Art Buying Guide

by Stephanie Petersen
Published April 28, 2010 | Updated February 17, 2015

It's easy to look at paintings, photography, or other pieces of art and know immediately whether or not you like them, but will that art look right in the room you are decorating? Many elements compose each piece of art, and they all affect how you feel about the piece and whether it is right for the room. Will you like looking at it every day? The first step in selecting art is to browse and pick the pieces you like most or that elicit an emotional reaction. Then, by evaluating the elements, you can get a better idea if the artwork you like will be something you love to have in your home.

Elements to Consider:

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  • Line:

    The lines created by the elements in the art can affect the mood of an entire room, and the right lines can energize or calm you. Horizontal lines are generally calmer, while vertical lines are generally more energizing. These lines are not always obvious. A calming horizontal line may be the horizon in a pastoral scene or the lines of a city bridge. An energizing vertical line may be images of tall trees, standing people, or skyscrapers. Choose art that will reflect the mood of a room's usual activity; for example, a calm sitting room would benefit from art containing horizontal lines and other calming elements, while a game room would have more use for art with energizing vertical lines.

  • Action:

    If you want more help energizing a room, choose artwork with a feeling of action. Action can be literal, such as a scene of horses running. Action can also be suggested, such as abstract lines moving in many directions on the canvas. Viewing this artwork will help your mind wake up. Hang art pieces of dancers in your dressing room to help you feel ready for the day; if you have trouble sleeping at night, hanging the same art in your bedroom could be too stimulating. On the other hand, florals and still-life pieces are examples of art with very little action, making them excellent choices to beautify quiet spaces or to calm busy rooms.

  • Formality:

    How well a piece of art fits in a room will be affected by the formality of its composition as well as the formality of the room. Art featuring vertical lines tends to look more formal, while art featuring horizontal lines generally feels more casual. Subject matter can also greatly affect the formality of the art; depictions of Tuscan villas may have lots of energizing vertical lines, but the subject matter may be too casual for a contemporary living room.

  • Furniture:

    You don't need to make sure your art and your sofa match exactly, but you'll want to relate the artwork's compositional elements to the furniture in the room. For example, if you have a long, low sofa, art that duplicates this line will be very attractive hanging above it.

  • Color:

    Although it's not necessary to match art to your furniture, choosing artwork in a similar color family will be very soothing. Art in neutral colors can be very calming, while art with bright, vibrant colors is often more lively. Choose colorful art if your room is on the neutral side to add some color. Art in black and white or muted colors looks great in a colorful or contemporary room. If you want the room to have a lot of energy, then you can feel free to choose art with bold colors.

  • Theme:

    If you have decorated your room with a theme or motif, you can carry that theme through your art to balance your decor. Art that is similar to your decor will create a consistent mood in the room and make it more comfortable. For a child's room, you can take this literally by looking or art that features animals that are in other decorative elements in the room. But it doesn't always have to be so obvious; vintage style artwork is perfect in a room that features a few pieces of retro furniture, for example.