How to Choose Art for Your Home When You Know Nothing About Art

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There are many achievements that mark our path up the ladder of growing up—your first job, first apartment on your own, first serious relationship, the first time you care what the word “escrow” actually means. But there is a final frontier, an activity that is so adult engaging in it means you have truly left your wild and reckless youth behind: Home decorating. Decorating can be a surprisingly complex business, with a lot of layers—and it’s terrifying easy to go wrong. And art is a key element of that, making your home a more comfortable and cozy place.

If you’re intimidated by the thought of marching out and buying a bunch of art for your walls, though, don’t be. First of all, art doesn’t have to be super expensive—there are plenty of places to buy cool original art on a budget. And second, it’s easier than you think to art up the place. If you managed to paint an accent wall and choose a couch, you can buy some paintings, even if you know absolutely nothing about art. Here’s how to go about it.

Pick what you like

Lesson one: Trust yourself. You may not know much about art, but you know what you like. Art is an expression of your sensibility and taste, so don’t get hung up on whether anyone else would consider it “good” or even attractive. If you vibe with something, you should put it on your wall and let yourself experience joy every time you see it. Also, keep in mind that art is easily removed and leaves behind small traces of its existence, so even the gnarliest, weirdest piece of art on your living room wall does not go on your permanent record.

Consider each room individually

Next, think about the rooms you’re choosing art for. It’s a mistake to buy art en masse for the whole house: Each room has its own vibe, yes, but also its own climate. Art placed in a kitchen or bathroom will need to be more durable and tolerant of humidity, for example. And different rooms have different pieces of furniture in them, with different scales. Your bedroom and its absolutely enormous California king bed might need smaller pieces to offset that girth; but if your living room is minimalist and delicate, some big, bold pieces might be just the ticket.

And don’t feel “trapped” by the style of your furniture or other design decisions—while complementing your room design works well, you can (and maybe should) choose contrasting art. If your minimalist living room is a tribute to modernism, the art you place in it can be more classic, creating a nice tension that makes the whole space feel more sophisticated.

Plan a layout

When hanging art on walls, the worst thing you can do is just throw pieces up there. If you’re going to hang art on a wall, you need to plan how you’re going to do it. Designer Tara Bernard advises you to take your sweet time with this part of the process and not rush things. Better to have pieces sitting on the floor for a few weeks while you take some measurements and consider different layouts than to jump into it half-baked and wind up with a chaotic splotch of art on your wall.

Consider mood

One more aspect to consider when choosing art for your home is the mood you’re trying to create in the room. For example, a foyer or entryway should be welcoming and inviting, so choose accessible art that won’t scare off your visitors. If you have a formal dining room, on the other hand, you might want art that offers restrained, abstract vibes in support of a sophisticated mood.

That being said, let me refer you back to the first point: Trust your gut. Sure, you want a mood for each room, but that shouldn’t get in the way of choosing art that brings you joy.

Look online, buy in person

Shopping for art can be fun—overwhelming, but fun. But if you can, try to buy it in person at a store or gallery. This isn’t a requirement of any kind, but seeing art in real life and under real lighting makes a huge difference. Unwrapping art you’ve only ever seen online can be a surprising moment when it turns out to be less dramatic or flimsier than you expected, or if the colors don’t exactly match what your screen was showing you. Photos used on internet platforms are also usually professionally lit and adjusted, so that painting may look wildly different in your living room’s Home Depot lighting.

Don’t forget the third dimension

Finally, there’s a tendency to focus on paintings on the wall when we think of art for our home (I’ve done it here in this article, in fact), but remind yourself that you can go three-dimensional with sculpture—and sculpture can go on the walls, too. Textiles can provide a similar visual jolt to a painting but also include a tactile jolt with texture and topography. Everything else discussed here—from trusting your instincts to creating a mood—applies equally to the stuff that isn’t paintings or photographs.

If you’re thinking about buying some art for your home’s walls, congratulations—you’ve grown up. Now relax and have some fun with the process, because it’s easier than you think.

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