Unconventional Finds: Valuing Folk, Outsider & Thrift Store Art

Unconventional Finds: Valuing Folk, Outsider & Thrift Store Art

Sarah Rainwater
Sep 13, 2010

Among the many categories of affordable art, one of the most exciting includes prizes found in unexpected places: a yard sales, flea markets, a friend-of-a-friend's basement … but the line between trash and treasure is almost totally subjective when it comes to buying outside of the conventional art markets. So, how do you know a great piece when you see it?

When buying art it's always important to research artists, history, and market trends, but with folk and outsider art, that's often impossible — if the creators are even known, they are usually untrained artists with very little biographical information available.

As an avid collector of both insider and outsider art, when it comes to quirky, primitive finds, my number one rule has always been to just go with my gut. As unscientific as this advice may be, there's actually rhyme behind my reasoning. Mainly because — despite what you may see on Antiques Roadshow — this type of art won't necessarily increase in value so you should buy it for love, not investment. Secondly, work by unschooled artists usually bucks the trends of the art world, making it personal or reflective of different cultures and therefore often easier to connect to on a gut level.

Despite what I've just said, a little research never hurt, especially for a serious collector. Folk art museums and galleries are a great place to start, as well as museums that focus on specific cultures whose art you may be interested in, which can help you distinguish between original work and souvenir shop reproductions. But if you see artwork for sale on a corner that you have to have and the price is right, don't let a unique discovery pass you by.

Image: Flea market painting by an unknown artist

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