breathe art

Looking at art is fun, usually free and a great way to meet people. The more art you see the more your knowledge will grow and you’ll start to develop your own personal taste. Since I bought my first piece, my eye has become more subtle and refined as I have come to appreciate true quality in art. Visit art museums, galleries and art fairs. Talking to people in the industry will keep you up to date with market trends and give you a more informed view of what’s happening in the art world.

2. Don’t follow the crowd

The most important thing is your own individual response. Take your time, look carefully and see what you think. Ask qustions: the more you know, the more you will appreciate and enjoy art. Quiz the artist/curator/gallerist on their opinions, which will probably be worth heeding. That still doesn’t mean you have to agree with them.

3. Join up

Become a supporter of a public institution, like the Tate, or a membership organisation like the Contemporary Art Society. They’re the UK’s leading society for contemporary collectors, which means they give expert advice and organise a whole range of events for collectors of all levels. Join lots of gallery mailing lists who represent artists you’re interested in. They’ll keep you up-to-date with all their news and invite you to private views. There you can look at art, chat to interesting people, and further your art education.

4. Slow down

Don’t just buy the first thing you see – spend time looking, researching, reading and, most importantly, thinking. Of course if you totally fall in love with a work, then just go for it. It is always wise to sleep on big decisions. Ask the gallerist if you can try it at home for a night or week.

5. Don’t worry

If you think you might have made a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. Art is a learning curve for everyone involved – artist, curator, critic, and now you, the budding collector. The first artwork I bought (in Moscow, aged 19) is no longer my favourite, but is still a meaningful reminder of that point in my life. Collecting art is a lot easier than you might think – you don’t need to be an art expert or a squillionaire to take part.

6. Express yourself

You’ll find your own personal style, but don’t let this restrict you to collecting within genres. I look for good composition, originality and wit; my collection is now very eclectic and spontaneous. I buy too much but just can’t rein in the passion! The vast majority of works are by unknown professional artists, but I do own a print by Louise Bourgeois. Much of her work incorporates a sense of vulnerability and fragility, and my print is no exception.

The Affordable Art Fair returns to London this autumn, at Battersea Park from 25-28 October and Hampstead Heath from 1-4 November.


(Artist: Brad Wilson)


(Artist: Robert McPartland)


(Artist: Stanley Donwood)