by Joelle Steele

Have you always wanted to surround yourself with beautiful or thought-provoking works of art? If you love art and have the disposable income — even a very small budget — you can invest in works by many established and emerging artists from anywhere in the world. All it takes is time and, of course, money.

How much does art cost? Depends on what you like and what is available. For those with deep pockets, almost anything is within your reach, providing it is not already firmly ensconced in a museum or someone's private collection. If you're pinching pennies but anxious to acquire something new and unique, there are many talented artists who are struggling to sell their work, and they are quite affordable. You can probably find some very nice paintings or small sculptures for $500, possibly even less.

The important thing to remember is that how much you pay for a work of art is not as important as how you feel about it and how it affects you. This may sound unrealistic and philosophical, but it's true. If you invest in a work of art that you don't like that much simply because you have been led to believe by the price or from someone else's opinion that it is a masterpiece, you will be forced to look at it, possibly for many years, and you may not always be able to sell it if you become sick and tired of it. Art and artists go in and out of style. Buy only what you really love and you can't go wrong.

Where do you go to buy art? It's all around you. Once you make up your mind to find it, you will probably see opportunities to invest everywhere. Student art can be really remarkable, so don't pass up the opportunity to visit college or even high school art shows. I guarantee that you will be very surprised, impressed, and delighted at what you see. Sometimes art is displayed in unusual venues such as restaurants, coffee shops, beauty salons, bookstores, and gift shops. Auctions and antique stores can offer an intriguing mix of art too. And there are always the many art galleries that represent creative talent from all over the world.

One of the places where you can buy art directly from the artist is the Internet. Many artists have their own Web sites or display their work in online galleries. They usually sell their works for very reasonable prices because they do not have the overhead that galleries do. But, no matter who you buy from, artist or dealer, beware: Make sure that you are buying the real thing. How do you know for sure? You do your homework, finding out everything you can about an artist and about the person you are buying from. This will ensure that you get what you pay for and that you don't find out years later that you've been stung.

What to buy? Well, what do you like? Landscapes? Abstracts? Portraits? Sculpture? Something that matches your living room or office furniture? Hey, don't laugh. People buy art all the time to complement their décor, and it isn't a crime! Just buy what you like and you'll find that your tastes will pretty much dictate how your collection evolves over time. You may find yourself collecting from certain artists, schools of art, or even time periods.

And, by the way, you don't have to limit yourself to original paintings or sculptures. You can buy prints, posters, jewelry, even fabric wall art. Whatever tickles your fancy. But, whatever you buy, all art is fragile in its own way, so you need to learn how to best conserve what you buy. In most cases, this means that you must not display your art in any places where it will be exposed to direct sunlight, dampness, or excessive heat. That sounds a little like a museum, but you should be able to achieve a suitable environment in your own home or office with just a little forethought and planning. Most art will be safe in any room where a human being is comfortable — not too hot, not too humid, not too cold, etc.

What happens when you decide to sell your art? This can result in a substantial gain or loss, or you might not be able to sell it at all. Because art is sold based on the demand for the work of a particular artist, style, era, or individual piece, you need to watch the trends and be prepared to sell at just the right time. For that reason, it is a good idea to keep your eye on what is selling and who is selling it. If you know which art dealers specialize in the kind of art you own, contact them and find out how they work so that you can have a better understanding of the selling process, if or when the time comes. Don't assume that you will make a fortune by re-selling art, because sometimes it simply will not sell or will not earn you a profit. In that case, the best thing you can do is donate it to a local museum, will it to your children, or give it to your friends as gifts. And any piece of art makes an excellent gift to a person who appreciates it.

Good luck in your search for that first treasure in your art collection. When you find it, it will be a moment you never forget!

This article last updated: 05/22/2016.