Big Box Art
I have often been asked about my thoughts on "art" purchased through retail stores like Target, World Market, Home Goods, etc. There are several things to consider when purchasing stuff to hang on your walls. For me, there are three important factors to consider when purchasing art: 1) overall aesthetic, 2) budget, and 3) uniqueness.
Regardless of any other factor, the art you choose should draw out an emotional response. There should be a connection between you and the object you will be staring at every morning while you drink your french press coffee and eat your tofu scramble. The things you hang on your wall also become a reflection of your personality and personal style. That may seem like an incredible amount of pressure and turn you away from art all together, but it's really not that difficult to choose what you like.
For some (and you've visited their dwellings), every wall is vacant except for that one piece of scrolled iron they bought at Marshall's for $7.99. Quick Note: Don't ever lick or chew on those objects, as they are manufactured in China and are most likely covered in lead paint. Empty Wall Dwellers either lack the confidence to select art or just don't care. Most of the time, however, it is the former not the latter. This decision becomes more complex than it needs to be. Recall your dorm room in college. I'm betting that it was a perfect exercise in self-expression and captured your personality at the time, from the Pearl Jam poster and chili pepper lights to the speed limit sign and row of liquor bottles on top of your window sill.
Confidence in your personality should be a significant influence on the art you choose to buy. I could be in a Big Box store walking through the home section or browsing a thrift store. When something personally resonates, it stops me in my tracks. I am instantly pulled to the piece. Whether it's the balance, the color, or the subject matter, something specific is provoking an emotional response. I don't even know exactly where I am going to hang it, but I know that I have to have it. When you get this feeling, you now have a connection to the object (and the artist) and should consider a purchase. If you don't have this feeling, put the Still Life Fruit Bowl canvas down and continue your search. Another Quick Note: Never buy art to match your furniture and other decor. Art should stand alone, not be space filler.
This factor alone is why Big Box Art is a savior for the lower budget collector. While aesthetic for me is the most important factor, there is a reality here and it starts with $$$. Your search should be centered around what you can afford to spend. Also, art should be special to you. Never spend $5000 on an original work just because its $5000 and an original work. Unless you're a huge d-bag that buys $5000 paintings to brag that he has a $5000 painting, buy art because: a) you love it and b) you can afford it. There is investment potential in fine art, but if you are on a tight budget or don't feel comfortable spending that much on a painting, Big Box Art is a fine alternative.
There is also a steep learning curve when buying art for investment purposes. Fine art has the most forgeries and obscure rules of any other potential investment. Just when you think you scored an original hand-signed and numbered Chagall, your appraiser informs you that you have cheap copy some dude made in his garage with a laptop and color printer. If you venture into this market, always do your due diligence and educate yourself before spending money that you wouldn't normally spend. Even the most respected auction houses, art historians, and museums have been duped. If you feel uncomfortable about the purchase...DON'T DO IT.
This final factor determines what kind of art collector you want to be. Again, Big Box Art offers the collector an inexpensive alternative to original fine art with the same wonderful aesthetic. Big Box Art is also mass produced and dispersed in retail outlets throughout the world. So, that awesome distressed American Flag that you found at World Market could be hanging in 252,175 other dwellings (conservatively).
Fortunately, the internet provides us with greater accessibility to original fine art in any price range. Etsy, Vango, Art.com, and even Amazon feature curated original fine art for any type of collector. Your goal is to strike balance in those three factors, knowing that uniqueness can greatly influence the price of the work. I know this is a lot to consider, but I will leave you with this short story to illustrate that you can find amazing art in the most obscure places.
My wife and I used to live outside of New Orleans, and it was a big deal for locals to go to the Angola Prison Rodeo. Yes, it is a real thing...YouTube it! We made the long drive north, above Baton Rouge, to the prison. For this special event, they allowed the public to come in and watch prisoners get knocked around by bulls. Just before the start of the rodeo, there is a huge market where prisoners sell their wears and crafts. You can get anything from handmade jewelry, leather belts, to furniture, and, yes, paintings. These were handmade by the prisoners and sold during the rodeo. All proceeds (minus a nominal commission for the prison) went into their commissary account. Needless to say, the extended Lombardy family received prison crafts for Christmas that year.
As we were browsing through the market, I stumbled upon a group of paintings. Most of them very amateurish in style, but a few were absolutely spectacular. One just reached out and grabbed me. It was a 16"x20" painting of cotton fields. It had a very folk art-ish quality. I saw it, loved it, but walked away. We continued to meander through the market, but I had this impulse to go back to the painting...this nagging feeling that I would regret not taking it home with me. There was just something about the work that had me absolutely fixated.
I approached one of the prisoners about purchasing the painting and he directed me over to a group of men gathered behind a chain link fence. Prisoners confined to this area were deemed a security risk and could not be completely trusted to mingle with the general public for safety concerns. I grew even more anxious about my negotiating skills with a man that had to be segregated behind a fence for safety reasons. I cautiously negotiated the price of this painting through chain link fence with a guy who was convicted to serve 25 years for armed robbery and list of other charges (I googled him), while trying not to offend him. We settled on $65 and this painting now hangs in our dining room.
It was a small purchase, a very captivating aesthetic, and absolutely unique. As a collector, this is what I look for in my hunt for art. Sometimes, the story behind the art has more meaning than the work itself. In this case, I purchased great art and a great story. So, always find balance in those three factors and you will never be disappointed in your purchase.
Disclosure: I am not being paid by any Big Box Stores to advocate for their Big Box Art, nor do I currently own any Big Box Art. Okay, okay, I'll take that back. I may have two framed prints from Hobby Lobby hanging over our bed...but they were 75% off clearance. It was a deal!