Decorating v. Art Collecting

An issue has come up a number of times recently which I think might be interesting to a number of you. The issue is the difference between art collecting and decorating your home with art. There are those in the art world who look down upon “decorating with art” as opposed to art collecting and there are those who buy artwork to decorate their homes and feel that they are, in a sense, collecting. As an art consultant I frequently come into contact with both sides. The reason I feel it is important to distinguish in which particular activity you are engaging is to appropriately set your spending and collecting goals.

First, what do those two concepts even mean? Decorating is one of my favorite activities, and decorating with art is even better. It allows you to use color and visual devices to make a physical and visual impact. Artwork can turn a boring space into something alive and interesting. Think of what a great, colorful contemporary sculpture can do (visually) for a drab office tower lobby. On the other hand, “collecting art” is a term of art to mean gathering a group of art objects together so that the body of work says more about the focus of the collection (geographical location, school of art, style of painting, etc.) than any individual piece ever could.

There is a difference between art collecting and simply amassing a group of artworks. Though the art collecting police will not come and get you, one cannot run around to galleries and art fairs and grab a number of random works of art and simply call it a collection, all because they were purchased by the same person. There is an art to collecting and a bit of a science as well. It is an intangible and learned activity that comes with connoisseurship, knowledge, expertise and experience. To look at a collection of art and read it, so to speak, is to see something new and compelling in the relationship between the artworks. A well edited-collection is not created in a day.

Many people are interested in living with beautiful paintings, drawings and sculptures, and the only thing that binds those objects together is the love of their owner. There is nothing wrong with purchasing a work of art because one loves the color or because it looks pretty in the living room. These buyers will come to galleries with fabric swatches in their coat pockets and tell the gallery director about their family room color scheme. That is an exercise in decorating with artwork rather than art collecting. The thing to keep in mind, if that is where you are, is that you probably do not want to be purchasing wildly expensive decorative objects simply because they are paintings or works of art. If you are looking for something red for your walls, for example, you can find many inexpensive (and pretty) paintings to fit the bill without blowing your budget on one fabulous red canvas. Leave the expensive stuff to the collectors unless you can really afford it and don’t mind the cost.

There are many art buyers who become art collectors over time as their purchases become more educated and edited and their knowledge of the artwork they buy and collect grows. The process of going from buyer to collector is one anyone can undertake and just requires an interest, some reading and the asking of lots of questions. These collectors will leave their fabric swatches in the dust and read a book or see a museum exhibition before making a purchase and adding to their collection.

Happy decorating and collecting.