Buying Art on a College Grad's Budget

Scott Listfield artTwo things -- taste and money -- often make it difficult after college graduation to switch from tacking up posters in a dorm to decorating a home with framed artwork.

While your art preferences will likely change, saving money might always be an issue. And why spend more on art than you need to when just starting out?

There are ways to find good, inexpensive art -- and, luckily, your choices aren't limited to generic nature photos, Monet reproductions or Rolling Stones posters.

So what is a young grad to do?

"They don't even know where their local print shop is, or where their local gallery is, in my opinion," said Sean Broihier, CEO of Fine Art America, a website that sells prints and artworks directly from a roster of 30,000 artists.

Marion Rose artThe average price for a work of art on the Fine Art America site is $75. But here's the twist on this art supplier -- when you make a purchase, the artists benefit directly. Artists receive all the proceeds of any print that is purchased, while the site gets 90% of the cost of framing and other services. Artists receive the other 10% commission on materials.

Broihier, 32, remembers those days after college when he decorated his apartment with posters, as most college students do. He built a site to remedy that. Fine Art America now sells more than 500,000 works of art, with many prints selling for $20.

"Originals are way out of the price range for most people," he said. "You can get the look and feel of the original at a fraction of the price."

And there are definitely other sites to search for the ultimate wall decor. Sites like Art's Not Dead, The Poster List, and Bare Walls.

Some sites have special features -- for instance, can turn your iPhone photos into framed artwork.

But don't go to Fine Art America looking for any of what Broihier calls "art by dead people" -- Monets, Picassos or works by other art-world icons. Though you could find, as Broihier says, "There's a certain satisfaction that you're helping a local artist somewhere."

Fine Art America's artists have bios on the site, and buyers can opt to be e-mailed when an artist is having a show in their area.

Yuri Shevchuk artAmong the site's best sellers are stretched canvas prints, which start at $30 and can be viewed in a virtual room, making it easier to see what the art will look like on your wall at home.

One of the hottest-selling artists on the site is Scott Listfield of Somerville, Mass. Listfield's paintings of an astronaut in everyday settings, and some not so common, are unusual and fun. (See an example above.)

Other popular artists include Karin Kuhlmann, Yuri Shevchuk and one of my favorites, Marion Rose.

These options certainly make much better conversation starters than a poster of your favorite band.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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