8 foolproof tips for choosing art for your home

Gabrielle Savoie

Unless you’re an art curator, gallery owner or artist, chances are that buying art does not come very naturally to you. A few weeks ago during a visit to artist Zoë Pawlak’s studio in Montreal, the subject of buying art came up. We touched on questions like “How do I choose? When do I invest? How do I educate myself?”

She had such interesting thoughts on the subject that I knew I needed to pass her wisdom along to you, dear readers. Keep reading for Pawlak’s top tips, and you’ll be on your way to becoming an amateur art curator (for your home, at least).

1. Like what you like.

“While your home decor can obey certain rules, such as investing in neutral couches or flooring, I urge people to use their walls for irrational or eclectic choices.

“Art is a place for expression through color, content, and texture,” says Pawlak. “Choose art at a heart level, and don’t forget about sculptures and rugs!” They can make artistic statements, too.

2. Get to know the artist.

“Getting to know the artist that made your art helps you to understand the content of the work and the context around the piece itself.”

If you don’t get the chance to meet the artist in person, read up. Many contemporary galleries now offer artist profiles online. Read up on the people who produced your art, or follow them on Instagram to get a glimpse into their lives!

3. Payment plans or trades are often totally legit.

“You can always suggest a payment plan or a trade. It never hurts to ask.”

Did you fall in love with a piece that’s slightly above your budget? “Maybe that artist wouldn’t mind receiving a few hundred dollars a month,” she says, “or maybe they need your mad Photoshop or portrait-taking skills as much as you need their art in your life!” Harness your own talents, and see if you can be useful to the artist in any way.

4. Be ready to act fast or miss out.

“There are exactly three pieces I regret not investing in at the time. How do I know that? I still think about them.”

Art is often one of a kind (unless you’re buying from a photography or limited print series). If your heart leaps at the sight of a piece, don’t hesitate too long, or you could miss out. “The film ‘Herb & Dorothy’ is a great example of how you can buy what you love and still live on a budget,” says Pawlak. We’re adding this one to our list of films to watch.

5. Attend art events featuring emerging artists.

“Find out what’s happening in your city in the arts, and then show up!”

This is a great way to expose yourself to emerging artists. Why buy from up-and-coming artists? “You wouldn’t buy real estate when the market is sky high, would you?” says Pawlak.

Buying from young artists who are only starting to make a name for themselves is like stumbling upon a great real estate deal. Decades ago, my stepdad spent $500 on a print from a young unknown artist named Andy Warhol — true story.

6. Buy on the secondary market.

“This is a whole other game. I highly recommend getting advice from savvy friends and attending auctions.”

Books such as “Seven Days in the Art World” and “The 12 Million Dollar Stuffed Shark” are great ways to immerse yourself in the historic and ever-adapting gallery and auction systems.

7. Learn about paper works and framing.

“You can buy inexpensive frames, but make sure that the mats touching the actual artwork are acid-free.”

Paper works are often much less expensive than, say, oil on canvas, but keep in mind that many paper works are not sold in frames. If you want to save money on framing, Pawlak suggests checking the acidity in the mats first and foremost. “Acidic mats found in budget ready-made frames can quickly deteriorate or discolor artwork,” she says, so invest in a mat that’s acid-free. I’ve had this happen to my artwork before, so I can 100 percent vouch that she’s on the money with this tip.

8. Get a piece commissioned.

“Don’t ask the artist to stray too far from their style or try to control them too much. This is a recipe for disaster.”

Getting a commissioned piece of art is a great way to get exactly the right size for your space while collecting the work of an artist you love. When choosing an artist, make sure he or she has experience in making commissions, or ask a client who’s worked with the artist in the past to share their experience. “Having done over 300 commissioned artworks myself, I am extremely familiar with what I can and cannot offer,” says Pawlak. Make sure you clearly state your expectations before the work begins so that you are not disappointed.

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