Viewing Art at Home
The experience of viewing art in your home takes many paths, but we have now rotated dozens of artworks through Member homes and have seen distinct patterns emerge in how that art is welcomed and appreciated. The elements of time, community, and physical context play a huge role in your experience, creating something more than your initial interpretation of the art itself.
Many of our friends crave exposure to multiple ideas and want variety in social and mental life. They consume “experiences” as often as “goods.” They would like to spend more time with art than the 13 second museum average (From prior article), but in most cases far less than perpetual ownership.
So how much time would people like to spend with most fine art? About two months. We asked our initial Members numerous times and they consistently replied with two months. The number isn’t magic, and it could change, but this was clear. In addition, the time rating was independent of someone’s overall enjoyment of the art. A person who was ecstatic about the art (Imagine a perfect “10”) did not want to keep the art substantially longer than a person who expressed lukewarm feelings (Imagine a “6”). Again, given the choice, most of our friends prefer variety; this is core to the experience economy and The Art Circuit.
But even within a bound time range changes occur as you linger with art. While your overall enjoyment might remain consistent, it likely grows or shrinks over time to some degree. We first uncovered this experience when Members began to say things such as “I like this piece a lot more now than I did initially,” or, conversely, and thankfully less often, “I loved this piece initially but became tired of it after awhile.”
Let’s examine a few scenarios under which art perception changes over time. First, “I like this piece a lot more now than I did initially.” Good. This is why we challenge ourselves with new books, food, art - creative pursuits that expose us to new experiences. With art we learn and grow in our appreciation of different styles and subject matters. Time helps us acclimate to a bold color pattern or sharp figurative lines that are unfamiliar. If a person has not owned much art it could be an acquired taste, as many valued tastes are, from broccoli to fine spirits.
Bringing new artwork to a Member’s home is the most essential joy we provide - and it is personally rewarding to us. The feelings of excitement and surprise are irreplaceable and only occur at that moment, when the prior artwork is removed, and they glimpse the new art settle into its location. The room may shift from an ethereal, impressionist interior to a bold, modernist set of geometric shapes. Or it could move from seaside flats painted in extremely thick oil to mixed media in black and white. This is a fantastic moment of adventure and variety. Most of us probably associate this transition moment with other experiences: an unexpected music track, the first sight of an unknown city, even images in our social media feeds. They all provide the rush of new exposure, and these sometimes steep and brew into new meaning. This is especially true of art.
This is because the art does not stand alone. It exists in the context of a home, and the people and activities who inhabit it. It’s an ecosystem. We ask for scores on many attributes, from artwork color to size and style. This is not the place to examine those data but suffice it to say, people initially judge art quite heavily based on the color and how it matches their interior decorations. People do NOT ever stop considering color as a primary factor, and we’ll share more scores in a few months, but they DO stop dwelling on the color and start reflecting on the content and style more heavily. They need time to view the artwork in the morning, evening, and night. Time to discuss with roommates, spouses, or friends (Living situations are quite varied in San Francisco). There is a time and moment when the art goes from an enjoyable surprise into being a part of the home and a comforting element- or an energizing element. This is what happens when people tell us they “Enjoy the art more than they had initially.”
But sometimes, luckily much less often, the art is less interesting over time than initially. You might love an artwork initially but explore the feelings and thoughts it generates in each context over the course of a couple weeks. And you might discover that it settles and recedes into the background too quickly. Maybe it doesn't grab the space and become part of the room. Or you might find that the shapes, colors, and textures are obvious, and visual consumption becomes repetitive like a song that won’t go away because the radio plays it too much. This does happen under certain circumstances, and from what we’ve seen you likely won’t know this from the first glance, or from immediately available attributes of the art, but it’s something that we are tracking with our surveys, to try and understand patterns about which art loses it luster.
Other exciting things happen when viewing art at home. It allows you to embrace curiosity. Without museum or gallery boundaries you can even - gasp - touch the artwork. Don’t tell anyone, but you can. And the art will certainly project different attitudes in segments through the day. As light is cast across the artwork it glows with different hues, as it does with natural vs. artificial light. We try to place artwork in locations that attract natural light directly instead of from the sides, but not every space enables this. Museum lighting is incredible; it’s directed perfectly to the shade and tone of an artwork. But that isn’t the reality of how durable artworks must gleam inside your home, and we often forget the challenges of hanging artwork in even the most primary locations. The reality is the art will look completely different at noon than at dinner. It will change entirely with open or closed blinds. It is not a perfect and consistent viewing environment with adjustable light. But this is something to relish rather than lament because you can truly see and uncover what oil painting, acrylic or photography does under the different circumstances and how the artwork reflects and day’s mood. Since the art becomes part of your context it cannot be perfectly sheltered from changing surroundings, as it is a catalyst itself for some changes.
As the surroundings change, this does not simply indicate daylight, it indicates people as well. Many people enjoy truly communal interaction around art in their home. On numerous occasions when we have asked Members how long they’d like to keep an artwork, their immediate response is “Long enough to have a dinner party.” That’s a perfect response. It reflects the pride of having something beautiful and unique to discuss with friends, or even the private desire to impress visitors with something new. Something that struck us when we began entering people’s homes to hang art was how apologetic most people are about their home. “It’s so messy,” or “Sorry we haven’t organized things properly.” The vast majority of us reading at this moment are somewhat unsure about the shoes, socks, books and dishes strewn across the house. But bringing a new and compelling artwork to a person’s home injects a new set of beauty. Sometimes it even (slightly) nudges people to tidy their surroundings and share the vibrancy over dinner, wine, beer, coffee - your item of choice. The discussion that ensues is often about ideas or places inspired by the art - it’s a catalyst to start that conversation and wonder to broader museum shows, novels or other creative pursuits. The feedback and experience created among friends becomes the new context and history of that art for each person, the collective story you tell around it. This dramatically changes your initial impression from when the piece was first hung on your wall.
After the friends depart, after you’ve seen the art across times of day, and whether the work is more or less compelling over time, it always leaves for a new home. Likely you feel a moment of nostalgia when the experience draws to a close, but it is quickly followed by the joy and energy burst of hanging new artwork in the momentarily vacant space.