Earlier this month, New York auction house Sotheby's ( BID) hosted a high-profile auction of impressionist and modern art. But with the last bang of the auctioneer's gavel, works from masters such as Van Gogh, Picasso and Matisse failed to sell. What happened? Quite simply, buyers stung by the global economic meltdown balked at shelling out big money for these pieces. Fact is, auction houses are seeing fewer well-heeled bidders raising their paddles for a Degas, Kandinsky or Warhol. At the same time, works by emerging artists that in the past have ignited bidding frenzies are more likely to command lower prices -- and that's if they sell at all. According to art-world insiders, the boom time is over for auction houses after years of big-ticket sales and seemingly boundless demand. But the deflating art market is good news for those looking for bargains as prices continue to drop. "There are lots of good deals out there right now," says Laura Conover, an assistant in the American and European paintings and prints department of Boston-based auction house Skinner Inc. "It's certainly a great time to buy." For intrepid collectors and gallery novices alike, here are a few tips to get the most out of investing in art. Know what you like. Art is meant to be enjoyed. After all, it's one of the few investments you can hang above your mantel. So before you plunk down $20,000 for a paint-splattered, abstract canvas, make sure you actually like it. Spend some time visiting local galleries and museums to find out what you like -- and what you don't. "The primary reason people should buy art is that they like it," says Conover. Know what it's worth. Whether you're buying a house, a stock or a piece of art, the key is not to overpay. Savvy investors do plenty of due diligence on stocks, from weighing P/E ratios on shares of Ford Motor ( F) to combing through Microsoft's ( MSFT) quarterly SEC filings. Smart house-hunters look at comparable sale prices on similar houses in the neighborhood. Art collectors can do a lot to determine if a current work is selling for a reasonable price, from noting what the artist's previous pieces sold for to whether the artist has garnered favorable reviews from critics. Web sites such as ArtPrice.com offer data on previous auction sales and upcoming auctions for pieces from a particular artist. For example, ArtPrice.com -- which requires registration -- lists details on 37 Andy Warhol pieces and 130 Pablo Picasso pieces being sold at auction houses from New York to Milan.