By Mona Molarsky
Yes, I adore beautiful cabinets and fine upholstery, and I have been known to covet rugs far beyond my budget. But, to me, an apartment or house, no matter how good its design, or how lovely its furniture, is soulless without art. A beautifully-proportioned sofa or well-built bureau may exhibit fine craftsmanship, but a painting on the wall, or a piece of sculpture standing on a table, is something else entirely. It’s a voice that asks you to interact with the sensibility of the artist. If you look at it, a work of art will say, “I have something to tell you. I’ve got a distinctive way of viewing the world and I want you to see things my way, at least for a few minutes!”
Visions of the Old World
How to Buy Art
Some begin acquiring art as I did, with gifts from family or friends. You’ll be very lucky if this happens to you. But most people who want art in their homes must go out and look for it. This can be exciting but stressful. Take your time with each art work. Study it for a while. Have a conversation with it before bringing it home. Think of it as a stranger you’ll be inviting into your space.
As your art collection grows, you’ll want to consider the variety of the voices you’ve acquired. Do the works speak to each other? Do they harmonize on your walls? Or do they argue with and contradict each other? In buying and hanging art, there is no right or wrong way to do it. But you should make your choices with intention.
Your financial situation will partly determine where and how you find your art. Some people shop high-end galleries, auction houses and art fairs. Others find what they love at thrift stores, on eBay or on city sidewalks. There is also the possibility of studio visits, if you know particular artists whose work you like. In truth, there is not always as much correlation among venue, price and quality as you might think.
A New York journalist, Mona Molarsky writes about art and culture. She also teaches writing and counsels high school students as The College Strategist.
How to Look at Art
The British critic Herbert Read once remarked that to truly see a painting was as difficult as seeing God. Fifty years later, Susan Sontag advised in Against Interpretation, that to reduce a work of art to a single feeling or idea was a form of violation. So how do we look at art? What do we bring to the conversation?
In Art as Experience, John Dewey tried to level the playing field, describing a space where the artist and the observer both engage in a creative process. He also believed that art belongs to all, not just to those with the skill to make it.
John Galsworthy put in a word for the ineffable — comparing art to a moment of enlightenment. A kind of “know it when you see it” approach.
While making art is a form of activism, so is the process of looking. The chief benefit of engaging with a painting or a poem, as Mary Oliver writes. is opening ourselves to a new perspective. There’s both a cultural shift, and a moment of grace that comes when we have the courage to stand outside ourselves.