We choose art and display it in the rooms where we live our lives. Art should enhance our living spaces. It is decorative, but more than that, it can touch your soul. Art has the power to heal. It should make us feel better. But how do you decide what to hang and where to put it?
Whether the art is an original commission or a resized reproduction (i.e., a print), here are seven factors to consider when choosing and displaying your new art. The list below was developed primarily for two-dimensional art such as paintings and drawings, but you can adapt it to other types of visual art such as sculptures.
The subject of the art is significant. There are many ways to classify art. Is it a portrait, still life, or landscape? Is it realism or abstract? But the answers to these questions don’t necessarily matter. What is important is whether you appreciate the art. Does it positively impact how you feel? The circumstances might be bittersweet, but does it ultimately make you happy? Is it something you enjoy?
2. Display Location
Where are you displaying the art? It’s easier to answer this if the art is for you. Still, some homes may be more temporary: where you live now may not be where you’ll be in a few months or a year.
The artwork should be appropriate for the space. In some cases that is obvious: most people would not hang very personal images in a business setting. Some choices might be less straightforward. For multi-purpose rooms, consider the various uses and potential visitors throughout the year. Will you feel comfortable if someone asks you about the art, telling them the story behind it? Appropriateness can be a very personal decision.
If you already know where you want to display the art, that will cue you into the room decor and available space. Is there limited wall space in your home (as is often the case with more modern open layouts)? Consider alternatives such as displaying the artwork on an easel.
In many cases, the art can be a gift. Depending on how well you know the recipient, you might know where it will be hung. Be cautious about large pieces where the recipient may not have sufficient wall space.
One very important consideration: Avoid hanging in direct sunlight. While professional artists will usually use archival materials that ensure permanence, displaying in direct sunlight has the potential to fade the colors used to create the art.
Do you find the colors in the artwork pleasing? If you dislike the colors, then you might not like the art at all. However, if it’s just one color perhaps that is outweighed by other factors.
Do the colors in the art coordinate with the decor of the room? They don’t need to match, but they should complement. There are workarounds for this such as integrating accessories with the same colors into the room.
If you’re commissioning artwork, this is a factor you will discuss with the artist. Conversations with all my clients include discussions about favorite and decor colors.
Framing can be an integral part of two-dimensional art such as drawings and paintings. Many works of art in museums have been in the same frame for centuries. For that reason, all of my art is sold framed. I carefully consider the character of the art in choosing the frame and, if applicable, the matting so that it will complement the art. All that said, you can change a frame!
Some modern paintings don’t use frames at all. Instead, they are on a gallery-wrapped canvas where the sides of the stretched canvas are painted. In this case, you can still add a frame if you want.
When I create commissioned art, clients can virtually attend the framing appointment. This ensures you get the perfect frame to complement the art, coordinate with your decor, and fit your style.
As mentioned above, available space is a significant consideration for displaying art. The size of the space can determine how large (or small) you want the art. If you’re buying existing art, you might have the opportunity to buy reproductions in larger or smaller sizes as appropriate.
Commissioned art is different in that you are designing the art. However, the subject of the art can determine the size. For example, if you want to do a group portrait of ten people, many artists will require that the art you are commissioning is a larger size so that details can be included for likenesses. Once the original art is created, you may be able to scale reproductions to smaller or larger sizes.
In addition to the size of the art itself, consider framing and matting. These can easily add about six inches each to length and width. Remember that you will want to include at least a few inches along each edge outside of the frame on the wall.
6. Orientation, Proportion, and Shape
Just like sending a document to the printer, rectangular art can be either portrait (vertical) or landscape (horizontal) orientation. (Fun fact: this terminology is derived from traditional painting.) For example, if your space is tall and narrow, this will be a consideration. Keep in mind both measurements and proportions. Proportions are commonly known as aspect ratio. Using common photo sizes as an example, a 4″ x 6″ photo is a 2:3 aspect ratio versus an 8″ x 10″ which is a 4:5 ratio.
Although rectangular is the most traditional shape, other options are available. The most popular are square, circle, and oval. More uniquely shaped canvases are available in half-round, hexagon, and triangle. If the artist is working on panels and not framing, almost any shape is possible!
7. Hanging and Displaying
The wall on which you plan to hang your art can be a consideration. Drywall is typical in most modern homes. However, stud placement and type (wood vs. metal) can be important factors in considering where to hang your art. For example, when hanging a larger and/or heavier piece, securing an anchor to a stud is a best practice. But, if the building you’re in has metal studs, this may not be possible. (Stay tuned for a special guest post with more detailed options and recommendations for hanging art—or whatever else—on your walls.)
Older buildings may have walls that are plaster or even brick. Depending on what you want to hang, you may need to experiment with different hanging devices.
If you enjoy rearranging pictures of different sizes, another option might be installing a hanging system. This provides you with the ability to rearrange the artwork without damaging the walls. (I have this one which was recommended to me by a professional framer.)
As mentioned earlier, another option for display is to use either a table or floor easel. If using an easel, before setting it up be sure to consider pathways of both humans and pets to reduce the chances of damage to the art.
Not every item on this list will be a factor in choosing or displaying your art. Similarly, some considerations will be more important than others. Use this list to support your decision-making process.
What other factors can you think of? Share them here to help out your fellow art lovers.