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Profits in the frame

Invest in art for the love of it first, says Alison Brace. Seeking the Next Big Thing through galleries, or even in your school, can be lots of fun - and if you're lucky, you might make your fortune

Fancy hanging a Tracey Emin original on your bedroom wall or displaying a Damien Hirst installation in your living room?

OK, so you may not have the budget - or the taste - for Hirst's pound;50 million diamond-encrusted skull or Emin's infamous unmade bed. However, for a few thousand pounds you could secure yourself a slice of the Young British Artists' movement.

But is it worth it? And, more precisely, will it be worth anything in the long run? "Buying art for investment is fun," says Nicky Wheeler, director of the Affordable Art Fair. "But it should come with a government health warning - prices can go up, but they can also go down."

The Affordable Art Fair, which stages three UK exhibitions a year - two in London and one in Bristol - exhibits work ranging from pound;50 to Pounds 3,000 and 120 galleries from around the world show off their collections at the show.

"We always say you have to buy art because you love it," says Nicky. "It has to be an emotional investment."

But if you are looking for a safe bet in terms of your artwork holding its value, then go for a well-established name. You can still pick up a work by David Hockney, for instance, to pop on your wall. As long as you look after it well, it is unlikely to lose its value.

If you have cash to spare, but not enough to run to an established name, the most exciting place to invest your money is in the world of the emerging artist.

With up to 5,000 fine art graduates coming out of college every year, it's down to luck if you hit on the next potential Damien Hirst or Leonardo da Vinci.

But there are some simple checks you can make to ensure you are spending your money wisely. Talk to the dealer or the gallery owner and learn a little more about the artist and what other work they have produced. Where have they exhibited and have they had any reviews? The Scottish Arts Council advises that when you buy, you should take a photograph of the work to keep safely with your receipt and the artist's CV for insurance purposes.

This is particularly important if the work is not signed. The council also recommends that you fix your budget at the outset and check exactly what the price includes. Does it, for instance, include the gallery commission, the frame, and VAT?

Apart from art fairs and galleries, there are plenty of other places to seek out exciting art: annual degree shows at art schools take place in May or June; theatres, cafes and libraries often exhibit works which are for sale and many artists host open days.

Closer to home, what about pupils at your own school who might be about to embark on a fine arts degree? The next big thing could be right there in your classroom.

If you would like to seriously invest in art, having money up front is not the only way to go about it.

Around 350 galleries across the UK participate in Own Art, an Arts Council-run scheme that allows you to borrow up to pound;2,000 to invest in contemporary work and pay it back over 10 months interest free.

If you have invested in an emerging artist, then it's best to hang on to their work for at least five years before trying to sell. And if you then discover that the artist you'd banked on becoming a big name has tired of his penniless existence and retrained as a teacher, remember this: Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime.

And if you still love the painting, consider it money well spent. Nicky Wheeler says: "Investing in art is always a lot more exciting than hanging a share certificate on the wall."

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