Clients so often say to me, “We really do need pictures in our house, but there is always something more important.” Buying art may not be a priority in the never-ending cycle of purchasing items we need as part of modern life, but living with a good painting is undoubtedly life enhancing and we all need some of that!
When I moved house recently I was struck by how pictures make a “home”. The furniture was in place, the internet was finally working, we had sat together for a family meal in the new kitchen, but it was a few weeks before we got around to hanging some pictures on the walls. Suddenly everything fell into place and the house felt like home. I do not believe this is because the pictures were familiar - the impact would have been the same had it been an entirely new collection of art. It is the act of punctuating the walls with little breaths of other lives, ideas and perspectives that make the home feel a rounded whole.
Bringing art into the home does two things, one on a purely visual level, and one on an intellectual level.
On a visual level, imagine a home with all your favourite objects and furniture, carefully selected to your particular taste. Influenced as we are by interiors of the day promoted by prominent style leaders and designers, we choose furniture, fittings and fabrics which fit into a particular genre. These are often mass-produced, watered-down copies of the next designer’s work. We group all our objects and furniture together to make an interesting whole, but you would be hard pushed to say that someone somewhere doesn’t have the same sofa / coffee table / houseplant / Moroccan rug arrangement. We struggle over fashionable paint companies, bravely picking out a colour we haven’t ever painted a room in before only to open a magazine or instagram post and see another version of the same. So imagine this room, finished to your highest design ideals with blank walls. Imagine you are hanging a collection of your own carefully selected paintings and prints in that room. Suddenly, the space springs to life. Having these original jewels on the wall creates a layering, a texture that wasn’t there before. It doesn’t have to be a gallery wall stuffed with paintings, but it does need an artist’s hand about the place for the eye to springboard, to move about the room joyfully and with interest. Good art in a beautiful room is like a butterfly coming to rest on a flower, it looked good before, but now it looks unique – and complete.
The intellectual level is slightly more fraught with danger. For most people, art seen in the solemn reverential cathedral of a public gallery is something different to art you are going to buy for your home. We visit public galleries or museums to consider work that has some value in the canon of art. These exhibitions represent a moment in time, a commentary on society or are charting the journey of an artist as he moves through his career. The scale and importance of art in a domestic setting may not compare to what is on view in a major gallery, but art in a home still provides a snap shot of the world beyond the confines of our daily existence. At worst, it’s a dreadful display of intellect and wealth, with art displayed not because the individual liked the work, but because they thought the style or value of the work reflected how they would like to be perceived themselves. At best it is a series of beautiful open windows depicting a view of another’s inspiration and life experience.
It is not lost on me that the houses I find most interesting are those belonging to artists. They more than anyone understand the qualities that art in your home bring to your daily life. I have never visited an artist’s home that is not filled with a fascinating variety of pictures and prints by themselves and by others. Perhaps it is because they are immersed in a creative world, and able to share and exchange paintings with their fellow artists that these homes brim with life. They feel open to new ideas, perspectives and colour. They embrace a different way of looking at things. They have an energy flowing out and in. They are not too reverential. They are playful.
So if we accept that art creates interest, balance and an important invitation to the outside world to come and speak to us from within our home then it is necessarily important that we continue to buy and display contemporary art. Hanging your grandparent’s collection of Victorian watercolours and book plates of birds may be a cheap option, but it’s also a lazy one. Punctuating with contemporary work, by living artists, with colours, life and landscape of the world we inhabit creates a dialogue between the old and the new which brings the old to life and sets the new in context.
Curating your collection can start and lead anywhere. Be it a piece you have coveted for years or an impulsive reaction to something which feels right now. Look, collect, cover your walls with art and breathe it in. Appreciate someone else’s skill, another’s message, a painter’s interpretation of a landscape you know, a composition of colour and shape which is new to you. Ask questions. Open your eyes. Cover your walls with art. And above all, do it with abandon and joy!
Image: World of Interiors