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$Monday: Buying Fine Art for the Home

Right before the pandemic canceled everything, I purchased my first piece of fine art directly from the artist. Adulting milestone achieved!

My home has always been filled with art because many of my family members and friends are artists, and I've created a few things here and there myself. I've been blessed with leftovers and castoffs and special gifts of artworks over the years, but this is the first time I've selected and purchased my own piece directly from a known artist (as opposed to, for example, buying folk art in a fair trade shop without knowing the identity of the individual artisan).

There is joy in receiving a surprise gift of beauty and in figuring out where and how to display it in my home. And there is a different sort of satisfaction in designing my own space in advance, choosing a piece to display there, and being able to pay for it.

There is plenty of advice to be found online about how to invest in art and how to decorate one's home, but I'm not looking to trade or sell pieces necessarily, nor am I staging home designs to please anyone but myself and my family. So I have slightly different purposes for how I want to accessorize my living space.

First, I prefer to meet artworks face-to-face. I don't believe that there is any perfect substitute for experiencing physical, visual art directly. Photographs can be confusing because they're two-dimensional, and sizing and true color can be difficult to determine. But sometimes, like during a stay-at-home order, online shopping is the only way to go.

Buying from an artist you know personally is a great way to support a friend or family member and to feel more connected to the piece. If you don't happen to know an artist (who makes something you want to purchase and display in your home), I like the idea of buying from an artist who is just starting out or who isn't famous or popular in your local area. You can find more options within your budget that way, and you can find something unique that you won't see in your neighbors' homes or at your local coffee shops and galleries.

On the other hand, there can be comfort and pride in displaying art that represents your local scene. And of course, it's always pleasurable to buy a piece from a faraway destination when you visit. It all depends on how you want your pieces to make you feel--grounded and comforted, refreshed and inspired, or reminded of a distant place and time. The point is to choose something meaningful to you, however you define that and wish to express it.

I like having things that are special and unexpected and things that remind me of people and places I have loved. Prints and replicas of famous or classic pieces of art, to me, feel like dorm room decor and not things that add meaning to an adult's home, but I am partial to a cheeky joke piece or fun bit of kitsch. I've seen the visual pun below displayed in an ornate frame in someone's house, and I think it's hilarious. It's both aesthetically pleasing and silly, and it it signals that the family who lives there is both educated and fun-loving.

Art can be humorous, edgy, subversive, exciting, soothing, steamy, awe-inspiring, cute, nostalgic, or just pretty. There's no right way to feel about a piece of art, but there are right choices to make if you want to feel any kind of way every time you enter a room. It's personal.

Once you know what you like, if you want to display it in your home, you also need to make sure the piece will thrive in its new habitat. You'll have to take into account how the piece needs to be installed and cared for. Will it need to be dusted? Protected from direct sunlight? Does it require special hardware? A frame? A case or a stand? Where must it be located within a room to be viewed properly?

Along with those logistics, there are issues of home design to consider. Will the piece fit aesthetically into your existing color scheme and style? If not, you may want to choose a different work or make changes to your living space to accommodate the new piece.

I bought this ceramic piece (above left) when my out-of-state artist friend Lisa S. Truax passed through my area on her way back from an exhibit. I wanted to take the opportunity to snatch up a piece of her (heavy and difficult to transport) ceramic wall art while it happened to be rolling through my town and at a time when I was still planning on renovating my kitchen over the summer.

Lisa has given me lots of functional pottery and sculptural pieces over the years since she lived in mid-Michigan back in the '00s. I already planned to display some of those things on open shelves in my new kitchen, and I wanted a bold wall piece to repeat forms and textures from my kitchen ceramics and heirloom cast iron cookware (to be hung vertically like Julia Child did with hers!) into the dining room.

I'm already familiar with Lisa's work in real life, so it was easy for me to select a piece from a set of photos so that she could set it aside for me when she packed up her show. The one I selected from a huge array of choices stood out to me for some gut reason, and it looked somehow familiar, though I didn't remember why. Then Lisa reminded me that she had collected earth from her previous backyard here in mid-Michigan years ago to create the crackled yellow portion. I was delighted that I had zeroed in on this one piece, which had caught my attention like the face of an old acquaintance you don't recognize at first.

My kitchen renovation is on hold for now, until it's safe for me and my family to swap kitchen use and renovation help with my parents, who also want to redo their outdated kitchen. I'm sad that these projects have to be put on hold during the pandemic, but having my artwork safely stored and ready to install gives me something joyful to look forward to, when I can finally finish my kitchen and open it up to dinner guests again.


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