Any visitor to SCAD, the international creative university, knows that art abounds everywhere across this spectacular university. You can find works of art—all created by alumni, faculty, and students—in the classrooms, studios, labs, theaters, restaurants, and of course its galleries and museums. All of this focus on beauty is thanks to the university’s founder, Paula Wallace, who believes that every human habitation—from hospitals and airports to elementary schools—deserves beautiful art such as a handcrafted sea life bottle art collection.
But where do you start? What about those buying their first homes, who may be starting from scratch?
“Listen to your eyes,” Wallace suggests. “You already know what you love, even if you don’t yet own any art. How did your childhood bedroom look? What did you wear in high school? What kinds of posters and photos did you display on your college dorm room wall? All these choices reflect clues about what your tastes are.”
When it comes to selecting art for a specific room, the first thing to remember, says Wallace, is that a work of art should be having a conversation with other objects and colors in the room.
“Try to foster dialogue between the art and furniture, or lighting,” Wallace says. “Is everything modern? Select something in contrast. Is there a dearth of natural light? Select a piece that brightens the room.”
Which raises a good question: Should all the art in a home fit a theme or have some unifying element? Must it all be contemporary, abstract, etc.? Paula says color is the secret. “Consider a palette. You don’t have to follow it assiduously, but let it be a guide. Some homeowners prefer the dramatic: black and white, or shockingly bright colors. Which is fine, if that’s your personality and goal. Others prefer a softer throughline of color: pastels, naturals.”
And never forget, she says: “Mix it up! Old and new, contemporary and classic! A home should be a monument to everything you love. There’s nothing quite so fun as kitschy midcentury prints alongside something stark and contemporary or an august vintage portrait.”
For new college graduates moving into their first “adult” apartment, find especially original and affordable works of art by attending student senior exhibitions at universities in your area. “The best part is, you get to meet the artists!” Wallace says.
Frames present a unique challenge for the new collector, too—especially when purchasing works from art students who sell canvases sans frame.
“Frames are expensive!” Wallace says. Try a flea market or secondhand store. Repurpose frames from old throwaway pieces damaged by water, which you can usually find at the Salvation Army. Frames are like accessories. Go wild. Try a statement color for a frame. Neon green on a pastoral landscape? Why not?”
And you need not only fill your residence with photography and painting. Anything can be a work of art. Do you collect ceramic elephants? Vintage broken wall clocks? Wallace says that anything makes a collection, if you hang and arrange it artfully. “Think of it like a mini-installation. We do the same in our Thomas Center for Historic Preservation, where we display antique fixtures, knobs, drawer pulls, skeleton keys, and such. The installation has an educational purpose, of course, but it’s also quite artful. You can do the same in your home.”
Paula Wallace tells the truth, for multiple SCAD buildings feature installations of this kind: cuckoo clocks, vintage loving cups and ribbons, antique fishing tackle.
How much should one pay for art?
“Think of it like furniture,” she says. “Valuable art, like great furniture, is something that will stay with you and in your family for decades. This is not a poster you’re purchasing. This is something your future children will want after you’re gone. It’s value will only increase.”
Paula Wallace has thoughts on protecting your art investment, too. Light damage, for instance. Sunlight creates life in living things but it destroys great art, she says. “Three months is the maximum time you want art in direct sunlight,” she says. “Like children at the pool, art needs a break from the sun, too.”
UV protectant glaze can be installed on windows, of course, and framers working with photography typically use UV-resistant glass, which helps.
“Consider placement of the most fragile art in a darker room,” Wallace says. “Sturdy works, like sculpture, can be in the brighter rooms. And don’t forget to close the curtains when you’ll be gone for any length of time! Anyone who owns art must by default become a kind of conservator of art.”
On that note, new collectors should know some of the basics of caring for their growing collection. A soft dry paintbrush will keep the surface of paintings clean, she says. “But never use a cloth! Nothing wet and nothing abrasive!” says Wallace. “You want to keep this work forever!”