Sitting in the passenger seat and looking out the window during one of our many trips to holiday festivities this past December, it occurred to me that homes without art in them feel foreign to me, not because I grew up around art, but because art is part of how I define Home. Every space that I have controlled, whether it’s a bedroom or an entire apartment, has art in it. A lot of it. Rooms without art in them feel inactive, almost lifeless in their complacency as kitchens, bedrooms, living rooms. This train of thought led me to consider our general expectations about art: where we expect to find it, who can possess it, how art ends up in our homes, and what we want from the art in our homes.
I’m curious about the lives of art in private residences. I’m curious about the relationships that exist between the art object and other objects. I’m curious about intended audiences and hidden away pieces. There is already Great Art In Ugly Rooms, but the art I am curious about is not necessarily “great” or “famous” or “collectible”. (And furthermore, the rooms are not necessarily ugly.)
Whenever my husband and I have looked for new apartments and the landlord finds out I’m an artist, each time they had something to show me, some painting or embroidery made by their great aunt or sister or cousin. Or a giant ceramic vase they found at a garage sale, probably made by an undergrad ceramic student. Each time they seemed a bit nervous, but also excited. Amongst piles of dirty clothes or above a carefully made bed or hung next to a print of Jesus in a plastic frame — there were these objects they identified as Art.
The enthusiasm of others is sometimes daunting. I want to like the object. I don’t want to be reduced to a stereotype. I don’t want to demean their grandmother’s fish scale collage or wife’s painting of her childhood home. I love the paintings and drawings of children, though I often don’t know what to say about them. I don’t want to appear critical of the one time this person bought art.
When I cannot appreciate the object itself, I can usually rely on appreciating what the person has to say about it. Why do they have it? Where did they get it? Why did they put it in their bathroom? Is this the first and only piece of art they’ve ever bought? Did they feel like they needed “permission” or a lot of money to own art in the first place? Did they grow up with artists or art collectors in the family? How often do they visit museums and galleries?
I want to know.
I will start with myself for obvious reasons.
This is a fragment of our living room. There used to be a lot more photographs and paintings on the wall, but we altered the space quite a lot and haven’t really “finished”.
Stephanie Streeter made the drawing in the frame during undergrad. The first time I saw it was a group student show downtown and as I looked at it, many people nearby talked about how funny it was, how much they loved it. I remember thinking that Stephanie was really getting somewhere with the dog imagery in her newest work and that graphite was her medium, where she combined poetry and banality, bodily impulse and sophistication.
Later when she had her BFA exhibition, I saw her bring the same language to painting except with the added lusciousness that oil paint offers.
Before Stephanie moved to Cleveland, we traded artwork and this was one of the pieces I received from her. It’s still a piece of art that people often comment on when they visit. They almost seem surprised by it.