Home Decor

4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying a New Piece of Art

January 18, 2016

If you own more than one piece of art, you are an art collector. (Congrats!) Sure, your pieces might not have been scooped up at Art Basel while clinking champagne with Kanye, and they probably weren’t personally tattooed on your body by the artist, but don’t let that intimidate you. You are an art collector and it’s helpful to start thinking of yourself as such.

As an interior designer, I find that art selection is one of the top anxiety-producing steps in many people’s quest for a dream home. Thinking of it in terms of your personal collection will shift the mindset from “how do I fill this empty space?” to “how does this piece relate to me, my home, and the pieces around it?,” a leap that has the power to take your overall decor from Eiffel Tower canvas print to a look that reflects the unique (and badass) art collector you are.

Photo by Rocky Luten

When considering a new piece of art, ask yourself the following four questions and you're more likely to end up with purchases you never regret.

1. Is this piece meaningful to me?

No more “filler art!" A friend recently asked me to help her choose colors for a painting she was having commissioned. “What is the painting of?” I asked. “Oh I don’t know,” she replied, “just something abstract.” Don’t get me wrong—I love abstract art just as much as the next person; the problem was my friend’s apparent ambivalence towards this piece of art, especially because she was having it custom-made (what better chance to end up with something meaningful!).

Photo by Elio Camacho

In the end, she opted for an abstracted could-be-anywhere landscape in cheerful pinks and greens (similar to the above)—a color palette that she absolutely loved. It’s not that every painting needs to be a portrait of your grandma or composed of your favorite colors, per se, but instead of selecting art arbitrarily—or, worse, because you think other people would like it—look for pieces bring you delight.

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Meaningful art can be as simple as something that makes you feel good when you see it, an effect that will bring so much more than a wall covering to your personal space.

2. Is this media lacking in my art collection?

If you love paintings, switching it up with a photograph or sculpture will make your collection feel thoughtful, collected, and multi-dimensional—and vice versa.

Good interiors are all about balance and harmony—with unexpected moments thrown in. Photography and sculpture can seem like a scary departure from the comfort zone of paintings and drawings, but photographs need not be literal and not all sculptures are monolithic. Whether you're into a whimsical, romantic look or something more clean and modern, you can find art in any medium to support it.

For photography, These Fine Walls is a personal favorite photography resource, and Artspace is another great site that allows you to refine search results by medium.

3. Can I use this scale in an unexpected way?

Once or twice in your home, use a smaller or larger scale than you would ordinarily. For the same reason that using a different medium will create interest in your home, adding unexpected scale will draw the eye in.

Our eyes have a natural understanding of proportion and exactly how much positive and negative space we'd like to see in a space, which is design speak for the universal tendency to cover only a certain amount of wall space with art. Changing this innate formula (by covering a whole wall to the edges with art or leaving an unexpectedly wide sliver of blank wall space) doesn’t make your decor “wrong”—it’s merely another tactic that will bring focus to a piece that might otherwise go unnoticed.

It won’t be as effective if this method is used all over your interior, but here and there it's helpful in creating some special vignettes.

4. Is this splurge worthy?

“Pay for the best and you only cry once.” —Miles Redd

I prefer to adhere to the above design maxim on all fronts when possible, though, of course, I have been seduced by a cheap price tag from time to time. As we all know, super cheap purchases often end up being more expensive in the end, as they don’t last and are too trendy; they don’t grow with us.

Valentino’s above living room boasts two Francis Bacon paintings that are totally splurge-worthy—for Valentino. Or maybe Bill Gates. Photo by Jacques Grange (via Habitually Chic)

A splurge, of course, has different limits for each of us. If you find yourself returning over and over again to a piece of art that's on the high end of your budget, and if you can't look at a wall in your house and think of anything else, these are good signs that the piece is splurge-worthy.

If you think it’s time to add an “adult” purchase to your collection, 1stdibs fine art and wall decor sections are great places to start.

To sum it up, even if all your furniture is Ikea or hand-me-downs, great art—a collection that's meaningful, textural, and worth every penny because it brings you so much joy—can cover up a multitude of frayed edges. Art is more than just a commodity; it adds inspiration and personality to your home. And who knows, the art you end up with just might incite your biggest personal breakthrough yet.

Do you shop for art online? What are some of your favorite sources? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Erin Thomas
    Erin Thomas
  • Terrence Nelson
    Terrence Nelson
Interior Designer. Dallas resident. Let's do lunch? More of my musings can be found at: lhousemhome.com


Erin T. January 20, 2016
I work ar an art museum, and I feel like people feel too much pressure in choosing art for their homes. It doesn't have to match the couch, or fit in with the style of your decor. Pick something you love. And, if you can, but it directly from a working artist. Get to know the ones in your area and support them!
Terrence N. January 19, 2016
How about, Do I like it?