Did you ever walk into someone’s home and was surprised that there was furniture and perhaps curtains but nothing on the walls? This has always confounded me. I’ve been in modest homes, medium homes and palatial homes with no art, no sculpture, no nothing.
My parents had no money when they got started and most of the art they owned was cheap reproductions. They acquired three original pieces when my dad, who was a lawyer, formed a partnership for three artists in the 1960s. They paid him with paintings and sculpture instead of cash. As my parents became more affluent, they acquired more art. My memories are of enjoying all of the pieces and the stories behind them.
If you’ve read my blog post, Big Collector in a Small Pond, you would know that I have a lot of art in my home. I’m sure this is directly related to growing up in an artful home. My children say, that while they look at the art in our home, they don’t study it but they would not like to live in a home with blank walls. “It would be like a serial killer’s home,” said my daughter. Hmm…I’ll have to think about that.
We don’t have boatloads of expendable income but I have found some creative ways to adorn my home. When I couldn’t afford the big Heli Hoffman paintings of Umbria that I salivated over, I asked a quilter, Ann Armocida, to make me three quilts of the Italian countryside. They are gorgeous and a fraction of the cost of three paintings and they are still hanging in my dining room. I tuck a piece here and there, of my children’s art and I use family photos, sparingly, in the more public areas of the house.
I’ve had a few people come to me for art acquisition help over the years. I’ve hung pictures, helped pick paint colors, created art and gone to art shows and galleries with people. I’ve discovered that there are three reasons why people don’t buy art: 1. They don’t trust themselves to make a good choice. They look at an art purchase as akin to getting a tattoo. The art must go in one place; it’s permanent and therefore has to be right! 2. They don’t place value on art. They don’t get that the art they will be buying is permanent and therefore an heirloom. 3. They don’t realize that art will make their home more beautiful and inspire them. Art will make them happy, it has been proven!
My most successful art-buying junket occurred last fall. A relative asked me to help him buy art for his new apartment. It took both wrangling and my threatening to leave to get him to buy any paintings. He later told me the tattoo analogy that I mentioned earlier. There was also a trust factor: could I, an untrained art buyer, deliver?
After some aborted attempts to make a purchase, we went to a junk/antique shop where I strong-armed him into buying a couple of inexpensive paintings for his powder room. “I would never have picked these,” he later told me. After we hung them up, he felt a little more confident in my abilities and off we went to the one-stop shopping for art in the Washington, DC area, The Torpedo Factory, in Alexandria, VA.
After a lot of browbeating and laughing we ended up with a significant amount of art. The tour de force of the weekend was the purchase of a painting of a guy in a swimming pool. It would go over the bathtub and my client would see it every time he stood at the sink. It was the most expensive piece he bought. He was dumbfounded that I talked him into it as he pulled out his credit card. I told him he’d laugh every time he saw it in the mirror. He threatened to leave it to me in his will or send it to me sooner.
In order to solve the mystery as to why some people hang art on their walls and some people don’t, I contacted the people who asked me for help over the years. I asked them why it was so hard to take the art-buying plunge. One woman told me that in the end, she just doesn’t see her bare walls as a problem. Two other couples just haven’t “found” the right pieces. “Haven’t found” is code for “Won’t Commit.”
I realized that the only way to change this attitude toward art is to get people to realize that any art they like is good art. Photographs, paintings, sculpture, fiber art; It doesn’t matter! Fill your house! Art can be moved around your home to find the right place. Most importantly, paintings and sculptures are permanent. They can be passed on to heirs. I would rather have someone leave me a painting than a piece of jewelry any day!
There are plenty of places to get reasonably priced art. You can go to Home Goods and places like that to get prints. Those are fine. Just get something on your walls; you’ll feel more at home and happier. If you want original art go to your local high school or college art show. For those of you who live in Chicago, the SAIC has a spring and fall art sale. You will get original student art at great prices. If you’re savvy and can spot an up and coming artist, you may end up with something priceless. A new hot place to get art is the online auctions for school and non-profit fundraisers. Artists are nice enough to donate their work to these causes and they usually sell for a fraction of their value on the open market. I once purchased a Fran Wood painting for $50 at a library art sale.
If you are ever in New York City, there are a lot of artists selling their work on the street for reasonable prices. They also take credit cards. I bought two-pieces from someone on the street when I was there a couple of months ago.
Trust yourself! If you like something, buy it. You’ll find a place for it. As I said earlier, you’ll pass it down to your heirs! My siblings and I have quite a few pieces of our parents’ art. I always think of my mom and dad whenever I look at them and remember the story attached to each piece.
When I recently spoke to the relative with the painting of the guy in the swimming pool, I asked how it was working out. He responded, “I’m still laughing.”
Kathleen Thometz is an artist, writer and board member of the Riverside Arts Center. She lives with her husband, kids and doodle dogs. You can experience more about her at www.kathleenthometz.com