View Plans

Should I buy art that matches my pillows?

interior design leigh pillow purpose of art May 17, 2021

Author: Leigh Penner

Okay, so this title is a tad sarcastic. lol. On the other hand, is the question legitimate? I mean, how nice are your pillows??

This type of comment is something many people say at art shows. "I love that work, but it doesn't match my décor." 

So, let's think about this a moment. 

What is good art, and why do we buy it?

The reality is, there is probably not a one-size-fits-all answer to this question.  There are many reasons why people purchase art (and we will list some of them in a moment). Also, there are many taste preferences when it comes to art. To qualify what makes art "good," we really need to set some parameters to explain what we mean when we refer to "good" art. So, let's start there.

What is 'good' art?

 For our purposes, "good art" takes foundational, artistic values, combines them with applied learning and talent, and creates a product which inspires an emotional response.

Good art is not necessarily 'pretty' -- though it can be. Nor is it restricted to any one style or artistic school of thought -- though you will likely have style preferences in the kind of art you prefer. It doesn't even have to inspire one particular emotional response -- viewing some of the best art can take you on an emotional rollercoaster, in fact. But, it does cause a reaction. Always. And that reaction connects you to that work in uniquely personal ways.

The one thing all good art has in common, is that spark which makes you stop to take a second, a third, or even fourth look. It grabs something inside you and calls your name. It make an emotional plea for your consideration, an emotional connection with your intellect and even your soul.

Good art wants you to want it, too.

Good art is that art which always keeps you coming back for more.

It matters to you, is personal to you, tells a part of your story. It compels the desire to own it so you can visit it every day.


Why do people buy art?

There are many reasons people purchase art works. Some are looking for an investment. Others are investing in what their budget allows. Many need to fill an empty space on a wall. Some are supporting a friend or family member in an artistic endeavor. You may be looking for a memento of a special moment or location or event.

Almost always, though, art is purchased because on some level that particular work speaks or impacts the purchaser in one way or another. Unless you are purchasing merely to accumulate and extend your wealth (fair enough if that is you), we buy art because we like it. We see value in it. 

One of the beautiful things about art is that it fills our world with variety. You don't have to like the same things I like when it comes to art. Your eye will not see some of what mine sees, and vice versa. I can tell you this is true, because I spent a year working as a gallery assistant in the biggest art gallery in my city. The most commonly asked question there was, "What is your favorite work?" The answer invariably differed from one person to the other. To be honest, some days my own answer changed as I spent time with the works and felt drawn to new elements I'd never before noticed. 

People appreciate art because there is historical significance to the work. Maybe it was painted by one of the "Masters." Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Michelangelo, Rembrandt. Maybe the historical significance is more personal than that.

My father, for example, is an oil painter. I mean, he was an airline Captain by trade, but he used to paint into the wee hours of the morning. One morning when I was four, I woke before he did and discovered he had left his paints out. He was working on a painting which featured ominous storm clouds gathering over a hillside where cows grazed. Four-year old me was inspired! I painted over all dad's cows -- in green.

This painting now hangs in my office. In truth, while it is a good painting, it is far from my favorite that dad painted. It's mine, though, because of how history ties me to the work. I tell everyone who sees it the story of how I "helped" paint the cows. I tell dad they are now grass-stained and far more authentic than before. 

People also buy art work because they appreciate the skill it took to create the work. One of my favorite artists from my gallery assistant days is a Canadian artist named Benjamin Chee Chee. There is a minimalism and a sinuous fluidity to Chee Chee's work with Canadian Geese which captivates me. Every one of his paintings leaves me with an impression of freedom. That, to me, is what he really paints. Not a bird, but a feeling. When you learn that his personal life was troubled (see, history!), that vibe becomes only more beautiful.

Art often creates these intellectual kinds of connections. The painting (or sculpture, or...) becomes the physical link between artist and owner. We experience their story when we look at their work, and that broadens our own experience of life. 

So, back to our pesky pillows!

How do I combine my art and my décor to make it work together?

Here is a truth: The beauty we see in good art may not always match our living room color scheme.

Here is another truth: Some people are classicists, and they are going to want traditional balance in their homes. 

One more truth: Sometimes, we aren't even the ones decorating our own homes. There is an entire creative discipline (Interior Design) which has developed because not every person knows how to, has the time to, or wants to be the one coordinating the décor in their own home. 

How do these three truths affect art purchases? Well, individually, really.

There are two realities here. First, every person's home is an extension of their own lifestyle, personality, and socio-economic status. That is reality. Second, every person's home, whether privately or professionally laid out, will, over time, come to contain objects of personal significance to the resident. The family photos, the child's drawing which is stuck to the refrigerator door, the rocks and shells found at the nearby beach and now resting in a dish on a bathroom counter, the stained-glass sailboat created by/handed down from a beloved and passed-on grandfather (mine), the favorite mug with its Starbucks logo, the tribal mask picked up at a street market on a vacation in Africa. The objects which surround us reveal us. In our homes, they instill continuity, history, inspiration and comfort into our daily lives. 

And when it comes to the art work -- paintings in particular -- which we purchase to adorn our walls, shouldn't those purchases reflect our personality? Do they really need to match our pillows?

For some of you, the answer to this question is yes. It always has been yes, and always will be yes. And that is all right. You are a traditionalist. You know what you like. There is still art that you will love.

And, of course, there are limiting realities to the placement of art in a home. My bedroom walls, for example, cause some restrictions in what I have there. The north wall, when constructed, was segmented into 18 inch sections. I have seams running all over that wall, and large paintings simply don't hang well there. That's okay, I have a series of 5x7 photographs there instead. The sunset from our camping trip. The orchard down the street. The children in a pumpkin patch at Halloween. The west wall of my bedroom is covered in brick wallpaper which I selected. It is the art on that wall. Nothing hangs there. the paintings I own hang in other spaces in my home.

For those of you who want something original reflected in your living space, though, there is another way to look at combining paintings, architectural realties, and home décor.

Go bold. 

Think for a moment about that child's multi-colored drawing hanging on your refrigerator. Does it match the color scheme in your kitchen? Is it modern like your stainless steel appliances and granite counter tops? Not a chance. But, does that really matter? Or, do you, like me, smile every time your eye lands on that masterpiece? 

The same concept worked in your teenage bedroom. Did you hang posters of rock stars and models and athletes and actors all over the room? Did you have a gaudy collage of all your friends' photos and your track and field ribbons and the dead, dried roses your first boyfriend gave you on one of your walls? (If not, you missed out.) And, did it all work for you, anyway? Weren't those things a huge part of why you loved your bedroom best?

That doesn't have to change just because we become adults and decide we need a more mature look in our homes. There is a way to have both. 

 If the painting you loved most at the art show is purple but your furniture is orange, that doesn't mean you can't make it work. There are options. 

First, you can select a different room where the painting will live. Easy.

Secondly, you can pair a single wall with more than one piece of art work. That way, you can take the pre-dominant color in the largest painting and pair it with varying tones of both the orange and purple (paintings and sofa) in the smaller paintings. You will end up with a combined effect which pulls all the colors in your room together. 

Thirdly, you can neutralize two dominant and different pieces (purple painting, orange sofa) with the accent pieces you choose. Find a throw rug in neutrals. Find a throw rug with a little bit of orange and a little bit of purple. Select (don't laugh) throw pillows which mellow one of your feature pieces so that it becomes compatible with other colors. Add greenery, which gives variety to a room and smooths out the emotional contours of your room. Consider changing your wall color -- paint always need to be refreshed, anyway. Or, consider adding a feature wall in a color which makes both of your dominant pieces blend harmoniously into a much more exciting and personalized space.

The bottom line is this: If you find a piece of art that you love and you would love to buy it, don't let the color of your pillows stop you. Creating art is a labor of love, and hanging it in your home should be about loving that piece of art, too.  

Buy the art you love; love the art you buy.

Artist Support
Bold School 🎨

Leigh Penner is a Canadian author of fiction and non-fiction books. Leigh has a BA in English Literature and an MFA in interdisciplinary Studies from UBC Okanagan. 

Creativity awaits!


Browse our classes

Want art inspiration right in your inbox? 

Get updates like this blog post, via our newsletter, by signing up here. 

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.