Originality is key
Olsen, Dobell, Olley, Whiteley. These are not usually names you associate with buying art on a budget, but these now legendary artists were fledgling art students once upon a time. Skip buying the cheap online prints and opt for ab original or limited-run work by an emerging artist. Supporting local artists combined with the thrill of knowing you could be investing in the next big thing? Win win.
Go straight to the source
There are more places teeming with rambunctious young art types than fine art schools, and their graduate exhibitions present the cream of the crop. Graduate exhibitions are a veritable lottery. If you play your cards right, you can score a signature piece for less than $1,000 before the artist hits cult status. Tip: ask the faculty to point out the ones to watch. Check out Sydney College of the Arts, the National Art School, COFA, Victorian College of the Arts, RMIT and Adelaide Central School of Art.
Get outside the white cube
Artists' studios often host open studio days, which let you nosey around some adorably quirky creative spaces filled with bric-a-brac and artworks at various stages of conception. It's the music world equivalent of hearing a singer record in the studio versus browsing EPs on iTunes; a totally unique experience which lets you into the artist's inner sanctum. Plus, you can often purchase work straight from the hands who made it - sans the commission! Check out Gertrude Contemporary and Blender Studios in Melbourne, Artspace and Parramatta Artist Studios in Sydney and Artsource Studios in Perth.
Some of the best art collections I have come across are built off the back of a strong friendship and a willingness to barter, that is, exchange a product or service for an artwork. A friend of mine who runs a flooring business fell in love with a client's paintings, and filled her entire house with his work in exchange for brand spanking new floorboards. Two very happy customers. You might not always have a spare few thousand lying around, but you might be able to design your favourite artist a website or upholster their couch. Think outside the picture frame.
Support is mounting in the industry for interest-free art loans, echoing the success of similar programs in the UK and the Netherlands. The City of Sydney and 10 Group are developing a program offering 10-month interest-free loans on work priced between $750 and $20,000. The best bit: unlike a new pair of Louboutins, you can take the artwork home after the first deposit. Watch this space.
Home is where the art is
Collecting art should never be about money, status or trying to match the autumn tones in your 20th century Persian rug. Buy what you love, what reflects your values and the way you see the world. The real value of an artwork is the pleasure you take in being in its presence.