Art: a buyer's guide

Expert advice on how to buy art from your home, ensuring your walls say something about your personality.

The Knowhere Installation at The Third Line Gallery in Dubai.
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Buying art can be a daunting affair. For the uninitiated, the art world can seem inaccessible - if not downright intimidating. But thoughtfully decorated walls are the key to a successful interior, and art can add those much-needed personal touches to a space.

Because art, by its very nature, comes in all shapes and sizes, sifting through the various options on offer can seem like an overwhelming proposition. In fact, it should be a simple, instinctual process, says Fiona MacKenzie, a Dubai-based artist who works across a range of mediums, creating everything from children's murals to large-scale artwork for hotels and custom-made pieces for commercial and private clients.

"There should be a removal of the fear around art and a lot more playfulness," she says. "People need to be in touch with their gut instinct. Do you like it or do you not like it? It has to be something that will bring you joy when you see it, a piece that you will want to keep for the rest of your life. There's a lot in the art world that is a case of the emperor's new clothes. I sometimes think that people are led or swayed by fashion, as opposed to being in touch with what they truly like."

MacKenzie suggests looking for pieces that remind you of a time or a place, or that are linked to your interests. And if you have an emotional connection to a piece, go with it. It doesn't matter whether it's fashionable or what the neighbours might think, if you are investing in art for your home, the only thing that matters is whether it appeals to you.

Of course, there's also the perception that acquiring art, particularly original artists' works, will be a costly business. Which is why a mass-produced, shop-bought print often seems like such an attractive option, even though you know you'll probably see the same piece in most of your friends' homes.

In reality, there are plenty of affordable and original options on the market. Many local galleries, including The Jamjar and The Third Line in Dubai, offer a consulting service that will help you find something that matches your budget. And that budget could be anything "from Dh1,200 to 200,000", says Tarané Ali Khan, communications director at The Third Line.

"Very few people can afford most of the artwork you see in galleries because the calibre of the art is so high. As it should be, of course. Great things come at a price. But what The Third Line offers is a budgeting factor. If you come to us and say: 'I have a new apartment, this is what I'm looking for, this is my budget, what do you have?', we'll put together a presentation of work that fits within that budget and within your requirements."

The first step is working out what you like. Do your research, says Khan, and don't be afraid to ask questions. Start getting a feel for what's on offer by visiting local galleries, which will offer a range of options at a variety of price points.

"The first thing I'd say is come to The Jamjar, we can help you find something," says Deepa Bhatia, head of art consulting at the gallery. "Also, a lot of places like DUCTAC [Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre] or Tashkeel do locally-based artists exhibitions - those are good places to buy art. I'd also recommend buying art work from poster print companies or from locally-based emerging artists who might be selling art as a hobby rather than a profession, which means their work is much more affordable. There are also a lot of smaller galleries in Dubai like the Showcase Gallery or Art House that sell limited edition prints or artists' works."

Meanwhile, larger scale events such as Art Dubai and Abu Dhabi Art, which is taking place from November 16 to 19, offer access to a large number of galleries at the same time, and are a good opportunity to familiarise yourself with current and emerging artists.

For those who would rather avoid galleries altogether, the internet is a great place to search for art, especially if you're looking for unusual prints and posters. There's a lot to be said for picking art from the comfort of your own home and sites such as,,, and offer an enormous selection of prints and posters, including rare, discontinued items.

Whether you're buying art from a gallery or online, you should always have an idea of where you want to place your new purchase, says Khan. "The space will always influence the piece you choose. The work has to fit into its surroundings. You don't want a piece to be lost in its space and its beauty be gone as a result."

That's not to say that your artwork needs to perfectly match your curtains or your cushions. As MacKenzie points out, this will often end up looking "kitsch". "There's beauty in variety. You get people saying you can't mix black and brown, or things like that, but I think there's a freedom in art."

How you position your piece is also important. There's no point buying a beautiful piece of art and then obstructing it with an oversized lamp, for example. Make sure that your piece, whether it's an oil painting, a sculpture or a print, has the space it needs to show itself off to maximum effect.

Effective lighting is also essential. "Even at the gallery when we are setting up for a show, the lights are done last," says Khan. "Direct light is not a good thing. It has to be soft lighting. Your lighting should be subtle and it has to enhance the work in whatever you think is the best way."

The key to finding the right art is patience. Don't let the pressure of four bare walls staring down at you force you into making rash decisions. Do your research and buy from the heart. And have no fear. "At the end of the day", MacKenzie points out, "it's only art. It can be repainted and it can be changed."