Why own original art

I’m loving the discussions taking place here on subjects that I’ve been thinking about for awhile. This is one of those topics. I arranged to hear from a few people in addition to me: one avid art collector, one interior designer, and one fine artist. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it too–leave a comment below.

I’ll start.

After my undergrad I worked for a large hotel company doing interior design. We would spec furniture and soft goods for hundreds of hotel rooms across the world. Though buying hundreds of pieces of furniture and art sounds like fun, it often means the purchase of the same stuff over and over and over. I felt like the life was sucked out of the artwork. As a company it would be awesome if your work was purchased in such large quantities–I’d be stoked if that happened to me–but I also think that certain pieces should be original otherwise it feels stale. I realize it’s hard to avoid that in a large hotel chain, but in a single residence or work place I think it’s essential.


Original artwork infuses life into a space. It adds soul. A perfectly well-matched (too well-matched!) and impeccable (too impeccable!) space that’s been designed by the best interior designer around can be as stale as 3 day old bread if there’s not a voice speaking–and we’re not talking about a great sound system. I don’t want this to be a conversation of “why is art good” because I think we can agree on that. But why should we all have it around us?

As an art history student I became used to experiencing wondrous works of art in museums in a variety of settings and places. I admired and soaked it all up. Vermeer? Monet? Yes please. However, there was a disconnect between those meaningful experiences and mimicking it in my own living spaces (yes, I know I can’t really recreate Nightwatch in my living room). I confess to not buying much for my own home–I’ve just moved too often to want to collect things. But I’ve since repented and changed my ways. No, I haven’t bought a Van Gogh recently, or even a Bob Ross for that matter. Finding something that speaks to you personally can come in many forms (and price points!). Since moving to Provo we’ve become somewhat familiar with the surprisingly thriving art scene and have been able to make smaller purchases of art from people we’ve come to know and admire. I can’t tell you the difference it makes in our home. It feels alive.

Melinda Evans, attorney at law and avid art collector–Melinda has been a good friend of mine for the last 6 years. We’ve explored Vienna, Copenhagen, DC together and she’s taken me to some of the most beautiful art museums in the world. I’ve seen her develop her amazing art collection and I couldn’t wait to hear what she had to say.

I grew up enjoying art books from the library and became familiar with the big names and works of art history at a young age. But we were poor and didn’t live in a big metropolitan area, and in the back of my mind I assumed that books were the closest I would get to the paintings and sculptures I’d read about. I filed “real art” in the same mental drawer as other stuff rich people got to experience, like dance lessons, Disneyland, and new cars. It didn’t really bother me. But a few years and marvelous blessings later, I stood in a museum looking at my first Van Gogh, and I was blown away–the thick globs of paint, the many spots where the naked canvas peeked through, the palpable presence of a man who felt things deeply and had things to say with color and brushstroke. A Van Gogh in real life looks nothing like a Van Gogh in a book. I cried. And I realized that life could surprise me with rich experiences I never thought could be mine.

After many more years, I started buying “real art,” always sticking to what I loved and could afford. My first art purchase were two small lithographs by Ugandan artist Paul Nzalamba, a graduation gift for myself when I finished grad school. Once student loans were paid off, I built up a nest egg and then made a list of artists whose work had caught my eye and started following the galleries where they sold. The first painting I bought was a little Brian Kershisnik piece with lots of texture, and it took my breath away when I saw it on my wall, knowing it was going to live with me for years to come. As the years passed, more paintings were added to my walls (S. Carlyle Smith, Lloyd Platt, Caitlyn Connolly, J. Kirk Richards, Brad Aldridge, Fidalis Buehler), and in recent years I’ve started buying etchings (Rembrandt, Millet, Whistler, Picasso) and many small works by local artists. 
I can’t emphasize enough how much this art adds to my home. From a design standpoint, there is a subtle element of texture and “presence” that comes with real art that cannot be matched by a poster. I still love art books, and I have great fun keeping up my “postcardbowl” on Instagram, but there is something wonderfully, incomparably soulful and warm about living with real paintings, etchings, and sculptures in my home. Here’s my advice:

  • Buy only what you love and what you can afford. Vermeer’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring” was bought for $150 by someone who thought it was special. It didn’t become famous until after he died and left it to the Mauritshaus museum, but it was just as beautiful before it was famous.
  • Be patient. You will find something you love in your price range. 
  • Don’t discredit work by students. Working artists may never again have so much time to spend on individual pieces. Picasso’s first art show was spectacular, possibly his best overall. 
  • Don’t care about whether the artist is well known. S. Carlyle Smith wasn’t when I bought two of his paintings from a gallery in New York. I just liked them, and they reminded me of Hopper. Know who subsequently agreed? The Tate Modern in London. 

Art is a huge blessing in my home. It makes a home more homey, more compassionate, more interesting. My personality is all over the walls, and it distracts people from my cheap Ikea furniture. Consider this: If there were no benefit to seeing “real art” instead of a book/print/postcard of the art, there would be no art museums. There would only be gift shops. I choose to live in the museum instead of living in the gift shop.

Kirsten Grove, blogger and interior designer of Simply Grove. I wanted to get an active interior designer into the mix so I asked Kristen who has a beautiful blog.

A few years back, my favorite uncle passed away from a sudden heart attack. It was such a tragic moment for my family. We quickly found out that he hadn’t left a living will but that he had mentioned to his lawyer that some of his beloved art pieces would be left to me. He was an avid art collector who had spent thousands on some insanely amazing pieces. The pieces that he left me still take my breathe away. One in particular that I hung in my dining room can never be replaced with just anything. It made me realize how important art really is for a space. It brings character and beauty to your house. I had never really thought of spending money on an original piece but the longer I’ve been working in design, the more I see the importance of it. You can have the coolest furniture, the greatest architecture but if there is no life on the walls, a space can fall short. Through art, people can express their emotions. When you find a piece that can correctly express where you are in life, you will immediately feel a connection. Without art and true artists, life would be boring!

Bryson Gill, fine artist and stylist in San Francisco. I’ve talked about Bryson numerous times. Needless to say, he’s a favorite of mine.

I own a ton of original art. Art from friends, old classmates, vintage, new, original works and limited addition prints. I believe the quality and pigments of a good painting or print are far more satisfying than any digital print. Likewise a digitally printed photo often lacks the luster of a traditional print. (not that I’m biased-it’s a matter of material and technique;)

I use art sometimes solely as decor, but still an authentic work just intuitively feels better than say, any hotel art. It is my preference to have a relationship with a creative person and to live with work they’ve created.

There is such a proliferation of beautiful images and ideas that we breeze through online and though inspiring never really rediscover as they get lost in the web. Having art around and re-experiencing it on a daily basis is a fuller experience than the alternative. I would rather visit a museum or artists studio and see art in a beautiful space than see the same works online.
Top image by Robert Roth



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