While the arts have a long history of patronage and wealthy individuals acting as the main players in the art world, most of us aren’t millionaires. So, is it possible for the rest of us to collect artwork? The short answer is “yes.” But, let’s face it: collecting artwork can be both expensive and confusing, especially if you aren’t collecting the classics.

Here is how you can build an impressive collection, even if you aren’t super wealthy:

Let your own tastes guide your purchases

Of course, the longer you are in the collecting game, the more you learn how to judge an artwork’s historical significance and can pick out pieces based on their perceived value. However, your first guide should always be your heart. Because the market can be unpredictable and fickle, you should always make decisions about buying art because you absolutely love it and want to live with it.

Over time, you can refine your tastes and make informed purchases by attending art fairs, galleries, and exhibitions to see what the current market looks like—and which pieces are selling and for how much. By getting a sense of trends, you will get an idea of how the markets are affecting the value of certain artworks.

Take a risk investing in emerging artists

A great place to start acquiring art before prices start soaring is by attending MFA graduate school exhibitions. It’s also a great way to support artists early in their career and possibly snag an investment piece before the artist gains widespread notoriety.

Take a look at the art schools around your area and get an idea of the current class of students, the work being done, and what time of year the exhibitions occur. Gallerists often scout these events for fresh talent, and you will be on the cutting edge of what is emerging in the art world. You will be taking a risk, but it could pay off big time in the future—especially considering the lower investment rates.

Make smart purchases

The key to building an investment collection when you don’t have millions to spare is to make calculated, informed decisions. Check out this infographic on how to educate yourself about an artwork.

You can sharpen your instincts about new artists by educating yourself on both art history, current trends and what’s happening in the art world. Read up on publications like ArtForum, ArtSlant, and Art in America.

Also, keep a finger on the pulse of the current art market. Make it a habit to regularly check up on auction prices from big hitters like Sotheby’s and Christie’s or check out how bids are going at online auction houses like ArtNet.

Beyond that, build your own personal library of art books. Browse your local art museum store for current books that explore artists that might be of interest to you. Or check out these five books recommended for collectors.

Look online for the next big thing

Tech is changing the way we collect art and more than ever, young collectors are flocking online to discover new work. Platforms like Instagram offer an endless stream of online galleries for collectors to search through.

With more artists online than ever before, collectors are taking more risks. Oftentimes, without gallery representation, an artist's work will be sold at a more modest price. If you find something you like online, don’t be afraid to message or email that artist and see what else is available.

Artists: have an inventory list of available works ready when you get this question. Using Artwork Archive can help generate these reports in just seconds.

Which brings us to our next tip …

Buy from up-and-coming galleries

Buying artwork from an emerging gallery not only could be a wise investment decision, it also supports up and coming artists. By supporting young artists and gallerists you are ensuring the future of the arts is healthy and viable.

Beyond your local community, one way to keep on top of which new galleries are making waves is by seeing who is taking part in the annual Art Basel events. Even if you can’t attend, take a look at the Nova and Positions categories on the Art Basel website and click through some of the exhibiting galleries. It’s a great way to see what’s happening in the art world, which emerging artists are gaining some traction and try and suss out trends, all without having to actually having to leave the house.

Forge relationships with art professionals

Sometimes it’s really best to ask for an outside opinion. Having an art consultant or advisor you can turn to—one you trust—will help guide your experience.

See if an art advisor can help you and then check out The Association of Professional Art Advisors. Make sure you are aware of any fees up front. Oftentimes, advisors work on commission or retainer.

Join a collectors group

Many art museums have collectors groups that offer certain perks, especially for young or new collectors. These groups allow you to make connections, open conversations and pool information. Check out your local art museum to see what type of programs they offer.

You can also see if your city has a meetup group for collectors to attend events together, talk about art and have fun!

In sum ...

You don't have to be a millionaire to build an impressive art collection. By investing in emerging artists, educating yourself before making a purchase and seeking out opportunities online and in smaller galleries, you can accrue the art collection of your dreams. 

And once you have started, make sure you are documenting all of the important aspects of your collection. With Artwork Archive you can keep all the important information about your collection in one place. Try it free for 30 days!