Conventional wisdom tells us that the the time to buy art is when you’re older and have attained a degree of financial security, right? I’ve learned from personal experience that this kind of logic is completely backwards. Sure, now that I’m older and more “settled,” I technically have more in the bank, but trust me — it ain’t that much more. I had a lot more spare cash to spend on art when I was just starting out than I do now, largely because I’m no longer able to say, ‘what the hell, I’ll just go out less next month’ and drop a few hundred dollars on a drawing just because I happen to love it. When you’re young you can scale back drastically in one area of your life without it dramatically affecting the other parts. That’s not necessarily the case when you’re older and have dependents. Which leads me to reason number one for buying art as early as you possibly can:
1. It may not seem like it now, but if you’re in a line of work that’ll basically keep you in the middle class the rest of your life, if you’re lucky (cough-nonprofit world), your early twenties may well be the only time you’ll have any measure of disposable income to spend on what *you* want to spend it on without feeling guilty that it should be put somewhere else.
2. When you’re young you can still buy what you like without having to check with someone else first. This may be a fairly big assumption, of course, but when you’re in your twenties you’re less likely to have partnered up for the long-term or share a bank account. Thus, you don’t have to worry about your partner’s veto power over what hangs on your walls.
3. Following on Reason #2, buying art when you’re young and still fancy-free provides an invaluable opportunity to develop your own tastes over time. Sure, it’s fun to buy with a partner, but it’s also important to formulate your own aesthetic sensibility apart from that, so you don’t wind up being the one who nods stupidly and says “I leave these kinds of decisions up to him/her” while reaching for the checkbook.
4. When you’re young,you’re less likely to have had kids. And, by extension, a house/mortgage. Once you have either of these things, believe me, unless you’re already firmly ensconced in the upper ranges of middle class you’re much more likely to feel guilty about big purchases that don’t in some way involve the kids and/or house. Yeah, I know art feeds the soul and I absolutely agree that it’s important to have lots of it around the house in one form or another, but when you have to choose between fixing the broken backyard fence or buying that painting you fell in love with last weekend, it can be much harder to choose the latter when you think your kids’ well-being may be at stake.
5. If you start buying young, your collection will be more than a collection. It’ll serve as a unique narrative of your own personal history dating from early adulthood. This one is true whether you choose to have kids or not. What was it about that particular work that made you want to buy it? What did you have to sacrifice in order to get it? Did you have a personal relationship with the artist? Artworks remind you of where you were in your life when you bought them, not just geographically but socially and psychologically, too.
6. On the whole, when you’re younger, the art you like tends to be less expensive and thus, affordable even on a student’s budget. You’re young, you’re hanging around kids like yourself and thus you tend to go to the types of apartment galleries and indie spaces where younger artists show, and the prices reflect that. I’m here to encourage you: don’t just look, think about buying that $50 drawing. Take advantage of the fact that the artists in your circle are still selling their work relatively cheaply. That won’t necessarily be the case forever.
7. Consider the time-honored tradition of the trade. Many artists acquire art by trading some of their own work (or services, if they don’t make objects) for someone else’s work or services. Artists already know about this one, so I don’t have to belabor the point other than to note that not everyone in the art world can ethically make a trade.
8. Think about purchasing art instead of updating to the latest version of your iPod, iPhone, Mac computer, or, um, buying drugs. The painting that blew your mind at last weekend’s opening? Maybe it’s it the $200-$500 range. If you don’t buy the new iPhone and are willing to stretch out your stash, dude, that painting could be yours! It’s a cliche, but it’s still true: the art will last longer. Wait for the next iteration of the technology to come out and buy that piece of art now. When you’re old and gray you’ll still be looking at it; the drugs and the iPhone, on the other hand, will have long ago been consumed.
9. Buying young enables you to grow your tastes alongside those of an artist or gallery. Assuming that the art you’re buying in your early twenties is, by necessity, that made or exhibited by other youngsters like you, you’ll be establishing yourself as a supporter of these people early on. This relationship may or may not carry forward into the future, but by all rights it should. The artist will remember you as one of his/her earliest collectors; the gallery will know that you do indeed give a shit about the work they show and take you seriously when you come in. If you happen to strike it rich or just do a little bit better as you get older and (hopefully) move forward professionally, you might find yourself in a position to buy slightly more expensive work by this or other artists. If the dealer is smart, she’ll remember you made that early purchase way back when and help you obtain something that might not otherwise be within your grasp.
10. Buying artwork is exhilarating, especially when you buy something that’s a little pricier than you can afford but you can’t help yourself. Try it. See what I mean? And even if you’re buying a $25 drawing and tacking it over your night stand, buying art makes you feel like a grownup who cares about the beauty of your surroundings.
In conclusion: You don’t have to buy expensive work to have a “real” art collection. Some socially well-connected artists don’t even have to “buy” anything at all; but this post has been written for those of you who don’t necessarily have those kinds of connections and need to spend your own hard-earned dollars in order to make an artwork yours. A fine collection of small-scale drawings in the $10-15 range purchased at art benefits, holiday art school sales etc. can be amassed without a lot of financial pain. No matter how inexpensive the purchase, take whatever you buy seriously by framing it as soon as possible (better for the art, better looking on your walls), displaying it prominently and with flair, and looking at it often. Whenever possible, scrimp a bit on the essentials so you can splurge on art. Trust me, it gets a whole lot harder to do that once that thing they call “real life” takes over.