One of my passions is convincing people that you do not need wealth or expertise to take pleasure in a piece of fine art. Art that pleases you or resonates with you has done its job, and there is no other criterion to meet.
I love music very much, but I have no expertise in it. I simply know what music moves me. My particular tastes, whose sources I don’t know, tell me if a piece of music gives me joy, tugs at some deep corner of my being, creates a sense of meaning. And no one would suggest that my reactions are unqualified or lack expertise. These are simply my reactions, true of me. If I were a critic or selling music, then I might need some kind of expertise – but I’m not and I don’t.
The same should be true for those who are looking at a piece of art. One’s own reactions, coming from some inscrutable place, are entirely valid, beyond need of confirmation.
Please understand: There’s nothing wrong with being an expert. But few of us are, and that doesn’t invalidate everyone’s own gut response. You can’t buy art to satisfy someone else’s taste.
This ought to be obvious, but for some reason it isn’t. There’s a kind of mystique about the visual arts – possibly reinforced by insecure artists and snobby gallerists – that insists that true appreciation is reserved for The Expert. This is part of what makes the art world seem remote and inaccessible, especially when you’re first getting your toe in the water.
I’m calling nonsense! Though I have a certain background in art history and in the contemporary art world, I have always said that you should buy what you love. That principle has always shaped all my art purchases. I want to feel that tingle that tells me, This Piece is For Me. With it, I may buy a piece. Without it, no amount of critical praise will open my wallet.
Some people buy art as an investment – and for that purpose, a bit of background helps. There’s nothing wrong with this reason for buying art, but it has never been a factor in my purchases.
I started my art collection in my twenties. Since I could barely afford to buy food let alone paintings, I swapped my own artwork or bartered my design services with my artist friends. Though my apartment may have been full of handed-down furniture, there was art I loved in every room. It gave my home an air of dignity and well-being, because my own notions of quality and meaning were reflected everywhere.
The first piece I actually paid for was John Eaton’s “Phoenix Rising.” I bought it with the man who was then my boyfriend and is now my husband. We had just moved into a new home and were looking for a few touches that would announce that the place was ours.
I had been following John’s career for years. I loved his work and had coveted more than a few of his pieces. When my boyfriend and I went to his latest show at Wallack’s Gallery in Ottawa, we looked at “Phoenix Rising” and were seduced. We would buy this piece, yes – and to this day, I don’t think an art purchase has ever given me more pleasure. Beautiful, one of a kind. As a grace note, it has increased in value, and remains one of our favourite pieces.
After 20-some years of being together, Dave and I have a home full of art. The pieces come from many places – the Glebe’s annual Art in the Park exhibition, student shows such as the University of Ottawa’s annual Visual Arts Show, such charity events as Portraits of Bluesfest, assorted galleries in Ottawa and other cities, and even the streets of New York. Our latest piece is four photographs that, when put together, form, through the shapes depicted in each individual photograph, the word “love”. This was not an expensive piece – just $40 bought it at a Sunday afternoon art fair in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
The moral of all this is that there is no right or wrong way to choose original art. If you like it, it’s good. Have fun with it. If it feels right for you, it is right.
One caveat only. For the love of god, choose real art. No mass-produced Homesense stuff, if you please. No one is impressed with a fake library stuffed with fake books, all nicely aligned. The same is true of a fake art collection.
Above are some of the pieces in our art collection which continue to bring me daily pleasure.
Carrie Colton is principal designer at CKY Design Group and owner/curator of gallery and event space studiosixtysix. Carrie parlays her passion and proficiency in all things visual to help clients transform their environment into beautiful, functional spaces and to capture their spirit, taste and needs.