Selecting Art For Your Home

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By Nan Bridgeman

One of the pleasures of moving into your own space is creating a home that reflects your taste, your interests. When folks come into our shop, they usually go about confidently selecting rugs, furniture and lamps, but are often hesitant when selecting a few pictures to hang on their walls. They are often unsure what style and medium they want. I can completely sympathize.

When I first took my job developing children’s programs at a local museum, I was charged with developing a 40 minute script for high school art students who would be visiting our coming Salvador Dali exhibit, borrowed from a Washington DC museum. As the crates arrived and were opened I watched with near panic as the strange scribblings emerged from their multiple wrappings. I was a history major who just had a passing interest in art, and I knew I was in way over my head. I asked to speak with the director, (whose advanced degree in art history from Duke further intimidated me), and explained my inadequacy. The director reassured me that I could handle this job and to keep in mind, art is very subjective. I should just give a brief bio of Dali, followed by a rudimentary explanation of surrealism, and then allow the students to browse the gallery. I followed up asking each student to select a piece of Dali’s work and sharing what he or she thought of it. The students enjoyed participating and I loved hearing their opinions. There were as many views as there were students and I learned a great lesson. Art is very, very personal!

So my first piece of advice is to view as much art as you can, and start seeing what styles please you. This is a fun assignment best accomplished by browsing art venues and perusing art books and magazines. This also calls for introspection, as you start learning a bit more about your likes and dislikes. Do you like precise, realistic drawings or paintings, or soft blurry watercolors, or perhaps vivid abstract paintings? Take time to see what style of art draws you in, intrigues you, and calls your name.

Next, I believe your art should stand on its own merit. Select a piece of art based on your emotional and intellectual responses rather than choosing art because it matches fabric swatches and paint chips. Art chosen by the later method rarely brings lasting satisfaction. I know it seems backwards, but think about using your artwork as inspiration for your room, and then pick out your wall paints, upholstery colors, etc. If you start with what you love and what “speaks to you”, your room should be a success.

Finally, I encourage you to enjoy art at every stage of your life regardless of your budget. When I was a newlywed, I remember buying a large poster of Picasso’s, “Le Bouquet”, which I proudly hung in the little eating area of our apartment. It was not a numbered lithograph, just a large inexpensive print I had framed. I loved that print then and still do. Entry level art can be a poster or a giclee which is a computer driven reproduction that is mass produced usually on canvas. As the years passed, I started buying small original paintings or sketches when we traveled as a memento of a happy occasion and hung these small paintings in our bath so I could enjoy them every day. I highly recommend this type of souvenir as the joy lasts forever.

As you age and discover more about your taste, you will probably want to purchase some original pieces of art that speak to you. These are usually pricey and some buyers believe their purchases might be a good financial investment. I refrain from justifying a purchase of art based on the hope the piece will increase in value as this is risky for the best of investors. I buy what I like and if the art work does appreciate in value, then that is a boon. I recommend this relaxed attitude to you when go about selecting your art.

Finally a tip on creating a pleasing arrangement of various types and sizes of art on a wall. Nate Berkus suggested once, using the same color frame to unify small art. For instance, black frames on your mixed media collection will help add some calm and unity to unrelated pieces. I also recommend laying out all your art on the floor beneath the wall dedicated to hold your collection. Move your pieces around until you create a good design, with balanced spots of color, visual weigh and interest. Then pull your pieces of art into a fairly tight composition. A tightly arranged display keeps your art visually corralled with no pieces distractedly “wandering” on your wall. Then use a pencil to lightly mark your wall where the nails should go. A small leveler is also helpful in keeping your frames straight.

Lastly, a word of warning. Collecting can be addictive and lead to unimagined consequences. When I retired from the museum, my husband took me on a wonderful alumni trip to Netherlands to study the Dutch Masters. We cruised up the Amstel River and enjoyed presentations by art professors explaining the key elements of the art of Rembrandt, Ruben, Vermeer and Van Gogh. I was in heaven! My husband enjoyed the lectures and museums but drew the line when we had free time to shop. No way was he going shopping! So I shopped with a darling young professor and we purchased many beautiful oil paintings. When my crates arrived, I realized I had a big problem…..too much beautiful art! I began selling my extra Dutch oil paintings stacked in my guest bedroom behind the bed to friends. Soon I was on missions to locate a handsome antique chest of drawers, and find a great pair of lamps for someone. I enjoyed helping others “feather their nest”. Within a year of my retirement from education, ventured into retail and have loved it. Who knows where your collecting will lead you!