Gelett Burgess’ contributions to the artistic sphere are innumerable. The artist, critic, poet, writer, and humourist was an important figure in the San Francisco literary renaissance of the 1890s and is credited with introducing French modern art to the United States—as well as coining the term, “blurb.” But perhaps most importantly, his infamous quote serves as the guiding principle for how most of us choose art—for our walls, for gifts, to inform and embolden space. Burgess wrote, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like” and fewer more truthful or honest words have been written about how we discern taste.
Identifying with Burgess’ opinion is easy— learning from it is something else altogether.
Art, by its very nature, is intimidating. The possibility of space is infinite. We need to at once marry our budgets, tastes, the tastes of our partners, and our inexplicable inclinations. How we decorate our walls is not only an insight into our very essence, but presents ourselves to the world through visual expression.
But How Do We Choose?
How do we decide what will occupy our permanent peripheries? In the era of Instagram, art is quite literally everywhere. How does one wade through the endless sea of options and artists?
One option is to go to the artists themselves. Derek Evans is a GTA-born artist living in Montreal. Evans is part of an exciting emerging generation of ambitious artists who honed their craft in formal university programs and now find themselves navigating the temperamental waters of their industry and discipline. Now a decade removed from his BFA from Concordia University, Evans’ work hangs in galleries and homes all across Canada. Working with glue, resin, and wax, Evans builds labour-intensive sculptures, manipulating the compound into a piece of indeterminate size, purpose, and composition—the result at once natural and artificial, defying the tropes and expectations of the eye. The work is familiar, and yet somehow otherworldly.
But how does Evans—and other artists in a digital age of near infinite artistic options—find his way onto your wall? In considering what buyers should be aware of when purchasing new works, Evans says obvious factors such as “budget, transport, size and weight of the piece” figure in, but the “lighting in the space where the work will live” is imperative. “Then the big question,” Evans asks, is: “Do you want the artwork to be a conversation piece or a piece meant to tie a room together. These are the broad strokes which will guide buyers to which galleries and artists to look at.”
The real challenge for an artist is getting their work into the public’s consideration at all. “Getting your work into a gallery for a show or representation is a challenge, as is getting accepted into an art fair or any other public viewing. Standing up to all the different feedback you get from the public is like standing naked in a booth being poked and commented at.”
“It’s important to find a space where your work will fit in—complementary to the works of the other established artists already represented by the gallery,” says Evans.
One such gallery is Oakville’s in2art. Their passion is to make original art accessible, offering “an urban perspective—a relaxed space where both experienced and new col- lectors discover great contemporary pieces spanning painting, photography, etching, and multimedia.” Owners and curators Susan Hoeltken and Kelly McDonagh understand as well as anyone the inherent complications and intimidation in entering the world of visual art, but take great pride in guiding their expansive clientele through the process. The two see it as a participatory endeavour, an adventure that they facilitate, asking clients to ask, “What they like and why they like it, and educate themselves. We’re here to provide information—to hold their hands in introducing them to new artists. It’s a longer process, not one we encourage them to do quickly.”
But what’s most the important quality Hoeltken and McDonagh hope for in their clients? Simple: “Be fearless and with an open mind. Art is instinctual. Become comfortable with the artwork, take it home, spend some time with it.” The two pride themselves on knowing their artists and clients intimately. Their role is to curate a collection for each client, for each home, to understand that each client and space is unique. In fact, they’re not curators as much as their “connectors,” vehicles for bringing artists and the public together.
Another gallery that proudly outfits spaces throughout the GTA is Mississauga’s Crescent Hill Gallery. For over 25 years Crescent Hill has been introducing established and emerging artists to walls throughout Ontario and have been “instrumental in bringing enjoyment and beauty into the homes of its discerning patrons.” They have a well-earned reputation for providing a “professional, objective opinion and exceptional value” resulting in a fiercely loyal client base. The deceptively large space is almost its own small museum of contemporary art nestled into the confines of the Credit River Valley, in the literal but not figurative shadows of Toronto.
Like Evans, Hoeltken and McDonagh suggested, trust and an innate openness are key components to choosing work to complement and inform your space. Gabriele Cole is Crescent Hill’s director, and oversees the vast array of art and artists whose work is on display at the Mississauga gallery. Some commercial galleries have just one show, while Crescent Hill boasts three shows annually, setting them apart to both their artists and patrons. Cole preaches a “less formal approach” and wants her clients not to be intimidated by their experience. Cole’s own background is in curatorial studies, which is apparent in the manner in which Crescent Hill’s collection expresses community and commonality.
At any given time, the work in the gallery “should make sense together,” she says. “As you look through the gallery you should see sightlines and conversations.” The congruence is evident, and lessens any feelings of intimidation when perusing the works. “A house isn’t a home until there’s art on the walls,” Cole adds. “It brings such warmth and life.”
Most of us don’t know much about art, and what we like is easier to point out than it is
to describe. It’s important to remember that people like Evans, Cole, Hoeltken and McDonagh share a passion for visual art, for artists, and for introducing both to the public at large. The process of curation is not one to take lightly, or on your own. Finding an artist or gallery in whom you can place your faith as they guide you through a mostly foreign experience is paramount to finding that piece that doesn’t just bring a room together, but completes and complements the very essence of what you envision your space to be. Be fearless and open. And trust your instincts. Art is, afterall, subjective. They’re your walls. Fill them with what brings you joy.