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We will always regret not getting the exploding head.

My husband Sean and I went to an outdoor art exhibition several years ago, looking for something cool to adorn our walls. One of the first pieces we saw was a large drawing by Robert Malinowski that depicted a man in a tie with a cloud of teeny-tiny numbers where his head should be. We both loved it.

However, it was one of the first booths we'd seen and priced at about $500, if memory serves, so we hesitated. We thought we should probably take a look around before we bought something.

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Sean and I did the rounds of the exhibition, came back to purchase the drawing and (curses!) it had been sold. We've regretted missing out ever since. For one thing, back then we had plenty of disposable income that we could have invested in artwork instead of frittering it away at the bars. Plus, Malinowski's pieces sell for thousands now.

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like the price of original art has shot up dramatically in the last five or six years. Sean and I went back to the same outdoor art exhibition this year -- we're in the market for some large artwork, having recently retired the Indian wall hangings and travel photos in cheapo frames that have been in our living room for a decade.

We found two more pieces we both loved but the least expensive was $2,200. At this stage in our lives, that's not the kind of money we can afford to part with for art's sake. And in the back of our minds, there is the nagging fear that we'll drop a couple Gs, get the piece home and after a few days decide we hate it.

But are there ways to live with a wonderful work of art without forking over thousands?

Yes, in fact. One way is to rent it.

The Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto has a rotating collection of about 500 pieces of original artwork by emerging Canadian contemporary artists that can be rented for a monthly fee. The pieces are consigned from 50 top galleries across the city, plus there are about 100 independent artists who don't belong to a private gallery.

The price is four per cent of the price of the artwork, starting at $20 per month and going up to about $350 per month. And if you decide at the end of a three-month period to purchase the piece, the AGO will deduct the amount you've already paid.

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"Instead of making a commitment, or before you're ready to make that commitment, you can try it out, make sure you love it first and that it fits well with your home," said Danielle Forest of the AGO's Art Rental and Sales Gallery. Or you can just rent something for a while, then swap it out for a new piece when you get tired of it.

Perusing the gallery's rental pieces is a great way to find out what's happening in the contemporary Canadian art world, says Ms. Forest, and the gallery offers a free consultation with one of 30 or so AGO volunteers.

"These women and men really have their ear to the ground," she said, "and it can be nice to work with someone who can let you know about some of the key activity that's happening on [the artist's]C.V. to show that this is an emerging artist."

In terms of insurance, Ms. Forest says that usually artwork is covered under your general house or business insurance (depending on where you are going to hang it), but she suggests you check with your insurance provider first to be sure. But because the gallery can arrange for the delivery and installation of the piece (for fees ranging from $85 to $150), she says damage isn't usually an issue.

Although the AGO's rental program is only available to Toronto residents, there are other galleries across the country that offer a similar service, including the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, The Vancouver Art Gallery, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax.

Beyond renting, there are other ways to get awesome art for less. Ms. Forest suggests checking out the graduating shows at your local school of art (like OCAD or the Emily Carr University of Art and Design). These institutions can be excellent resources for finding original art at reasonable prices ("and it's good to see what the youngest of the emerging artists are doing," she says).

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There are also art fairs (like Toronto's Artists Project), which can offer lower prices, and give you a chance to speak with up-and-coming artists in person. And in case you're wondering, Ms. Forest says it isn't bad etiquette to ask an artist if the price is negotiable.

"It's a different situation if there's a gallery involved," she says, "but at a fair or outdoor exhibition you could always speak with an artist to see if the price is negotiable. Talk to them about their work and find out why they are valuing it at that price point."

My advice? If you see something you absolutely love and the price is right, buy it immediately. Otherwise, someone else will and you'll regret it. I still do.

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