The Art of Negotiating Art


by Marni Jameson

He likes polished chrome. I like distressed wood. He likes leather. I like linen. He likes bold. I like subtle. And so, as DC and I began picking art for our new blended home – and negotiating what of each other’s we would keep – it got, umm, interesting.

Besides having different tastes, we both come to art from philosophically different places. (Neither approach is wrong, mind you, but I am more right.)

DC likes to collect works from known artists who have strong followings, and whose pieces sell in multiple galleries. Originals are good, but he will also buy signed, numbered or hand-embellished prints.

I like to support little-known artists whose work I find at local art fairs, where I often meet the artist and take home something original.

So when DC first showed me the work of Chris DeRubeis, a successful artist who paints — if you count spray painting with airbrush as painting — on metal (he also uses grinders), I laughed, which was the most polite response at my disposal. But inside I was thinking, “No Way!”

“Isn’t it awesome!” DC said.

“It looks like a close-up of a rocket launch morphed with a school of jellyfish,” I said.

“He got his start painting the gas tanks of Harley Davidsons,” DC added.

“That does not endear me,” I said. “I am more of an oil-painted landscape kind of girl.”

What DC does not point out is that, since we blended our furnishings, my art dominates the vertical real estate in our home at a ratio of, oh, about my 10 pieces to his one.

I am trying to bend, and that feels like a dried wishbone snapping three weeks after Thanksgiving.

But then, and this is where love comes in, I softened.

The defrost started with a colorful rug. Remember the blue-and-green patterned rug I wrote about a few weeks ago, the one that tripped the frenzy of painting the dining room deep blue just days before the wedding? That rug?

Well, when the rug first landed in our living room, DC liked it about as much as I liked his metal art. I, on the other hand, loved the rug. I just didn’t know if I could make it work, unless … unless … I began thinking out loud. We’d need to add some strong color in pillows, wall paint and art. That’s when I spurted the immortal words: “I could even see a DeRubeis.”

DC leaped two feet in the air while fist pumping, as if the Steelers had just won the Super Bowl.

Like horses let out of the barn, these words were out and not coming back.

“But it would have to be the right color,” I added before this got out of control.

He did not care. He was getting his DeRubeis.

Two weeks ago we visited the artist’s gallery in Scottsdale. DC wore a 500-watt smile. And we found it. The statement piece in the right size for the wall, with the right colors.

And, you know what. It looks pretty darn great.

The art of compromise. It’s a beautiful thing.

To make sure I hadn’t sold my spine to the gypsies, I called my friend New York interior designer Elaine Griffin for some reassurance.

“YES!” she screamed, when I asked if mixing traditional oil landscapes and modern abstracts on metal in the same house was okay. “Not only can you mix modern and traditional, you should! The chicest interiors combine both.”

Then she handed over some more tips on mixing art styles that I – and maybe you – can use:

  • Set some ground rules. “First of all,” she said, “remember, part of being a couple means compromise.” However, while both partners can bring to the table what they like, each also has veto power. But use the privilege sparingly.
  • Check the other boxes first. Before you get to “do I like it?” You need to first satisfy a few other items on the art checklist: Scale, color and subject matter. First, the art must relate to the wall it’s on and the room it’s in. A large wall calls for large art. Small art works best in small spaces. Once you nail the size, focus on color and subject matter. “A blown up photo of Mohammad Ali doesn’t go in the kitchen. That’s for the man cave,” said Griffin. If the scale, color and subject matter work, the art will too, regardless of style.
  • Understand collector vs. decorator. Art buyers come from two perspectives, Griffin said. Collectors buy what they love, regardless of where or whether it will go. (That’s DC). Decorators pick art because it works in a space. (That’s me.) “The two approaches are not mutually exclusive,” she said. “You did both. You approached the choice from a design perspective. You knew what size you wanted, and what color. Then you worked to find one that fit your criteria from an artist your husband wanted to collect.” Score.
  • Use frames to unify. “Similar frames can tie dissimilar pieces together, even if the style of the art is different,” she said. “Framing is the secret to making opposites attract.” Similar subject matter in different styles can also connect. “A modern landscape next to an old landscape, that to me is chic.”
  • Consult the neighborhood council. Still can’t agree? Ask family, friends and neighbors to weigh in, but explain to them beforehand that you want an honest opinion, and not to throw their vote, she said.

“At the end of the day, what matters is the relationship between pieces,” she said, “not how similar they are. Different is better.”

Which is true for couples, too, apparently.

 Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of two home and lifestyle books, and the newly released Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016).