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How To Buy Art for the Non-artist

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

Photograph of a woman buying modern abstract art

Finding and buying art can be an extremely intimidating task that can easily make one feel anxious or overwhelmed. Here at MyCurioHome we are here to ease your mind, and provide you with some helpful tips and advice to make the process fun and enjoyable! This article will focus on art for personal enjoyment and decoration rather than as an investment opportunity. Ultimately it is most important to stay true to yourself and purchase what you find pleasure in, what follows is simply some helpful information to make you feel more comfortable with some of the terminology and process.

When choosing art for your home it's beneficial to have an idea of what your own personal design style looks like. This isn't always easy to figure out, and your personal style may change over time or blend multiple decor styles together. With that in mind it can still be helpful to be aware of some of the more popular decor trends.

Minimalism is a decor style named for its use of minimal furnishings and art accents. It focuses on using only necessary objects highlighting simplicity and a limited use of bright colors and design flourishes. The goal is to present a space as open and inviting with the use of a neutral color scheme, crisp lines, and practical furnishings.

A recent trend and direct contrast to minimalism is the development of Cluttercore. Cluttercore focuses on indulgence and the display of a multitude of art objects and furnishings. Cluttercore is a nod to the Victorian lifestyle in which it was important to display all types of rarities and art in order to highlight one's wealth and status. Nowadays it is a way of displaying all your favorite pieces and making your home feel comforting and true to you.

Another popular and timeless design style is traditional which focuses on comfort and beauty without being overly ornate. Traditional decor is a sort of middle ground between minimalism and Cluttercore in its use of space, and incorporates trends from previous time periods without fully devoting to any specific era all together.

Modern decor evokes many of the same ideas as minimalism in that it focuses on keeping a space open and streamlined, but was developed out of the modernist movement in the early 20th century, which put emphasis on simple form and functionality. Modern decor focuses on the use of organic materials and furnishings all in a similar natural color scheme, as well as the use of only necessary furnishings with a clear intended purpose.

Contemporary decor is often confused with modern decor, and while it was influenced by the modernist movement at times, it most accurately refers to the current decor trends of the day. Contemporary decor by today's standards tends to lean towards minimalism in its use of space, and incorporates a primarily neutral color scheme with occasional pops of color. Furnishings tend towards clean smooth lines and the blending of different textures. That being said, contemporary decor is always changing as it refers to what is most popular at the current time.

Popular Art Styles and Categories

When it comes to finding the right work of art for your home, a good first step is to familiarize yourself with a few of the more well known art styles and movements generally recognized by art historians. Becoming familiar with these styles will ultimately help guide you toward discovering what genres and artists you are drawn to. There is no one correct style and it is always okay to blend artistic genres and appreciate multiple techniques if that is what you enjoy. It is also important to note that there is much overlap between artistic styles and this is by no means a comprehensive description of all genres and their specifics.

Image of "Bonjour Monsieur Courbet" by Gustave Courbet, 1854

One of the more recognizable art movements throughout time is realism. Realism focused on presenting subjects true to form and realistically, as well as avoiding the depiction of supernatural or unbelievable events. The realism movement primarily began in the middle of the 19th century advocating for a focus on the everyday life of ordinary people and their tasks throughout day to day life. The French realist painter Gustave Courbet’s 1854 work Bonjour Monsieur Courbet is a great example of realism. Courbet himself was a huge leader of the realism movement and advocated for representing the mundane, and even ugly authentically, especially when it came to political or social events.

Image of "Squares" by Wassily Kandinsky, 1913

Abstract painting differs greatly from realism in that it focuses on the unreal or theoretical ideas expressed through shapes, colors, patterns, texture and much more. This style originated in the late 19th century and strayed from earlier trends focused on clear perspective and accurate depictions of reality. Abstract art presents subjects and figures in fantastical and alternative forms and is not intent on depicting lifelike experiences. The Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky was greatly influential to the abstract movement. His work Squares with Concentric Circles done in 1913 provides a great example of abstract painting.

image of "Starry Night" by Vincent van Gogh, 1889

The modern art movement was primarily established between the 1860’s and 1970’s. The main idea behind this movement was a focus on experimentation and rejecting the current trends and styles of the time. Around this time photography had been invented and so there was less need for artists to focus on capturing reality, and more freedom to explore and create new styles. One extremely famous work from this time is The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh done in 1889. The painting showcases a realistic event, but is painted in an abstracted style highlighting the experimentation of the time and shift away from realism.

Image of "Thee Scream" by Edvard Munch, 1893

Expressionism developed out of the modernist movement in the late 1800’s with an overarching focus on artists expressing and communicating their own feelings, emotions, and experiences to viewers through abstraction and distortion of reality. The intent was to create a strong emotional response in viewers centered around the artist's subjectivity rather than an objective viewpoint. The Norwegian artist Edvard Munch's 1893 work popularly referred to as The Scream is a prime example of expressionism in that it communicates to viewers feelings of anguish, terror, and sorrow through its abstracted form.

Impressionism developed in the 19th century and is recognizable through its use of small visible brushstrokes, an often pastel color palette, and focus on the accurate depiction of light and the passage of time. Impressionist works often display ordinary people and events, but from unique angles playing with perspective and viewpoint. Claude Monet's 1875 work Woman with a Parasol greatly showcases the impressionist style through its unique viewpoint, the use of light and shadows, and small deliberate brushstrokes.

Image of "Campbell's Soup Can" by Andy Warhol, c.1961

Another more recognizable movement is pop art which began around the 1950's and focused on incorporating imagery from popular culture including advertisements, branding, and other consumer culture into artworks, in order to directly challenge the more rigid standards of fine art. One famous example of pop art is Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans completed between 1961 and 1962.

But is it Art?

Two common terms you may hear floating around when purchasing art are fine art and folk art. While it is helpful to know a little bit of the history and meaning behind them, they are both fairly subjective terms and should not influence you too much when discovering artwork you love and appreciate.

While not a specific genre of art, fine art is an overarching term used to describe a multitude of art styles created with a focus on aesthetics, creativity, and beauty as opposed to being created for an intended purpose or usefulness. This is not to say that items created for practicality cannot also be aesthetic or beautiful. The term fine art is used to describe many famous historic paintings seen in museums today like The Mona Lisa completed by Leonardo da Vinci in 1503.

In contrast to fine art, folk art is a term used to primarily refer to the creation of art with an intended purpose or use in mind rather than purely for decorative purposes. It often refers to works made by a specific culture or community through traditional practices passed down overtime. While one of the defining features of folk art is practicality this does not mean there is not just as much beauty and skill involved as that in fine art. A great example of folk art can be seen in the work of Native American artist Louisa Keysler also referred to as Dat So La Lee. She was an extremely talented basket weaver in the early 20th century and was a member of the Washoe Native American people that live in Nevada.

Art Tools, Materials, and Mediums

Now that you are more familiar with some popular decor and art styles it’s time to dig a little deeper into the colors and materials that make up these designs. Color theory is a very extensive subject regarding the mixing of colors and effective color combinations for the use of artists and paint mixing, as well as for interior design and decor purposes. While there is a lot of information involved in color theory, learning some of the basics can be a helpful guide in finding your personal style and choosing artworks for your home. That being said these are just guidelines to help you out, if your personal likes ever contradict the ideas of color theory that is okay. Ultimately it is your space and you should surround yourself with artworks that bring you comfort and happiness.

To begin, let's discuss the different categories of colors called primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. Primary colors refers to the colors red, blue and yellow which are colors that can not be created by the mixing of other colors. Secondary colors refers to the colors orange, purple, and green which are colors that can be formed through the mixing of two primary colors. Lastly tertiary colors refers to the mixing of a secondary and a primary color creating the hues red purple, blue purple, blue green, yellow green, yellow orange, red orange.

An extremely helpful tool to assist with figuring out which colors work best together is the color wheel. These are available online, or are relatively cheap to purchase from art stores. Color wheels show all the primary, secondary, and tertiary colors and help highlight the relationships between them as well as their direct contrasts. Color wheels are great for directly comparing how different colors play off each other and can be extremely helpful for figuring out how a piece will work within your home's color scheme.

One easy way to set a color scheme for your home and art work is to use analogous colors. Analogous colors are any three colors that sit next to each other on the color wheel and are closely related in hue. By using analogous colors you create a harmonious flow between various shades. The other easy way to set up your color scheme is by using contrasting colors. Contrasting colors sit directly opposite each other on the color wheel and create vivid and bold color statements, making your art pop and stand out. Color theory can be incorporated not only into buying art but also when it comes to framing, wall colors, and fixtures.

Along with understanding how colors work together it is important to also learn how different art materials are made, and the types of textures they can produce.

There are many different types of paint that artists use, but one popular medium is acrylic paint. It is a water based paint that becomes water resistant when dry. It is made up of pigment which is a fine powder that provides the specific color of the paint, an acrylic binder which holds the color in place and allows it to dry, and lastly an acrylic vehicle which in most cases is water and allows the paint to move across a material. Acrylics can create a range of colors and vibrancies depending on the pigment used.

Water color paints consist of just two parts: dry pigment and water. The water picks up the small pigment particles and allows them to spread across the page. Depending how much water you use to dilute the pigments you can create different levels of vibrancy. Water colors tend to show up a bit softer in tone compared to acrylic or oil paints due to their more transparent nature, but they are extremely useful for creating shadows and layered textures.

Oil paints are created by combining pigments with oil, most often linseed oil, which creates a thick paste that dries smoothly creating vibrant colors. Oil pants are a much thicker type of paint and tend to take longer to dry then watercolors or acrylic paints, due to their composition. Oil paints are great for creating gradients and blending shades.

Along with paints which are considered a wet medium, artists also use dry mediums to create artwork. Pastels are a dry art material and usually come in a handheld form like a pencil or crayon. They are created by combining pigments with water and a binding material, usually a substance called gum tragacanth, which allows the pigments to stick together and attach to the material you press them against. Pastels create different vibrancies depending on how hard they are pressed against the material they are drawing on.

Charcoal is another dry art material that often comes in a stick or block form. It is made from organic materials that are bound similarly to that of pastels. It produces a black line that can vary in thickness and shade depending how much pressure you apply to it. Charcoals are great for shading and creating depth, and are often used to create a rough sketch or outline of a drawing.

Alongside painting and drawing is sculpting, which often uses the material clay to create works like pottery and 3D figures. Clay is a naturally occurring substance found in the soil and made up of minerals, plants, and animal remains. It is a highly moldable substance that can be formed into a variety of shapes. Clay works can be dipped into a multitude of different glazes and then either fired in a kiln or air dried allowing for a wide range of textures and finishes. Ceramics and pottery is an entire subject to itself. MyCurioHome offers a curated collection of antique and vintage ceramics.

These art materials can be used in many different ways to create all sorts of beautiful artworks and objects. We will briefly discuss some of the different practices they are used in, but know this is just an introductory list of the multitude of different art materials and practices that exist.

One of the most popular art techniques is painting. Painting generally involves wet materials like acrylic paints, oil paints, or water colors and is created by using different tools like paint brushes to achieve a multitude of brush strokes, textures, and layers. Emmy Award winning filmmaker Roberta Cantow has recently turned to painting and mixed media in her creations. She frequently paints with acrylic onto large-format printed photographs she has taken over the years and also augments her works with found natural objects such as flowers and leaves, or collage. We are proud to represent Roberta with her own gallery of fine artworks here on MyCurioHome for home decor.

Drawing can be done in a multitude of materials, but usually involves tools like pencils, pens, chalks, and pastels. A myriad of textures, shapes, and lines can be achieved depending on the drawing instrument used and the amount of pressure applied.

Sculpture and 3D works can also be created through the use of many different materials. This can involve things like clay pottery, glass and ceramics, as well as wood carving, and metal work. Works created through this medium include objects like sculptures, pottery, figurines, decorative vases for home decor and much more. Objects can be created with a specific use in mind or for beauty and aesthetic purposes.

Image of a pair of Japanese "Horse Eye" plates from the late Edo Period