Art vs. Decor

This is a blog about what it means to be a piece of REAL art. It is very much a conversation about the vocabulary we use to describe what we hang on the walls of our homes as well as an opportunity to examine what it is that gives art its value. This is an invitation to embrace a way of seeing art that transcends how much it costs in order to focus on what it is worth.

To begin with, here is a definition of the term “REAL ART”. A piece of real art is a piece of artwork that has been touched by the artist. It is the piece of art that was once wet or a work in progress until the artist herself or himself manipulated the medium to create an image or shape that expressed what needed to be told. 


Based on that definition, the crayon drawing that your child did of the family cat in Kindergarten is a piece of real art. The framed print that you purchased in a department store because it matches your furniture is not. There is a different word for that print, or other mass produced items that are sold this way. The word is,”decor”. I am in no way being judgmental or critical about whether or not you have a nice-looking print from Home Goods hanging in your house. I have prints in my house, too. But to understand what gives real art its value, I do  think it is important to remember that these items are decor. They are mass produced and sold commercially with the intention of looking nice. There is nothing wrong with that at all. Knowing the difference between the two of these things will help you to embrace and treasure the magic of owning a piece of real art. 

This is an example of “decor”. It is inexpensive and has likely never been touched by    artist who created the image. There are places in your house where it might look nice.

This is an example of “decor”. It is inexpensive and has likely never been touched by

artist who created the image. There are places in your house where it might look nice.

Every artist who picks up a brush (or a chisel, needle, etc.) is sharing a message with every person who ever gazed at one of their creations. Usually the message comes straight from their heart and soul, and often it is something that can’t be put easily into words. Many artists are also decent business people and as such are able to earn money by creating art. But I would say that rarely is making money the highest priority behind the creation of real art. The canvas, the paint, the clay, the wax, the ink, the metal, the wood or whatever other medium you are looking at are like the words in a conversation between the artist and his soul, and by putting it out into the world, the artist is committing an act of vulnerability and courage. 

A friend of mine told me that when she visited the Met in New York City, she sat on a bench in front of Monet’s painting of Water Lilies for an hour. As such, she was magically transported into the conversation between the artist and himself and she got to know not only what the water lilies looked like, but also how he felt about them. This is not only true for the work of the most famous artists, but for the work of anyone who has dared to create and display real art. If you let yourself get close enough to a painting to examine the brush strokes, you may be able to have a truly intimate view of the artist’s emotions at work. Another advantage of real art.

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As you walk around the halls and the studios of places like the Harrison Center, you may see artwork that resonates with your own feelings, emotions or tastes. It could be as simple as a color scheme or style, or it could be something undefinable that draws you to the piece. There is no wrong reason to love a piece of artwork. When you look at the price of the piece, it may surprise you based on how expensive or cheap it is. You may find yourself saying to yourself,”I could get something just like that a lot cheaper at (insert the name of your favorite discount store.)”, but I encourage you to resist that conversation in your head. A piece of original artwork has magic and energy that are simply not available in a mass produced item. The price you see on the tag beside the real art work refers to the amount of money the artist feels she needs to ask for the piece in order to continue to create other artwork. You are paying for much more than cardboard and wood when you purchase a piece of real art. You are buying something that is alive and able to reach out to you every time you look at it.