3 tips on buying your first authentic Aboriginal art.

Buying your first artwork can be a daunting experience. As a buyer we want to be sure the painting we’re buying is worth parting with our hard-earned money. When it comes to buying indigenous art, it becomes doubly important to be vigilant.

Between 2016 and 2019, I worked as the Gallery Manager and Education Coordinator of an Aboriginal Centre in the Blue Mountains. Just a stone throw away from the iconic Three Sisters, I received visitors from all over Australia and around the world. Aside from the aesthetic beauty of the artwork, our visitors wanted to learn about the significance of the art in the indigenous culture, the providence or authenticity of the pieces and whether they were ethically sourced.

The aboriginal artists are custodians of stories going back thousands of years

The History of Aboriginal Art.

Australia’s First Nation People have a rich, diverse culture as represented through their art. I’ve written in an earlier post the significance of Aboriginal Art in passing sacred and cultural information. In the absence of a written language, the paintings play a vital role in passing sacred and survival knowledge for thousands of years.

Essentially, the paintings are visual components of the Dreaming stories at ceremonies. Ceremonies are like schools for Aboriginal people. An Aboriginal child growing up is required to attend various ceremonies based on their age and sex. At the completion of their ceremonies, the initiates become the new custodians of their family and tribes’ Dreamings and are given permission to pass down the stories to future generations.

To create the paintings at ceremonies, elders use a large stick to scratch ancient symbols on the dirt and decorate them using a combination of ocher, bird down and vegetation. The paintings have an aerial view – like a map. Over the course of the ceremony, elders dance over the paintings, singing and dancing the Dreaming Stories.

Canvas is a new medium. Since it’s introduction in the 70’s, Aboriginal paintings have been highly sought after by collectors and art enthusiasts and many of the indigenous artists have enjoyed sell out exhibitions around the world.

Why Buy Aboriginal Art?

Whilst the reasons for buying Aboriginal art can vary by individuals, it often comes down to a few factors that draws a person to a particular piece.

These include:

  • Uniquely Australian, Aboriginal art is an expression of our First nation’s people and land;
  • Each painting represents the artist’s Dreamings, teachings that go back to the time of creation and Aborigines’ close, intimate connection to the land;
  • Ethical purchasing of Aboriginal art directly supports the artist and their community. Aside from the initial payment to the artist, 5% of the sale price of paintings over $1000 is paid to the artist through the National Resale Royalty
A contemporary black and white painting by Anna Petyarre

For a first time buyer, it can be a daunting experience entering into the Aboriginal art market. It’s a leap of faith. And for most, a large investment. If that’s you, then the following tips will hopefully help alleviate some of the anxiety when buying your first artwork.

Tip 1. Check the Providence

Providence or Certificate of Art Authenticity is the documentation that accompanies the artwork. In the absence of a written history most certificates, where possible, are accompanied with a photo of the artist with their completed artwork. Aside from a photo, the certificate will also include:

  • Size of the artwork;
  • Medium (e.g. acrylic on canvas);
  • Year of completion;
  • Signature or statement of authenticity from a respectful authority; and
  • Gallery tax receipt.
Certificate Of Authenticity Aboriginal Artwork For Bush Leaves by Bernadine Johnson
Sample of Certificate of Authenticity

Tip 2. Quality and Price

Almost on a daily basis I was asked how long it takes the artist to paint a piece. I still find the question puzzling. Aboriginal artists are no different to other professionals. It takes a highly accomplished artist a lifetime to master their craft. So when it comes to buying your first art piece, consider the following:

  • Material used. Belgian linen is stronger, more flexible and durable than low grade cotton.
  • Even the best artists produce work that are less resolved. Don’t blindly buy a big name over an emerging artist. Err on the side of workmanship.
  • Decide on what you can afford and buy the best within your budget.

Tip 3. Love at First Sight

This one is pretty self explanatory.

Paintings are personal. An expression of you. Buy what you love.

The aboriginal art in my home are daily reminders of the teachings I want to pass to my children. And just like the Dreamings, when the time comes, I’ll pass my pieces to the next generation in our family, the future custodians.

Gloria Petyarre colourful Bush Leaves Painting in contemporary dining room
Gloria Petyarre’s Bush Leaves

Thank you for visiting my corner of the internet. I hope you’ve enjoyed the tips. If you did, consider sharing it with your social network. Also, be sure to check out other My 3 Tips posts on this site.


For authentic storytelling and articulate communication, you cannot go past Bonnie. She possesses a sense of warmth, sincerity and intrigue that makes you want to keep reading. For articles that have to make an impact – Bonnie is your girl. Proof reading, improving and creativity is her speciality.

Michelle Lee, Solo Ocean Rower, Australian Geographic Adventurer of the year

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