Can I get a deal on that Warhol?

Buyer browses a collection of Lowry paintings at Christie's Auction House.

TESS VIGELAND: Seeing as how most of us have trouble paying our credit card bills, purchasing fine art may not be in the five-year plan. Then again, that Star Wars poster is getting embarrassing. Actually, more and more Americans are buying art. And as Stacey Vanek Smith reports, you don't have to be a Rockefeller to get the real deal.

STACEY VANEK SMITH: Call it the art market's green period. U.S. prices for fine art jumped more than a quarter last year. Auction houses took in record profits. The big kahunas like Christie's and Sotheby's raking in billions. It isn't just the big guys, the lower end of the market is booming, too.

Eileen Kinsella is the editor of The Art Newsletter.

EILEEN KINSELLA:
You also have a really broad swath of collectors that are competing for great works at the bottom.

That bottom isn't peanuts -- it's considered to be works that cost less than $10,000. That sector grew by almost 10 percent last year.

Paul Provost is with Christie's auction house in New York. He says a lot of new buyers are coming onto the scene -- and they can get a Warhol on the wall even if they don't have millions to burn.

PAUL PROVOST: We have seen individuals who don't have extraordinary wealth, coming into the marketplace and buying great works of art which they can afford. I think about one of those entry-level markets is the print market. So you can get a really fantastic print by a 20th century artist for a reasonable price.

So you've got some money squirreled away, you're looking to get something you love and you have no idea what.

Los Angeles art critic and consultant Edward Goldman advises corporations and individuals who are looking to buy art. He says private galleries are a great place for new buyers to cut their teeth.

EDWARD GOLDMAN: Actually, most of the galleries are very friendly places where people are more than welcome to ask, what is that, the price, it's appropriate to ask about the prices.

Los Angeles gallery owner Frank Lloyd agrees.

FRANK LLOYD: We provide checklists with the descriptive information, title, artist, date, dimensions and price. Most galleries do. And we also provide artist information.

For those fledging collectors, consultant Edward Goldman recommends checking out photography and prints. You can often find a quality piece for under a thousand dollars.

But Goldman is quick to point out that new buyers need to burn some shoe leather and spend time familiarizing themselves with all kinds of work.

GOLDMAN:
The secret is, seeing as much as possible. Collecting of art is not only buying whatever you can afford for wonderful things. It is a process of constantly breathing in and breathing out with art.

And if the prices seem daunting still, a lot of institutions will help you catch your breath. These days, banks will offer loans and even investment advice for buying fine art.

But make no mistake, a Titian is not a T-note. Less-expensive art is less volatile than the top tier works. But prices for lower-end works still plunged almost 40 percent in the early 90s.

But Critic Goldman says money is the least important thing art collectors put into buying a piece.

GOLDMAN: They invest their soul. Not only spending their money.

Goldman says collecting art should be more about what turns your head than what will turn a profit.

In Los Angeles, I'm Stacey Vanek Smith for Marketplace Money.

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