Art

How to Look At, Collect, and Decorate with Abstract Art

October 12, 2020  —  Written by Julia Marcum 

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Lately, we’ve been moving the art around in our house a lot. We moved the Kader Boly “Mirgration” piece from the hallway to the dining, and the Victor Ryan “Midnight II” piece from the mantle to the hallway. I love how rearranging art gives a room fresh life, sometimes making it seem like a completely different space. Because I shared these art swaps on Stories, I welcomed a lot critiques — both on the placement and the art itself. Art is so subjective, and thankfully we don’t all like the same thing, but I got these two comments a couple of times, and they really bugged me:

“Why would you buy that when you could make it yourself?

and

“My kid could make that.”

I should mention that the pieces were both abstract. And I suppose I should be flattered by that first one? I did go to art school. But one of my takeaways was a deeper understanding of art and appreciation for abstract art. I’m going to break down some of what I learned and why I collect the abstract art that I do. If this resonates with you, you probably lean toward abstract art, too.

How to Look at Abstract Art

Like a scent, I let abstract art take me back in time. What memories (places? people?) does this bring up for me? Like a song, I let it set a mood for me. I try not to worry as much about what the artist was seeing or feeling at first: What do *I* see and feel? If I can, I give myself a moment before I look up the title or any backstory on the piece (if you’re in a gallery, avoid reading the wall at first). Let the piece take on a story for you.

Next, I pay attention to what’s repeated. What’s layered? Where’s the balance? What do I think of the composition? Are the colors vibrating? I let myself be moved and even confused. Sit in the question for a little while. I let my imagination wander. What intangible emotions might be explored here? My advice: Don’t try to find an “answer.” You get to decide if this piece has any meaning or emotion to YOU.

Sometimes, I  think of abstract art as a process of elimination. Once you take away the realism… forms… anything “literal”… what’s left is a lived visual experience. There’s freedom and intuition.

Revisit it. What does this piece bring up for you today? In this sweet and funny video of Steve Martin at the MoMA, he’s convinced that the abstract painting he loves is a landscape. The next time he sees it, it might be a figure.

How to Collect Abstract Art

I’m always a fan of investing in original art. There’s a good chance it will increase in value, and it doesn’t have to be expensive to start a collection — even one of potential heirlooms. But a handsome print will certainly help you to hone your tastes, and a signed print is very valuable. The most important advice I have for you when buying art is to buy the piece you can’t live without. If it tugs at your heartstrings or stirs your soul or just gives you the feels — make it yours.

How to Decorate with Abstract Art

Let it choose your color palette: Fall in love with a piece of abstract art and let it be “the thing” that you design around. A piece of art can be a jumping off point for the colors in the rug, the curtains, the throw pillows…

Let it punctuate your space: We love tone on tone around here. But maybe you want something to really “pop” in your room. An abstract piece could be the splash of color you’re craving or the accent that catches your eye when you walk into a room.

Let it set the tone: What’s the vibe of this room? Moody? Cozy? Serene? Romantic? Productive? Creative? Abstract art can help you tell that story. It’s like you’re piping music into the room. Imagine a soft watercolor in the bathroom, giving you spa vibes — dramatic “swipes” in the living room, stirring conversation — geometric shapes in the office, asking for order.

Let it fill in the gaps: Maybe you need a piece to tie it all together. A piece of abstract art might be just the thing that’s missing — the swath of color that makes the sofa make sense with the armchair. Or maybe it’s the glue that’s holding the gallery wall together.

 

Of course, the lovely thing about art is that it’s subjective. If you don’t like a piece, or if abstract art just isn’t your thing as a whole, think about why. Don’t worry about forcing a feeling or stress that you don’t “get it.” Let it be a mystery.

There’s a rich history here, with major movements, that this blog doesn’t even touch. Hopefully this ignites some curiosity in you or validates a style of art you might be gravitating toward.

One more thing: Resist the phrase, “My kid could do that.” Even if the piece feels oversimplified to you, it’s insulting to the artist. And even if the artist can’t hear you, we’re not really about stamping out creativity and intention in the world, are we? Also, abstract art has a long history, and your child didn’t do that in the ’60s, for example, before anyone was making art like that :) Finally, a recent study suggests that even the untrained eye can distinguish between a painting by a professional artist and one by a child (or chimp!).

But, hey — give your kid a paintbrush! Start them young, I say :)

  1. “Wind Blue 484” by Jessy Cho
  2. “A Winter’s Walk” by Alison Jerry Designs
  3. “Crosshatch” by Kelly Witmer
  4. “Royal” by Rob Blackard
  5. “Modern Circles in Midnight Blue” by Stacy Rajab
  6. “NY16#27” by Jennifer Sanchez
  7. Knott Cloud” by Rob Blackard
  8. “Ramona” by Shira Barzilay
  9. “Cool Reflections” by Karen Kardatzke
  10. “Fields” by Jenny Komenda
  11. “L35Y” by Leah Caylor
  12. “Indigo Ink” by Erin McCluskey Wheeler
  13. “I Need A Sign” by Lauren Packard
  14. “Minimalism 1” by Iris Lehnhardt
  15. “Maze” by Kate Roebuck
  16. “Lava Stone no.5” by Paulina Vårregn
  17. “KNOTS” by Jenny Komenda
  18. “Moving Parts” by NA
  19. “Borderlines” by NA
  20. “Beige Abstract 2” by NA
  21. “Navy Swatch” by NA
  22. “Driven Textile II” by Carol Benson-Cobb
  23. “09.01.2018” by Stephane Villafane
  24. “Another Blues” by Christian Hetzel
  25. “Endeavor Diptych” by Helen Bellaver
  26. “Venn” by Steve McKenzie
  27. “Squiggles” by Camille Pietrow

 

 

 

 

What do you think?

  1. Rosa says:

    Love this and love switching pieces around! I’m really into waiting for the right pieces. Good art takes time to find. Sometimes, I’ve looked at abstract art I like and think – ‘I can do that’ and tried it and it’s an absolute disaster. Abstract art is hard and abstract artists are professional artists for a reason. Even paintings that may look simple with lines or a few shapes take certain artistic talent that I clearly do not possess.

  2. McKenna says:

    This post was therapeutic for me. Thank you!

  3. Jennifer S says:

    I agree with everything you’ve written and it’s sad that there were comments like those. Why would anyone want to squash creativity or denigrate it? I LOVE the simplicity of some abstract art; it’s calming. Often the complexity or skill in creating simplified art is the pairing of colors or movement. That is not an easy feat and certainly takes talent. Good post!

  4. Barbara says:

    Thank you for this post Julia! I don’t even know why, but I am always, always, always drawn toward abstract art.

  5. Brittany Davis says:

    What happened to the tapestry in your dining room? I was so bummed when it sold out so fast! I want it for my cabin.

  6. Julie Rossman says:

    I love an abstract landscape picture (so on trend right now), but it reminds me a road trip, looking out the window at the endless earth as it passes by quickly (near) or stays in view for a long time (far). Abstract art allows me to be more creative in my mind as the viewer to fill in the details. Art that is too detailed requires too much from me to be calming. Less is more.

  7. Marie Gamalski says:

    As a painter and collage artist, I can confidently say, the simpler the piece appears, the tougher it often is to achieve

  8. Nicole says:

    This made me chuckle. I love abstract art and how it forces you to search for beauty and meaning, and not any specific meaning for that matter. Although everyone would like to believe they can – not everyone can do art they way professionals do. There is a reason they are professionals. I am all for investing in things that make you feel something… and for supporting the people who made you feel it with their time and talent! Thanks for being so bold to write this.

  9. As an abstract artist myself I get those comments A LOT. Art is subjective. And abstract is a lot harder than one would think. What a great selection of art you have chosen. Thank you for teaching others.

  10. I love how you took your experience on instagram stories and turned it into a “teachable moment”, just like I bet you would with a child who doesn’t know better and says something small minded and/or hurtful. That says A LOT about your character and you modeled such a wonderful and kind way of managing “the haters” for lack of a better term. You could have gotten defensive and lashed out at the negative comments, but instead you came from a place of kindness and boy we sure could all use more of that. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience with us. I used to be an art therapist and I couldn’t agree more with your teachings here. Art is a VERY personal experience. Whatever your budget and your style, there is something out there for everyone and finding the right piece and tying it together with accessories really makes a room!

  11. Jenna says:

    Hello! Love y’all! I also love abstract art & have several from a local dallas artist in my home. The question I was hoping you’d touch on in this post was what else to mix with abstract art. I have a living room with huge walls, on one side is a large abstract art piece, the other is two oversized frames that are either empty or have a kids picture in them, because I can’t figure out what goes with the art across the room or in general what goes well with abstract art. Could you touch on how to decorate around abstract art? What else can be used to make the room, if you have large open walls & more than one oversized art piece would be too much!!

    Thanks

  12. Carter says:

    Thank you for this post. We have a huge collection of original art – some we’ve inherited and others we have bought on our own. We have too many to hang and switch out pieces every so often.
    Art is what makes a home a home. It’s what makes it feel original, happy, elegant and put together. We don’t all like the same art and that’s fine, but one thing to add of what not to say: “I don’t like that” when you are referring to art in someone else’s home.

  13. Linda says:

    Home is where the ART is!!!

  14. Halle says:

    Thank you for writing this post! I admit, I have definitely thought (and said) phrases like that about abstract or modern art pieces in the past. I think it may be because I was never taught how to interpret them, how to be comfortable with the uncertainty, or how a physical object can appear to change.

    One thing that I really appreciate about the art you chose for your home, as well as the art you featured via links, is the variety. I tend to associate bold, dramatic, geometric designs, and primary colors with abstract art (which is not my thing). But I LOVE the dreamy, landscapey pieces like 1, 2, 9, and 14.

  15. Thanks for putting this great article out in the world. It is surprising how many people still find abstraction difficult to digest. Of course, classical music is also abstract but somehow easier to accept. You keep writing and I will keep painting. Have a great day!

  16. megan flood says:

    just writing to say

    I LOVE THIS POST!

    I find this statement especially true – “Or maybe it’s the glue that’s holding the gallery wall together.” On most of the gallery walls I gravitate towards, it’s because there is an abstract piece as part of it.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Btw who did the drawings in your basement?

  17. Jeanna says:

    Very well said Julia! I love the art you have collected for your home ;)

  18. Jody says:

    This post really speaks to one reason I love your blog and design philosophy so much – how a space feels is of greater importance than how it looks. Of course design is both but you do such a beautiful job of emphasizing creating the feeling of home rather than the curation of beautiful pieces. I think that’s a really important distinction and your guidance to follow the feeling of home rather than just the beauty is so valuable.

  19. Marcia Randolph says:

    Love the new homes for the art. Love the message.

  20. Jaime says:

    Abstract art is so new to me, but I’m learning to love it! I never understood it until one day I saw a Lindsay Letters abstract and I couldn’t stop looking at it. I had to buy it, and now everytime I see it, I stop and stare for awhile, and it never fails to move me.

  21. Ellie says:

    Love this post. Thanks for giving us a crash course on abstract art!

  22. Ashley says:

    Sometimes I just shake my head at how rude some people are. I feel like it’s a combination of entitlement, jealousy, and stupidity. Bravo to you for handling the trolls with grace.

  23. Sarah says:

    I have found myself purchasing art during this pandemic. I love supporting local artists and it has lifted my spirits to see these beautiful pieces in my house – win-win! I have begun collecting more abstract art recently. They are a bit more dreamlike and soft. My friend Amalia is an incredible artist who has opened my eyes to the beauty of abstract art. One of the most fascinating things about her art is the range – she paints and draws the most beautiful detailed images and then the softest dreamlike abstracts. You should check her out at amaliafischart.com. All of her pieces are originals and they are so reasonably priced for the amazing quality.

  24. Stacy says:

    I think all of the art in your house is amazing! You have exquisite taste and I can’t imagine people being so critical! Thank you for your wonderful posts.

  25. Aminah says:

    Whenever someone says “I could have done that.” I always answer what I used to hear my mother say to the same remark by people: “But you didn’t.” That usually makes people stop for a second and think. Great post!

  26. I absolutely love this! I have been recently become fascinated with abstract art and I was watching your Instagram stories last week of the art in your home and I finally figured out what had been missing in our home! Now I am on the market for some amazing pieces and this post was so helpful! I love the art you have chosen for your home and the feel and touch it adds to the spaces you have created!

  27. Jasmine says:

    What a lovely response to some not-so-thoughtful comments. I LOVED coming along for your art rearranging on stories and felt that the new placements fit so much better! That ‘migration’ art was just waiting to go to the dining room.

    Additionally, your comments about viewing art in a gallery or museum are spot-on. Texture and scale and emotion of art are nearly impossible to capture in a photo or print…

    All of this reminds me of Craig Damrauer’s modern art equation:

    MODERN ART = I COULD DO THAT + YEAH BUT YOU DIDN’T

  28. A says:

    Also there is something to be said for originality. A kid could copy Moby Dick word for word if they wanted to. That’s the same as writing it.

  29. Tracy says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for this post Julia! Very thoughtful and I like that you are calling out the hyper harsh critical comments about something as rich and subjective as art. It’s rare to see this thoughtful engagement in the blogosphere and I applaud you for thoughtfully writing and sharing this. At the very least it will hopefully encourage others to see that being open to ideas different than one’s own in this world is valuable. If this small quality was embraced by everyone the toxicity present in our day to day world would diminish so much. Always viewing and speaking from a place of judgement does not make one smarter or more interesting – rather the opposite. Thank you for embodying a graceful reply that hopefully will open some minds. The Steve Martin video is charming and enriched your point. Thank you! :) Last thought – I also like that this is not about selling something new, this is about learning something new. Opening minds and hearts, not pocketbooks. I do not say this as a jab AT ALL, what I mean is that ideally we are viewing blogs such as yours for new ideas and inspiration, not measuring sticks or feelings of superiority.

  30. C S says:

    When I saw the comment “Why would you buy that when you could make it yourself?” I assumed it was referring to the similarity between the black abstract art you bought (now in the hall) and the set of four black canvases that you made for the Pugmire living room. They’re both white on black and I could see why people would draw a parallel between the two. It’s actually a very interesting comparison in terms of all of the points you mention about how to evaluate art, because even with a lot of broad similarities, the two pieces of art evoke very different feelings, and even to my very untrained eye, the one in your house seems more like a gallery/fine art piece.

  31. Gale says:

    You handled the topic of ” abstract art” very well. However I am not a fan. Perhaps it is because to me, representational art tells a story and abstract, to me, does not. My art teacher friend has spent years trying to explain Rothko’s work but it simply doesn’t make sense. I know many artists and they tell me the only things they are sure to sell are their abstract pieces because the buyer sees what they want. Somehow I find this insulting. Undeniably art is subjective but I don’t want the art I buy to be the finishing piece of decoration for a room.

  32. Jenny says:

    In regards to the thought that a child could make this. What a compliment! Children create art without boundaries, rules, or restrictions. They don’t tell themselves “I can’t draw xyz”, they create and interpret “xyz” however they feel. Art by a child is the truest form of self expression and boy are they proud. Julia, I commend you for putting yourself and your artwork out there for the world. However, I wish others understood that some of the comments you mentioned above on the beauty of art are hurtful. Almost as hurtful and pointless as commenting on the appearance of another’s spouse. Good! I see my spouse’s beauty inside and out and it’s for ME to enjoy. Thankyouverymuch.

    • Sarah says:

      This!! I went to art school and in one of the first classes I had, my professor told a story about giving a group of college students and a group of kids the same assignment: draw a tiger. The students had numerous questions about medium, size, etc… whereas kids immediately dove into the project and, even if their work wasn’t as technically advanced, it was much more creative. Artistic perspective of a child is not something to minimize.

  33. Christina says:

    HERE FOR THIS!!! First of all, I love the art rearranging. Shop your own house. Such a great philosophy! Each one of these pieces, I like just a *skosh* better in its new home – but of course if I didn’t, that would be my own opinion and I wouldn’t burden you with that. :)
    Secondly, YES thank you for taking the time to address abstract art with your followers. I love abstract pieces and think they are still worth an investment / worth purchasing rather than trying to “DIY.” I also liken abstract pieces next to photorealistic or landscapes kind of like a geometric rug next to a traditional rug. They can complement each other without competing.
    And finally! if you don’t think it’s worth it, then don’t spend money on abstract art for your own home! Practice the phrase, “Good for them, not for me.” ;) xox

  34. Laura says:

    Thank you!

  35. Sarah says:

    Two things that have revolutionized my thoughts on art (art that’s hung on a wall, specifically) for me in the last couple of years:

    1. I’m a teacher and went to a conference with a speaker who spoke about art inquiry for children. https://nicolagiardina.com/#method Here is her website. I loved how Nicola spoke about looking at a piece of art. She showed us a certain work, had us look at it and think about it, then we talked about what we saw (varied greatly from person to person, even for a non-abstract piece), then she gave us some information about it. This included the year that it was made with some context, information about the artist, the medium, the information the artist gives, and then we discussed theories of the big idea about it. It was a FASCINATING exercise and opened my eyes to visual arts. (I gravitate toward stage-art more)

    2. My step-mom went to a very fancy lecture on collecting art. While is beyond my wheelhouse since I don’t have the capacity to “collect art” in the sense they were talking about, the concept has stuck with me. The lecturer said to buy what you like and buy your friends’ art. While he cited his parents, who traveled through Europe in the mid-century and met and befriended little known artists such as Matisse and Picasso, he argued that the best collection is what you like of your friends. While monetarily our collections will likely be worth nothing like his parents I found the idea very thought provoking.

  36. Victoria says:

    I like some abstract art, though impressionist and pointillism are my favourite. I never understood Jackson Pollack and have said those things about his work, until I saw one of his large pieces at MoMA. I saw so many things within it, I worried that I was sounding nutty to see so many things within it, but it affected me and I don’t think ‘anyone’ could have done it.

    • Christina says:

      YES TO THIS, Victoria!!! I feel the same way about Pollack. There’s something in his pieces (scale maybe?) that doesn’t translate in pictures online. And then you stand in front of one and there’s just so.much.to.it. Clyfford Still is another one that’s similar – if you’re ever in Denver, you should check out our Clyfford Still museum. xo

      • Jean says:

        I felt this way with Rothko. Didn’t get it until I saw it in person and then whoa. Images on a screen doesn’t do it justice. Keep an open mind folks. Thanks Julia!

      • Marie Gamalski says:

        Agreed, Rothko must be viewed in person…his work subsumes you w/color energy and emotion, sometimes I can almost feel his works vibrate within me, feel his melancholy and the deep sadness that walked beside him through many periods in his life…

  37. Susan says:

    I’m a fan of abstract art, and taste is very subjective. It doesnt matter of one of my 3 boys could have or DID paint something. I Iove what I Iove. My son made an oil pastel when he was 8 that visitors think was done by an adult because he had a sophisticated sense of color even as a toddler. Everything he made from watercolor to lego monsters had a color scheme that was carefully considered. I’m not a fan of the dark works you guys have selected because it makes me feel depressed to look at it, but that’s what’s great about art. There are millions of options. Not a subject usually tackled on a home blog but I love it.

  38. Patricia says:

    I have one abstract piece (done by an artist friend) and I love it.

    I have tried painting abstract art. Mine looked like crap. It’s not as easy as it looks. Mine had no emotional resonance, no power, no back story; it was just squiggles on paper.

    I do get it. But it helped me understand how complex good abstract art is by taking an art class and trying it.

  39. Caitlin Rose Low says:

    Thank you for talking about abstract art! I just love it so much. Funny story about kids making it though…we have a 5×5 ft canvas in our 6 year old son’s room. We choose a collection of colors and when he was 3, over the course of about 6 months, during playdates he and his friends would paint all over the canvas. We helped a bit to make sure all of it was covered. It is now his prized possession and reminds us of so many fun memories. In no way would I consider it a work of prestigious art, but love the memories it holds. Although we’ve been asked by a few who the artist is, hahaha!

  40. mandee mcevoy says:

    I LOVE #11, but it appears that the link isn’t going to the correct print.

  41. Kelli says:

    So I love collecting art both professional and my kids. :). Typically they are pieces that I just love. I struggle how to judge a piece spatially on my walls. Does that make sense. I think I need to stop just buying random piece and be more intentional on how big of a piece I need. Which is why I loved watching you move your pieces around. The migration piece, to me, works so much better in the dining room and your black abstract actually stand out more than the migration piece did in the hallway.

  42. Carrie says:

    YES to all of this. I am so glad that you took the time to address this and write this post!

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We believe we should all love where we live.

We’re a couple of homebodies, working to uncover the home our home wants to be. And we’re so happy to have you here. 

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