Style Court

Textiles, Art History, Gardens, and a Little Mental Traveling with Courtney Barnes 2006-2016



In the movie Indiscreet, Cary Grant gives Ingrid Bergman a painting that the couple spotted through a gallery window. The gesture feels more personal and romantic than a gift of jewelry, especially since Bergman's character has a large art collection hung salon-style in her London apartment.

For many of us, it's the small painting or drawing we saved for -- or received as a gift -- that we enjoy the most. It outlasts the pricey handbags and moves with us from apartment to house, room to room.

Some people fall in love with art at the drop of a hat. Deciding isn't hard for them, and their only hesitations involve budget and space (or a spouse with different taste). But for others purchasing art is very intimidating. So I asked gallery owner Emily Amy to give us a little guidance.

Emily has a Master’s degree in 20th century American Art and during the past few years she gained prominence in Atlanta as one of the city's youngest gallery directors. Recently she opened her own gallery where twenty emerging, mid-career, and established artists are represented.

Emily says works on paper have always been a great option when a little money needs to go a long way. Right now they are particularly appealing.

"For years works on paper were not popular with collectors, but in recent months, times have changed. Works on paper are smaller, less expensive, and equally as archival as canvas in this day and age. Also, frames are works of art in themselves. If you need to add a frame to a painting, you can really add a touch of your own personality and taste to the piece. Additionally, works on paper make wonderful series, which are great for decorating," she explains.

Emily adds, "If you always decorate with traditional furnishings, try something contemporary on the wall, you will be pleasantly surprised with the results."

What's the best way to conquer "art fear?"

"Whether you are a browser or a buyer, art galleries can often be intimidating places to visit. In my years of experience, I have found that the only way to get over my fear of visiting galleries is to begin to make a habit of it. Once you have been to five or so galleries, or have visited your favorite gallery a few times, you will start to feel much more comfortable. At Emily Amy Gallery, I really encourage my younger collectors to attend shows, open studios and auctions when they can, to familiarize themselves with the business of art buying in general. Pretty soon, the gallery owners will know your name and be thrilled that you returned to see the subsequent show!"

What if you aren't sure what your taste is?

In addition to visiting local galleries and attending shows, Emily suggests going to the bookstore on a Saturday and picking up copies of ARTnews, Art in America, ARTFORUM, Art &Antiques, or whichever publication interests you the most.

"I can spend hours in the bookstore searching for new artists to recruit in the advertisements of the magazines alone. Often, when you find an artist that you like, you can search for them online and their galleries' websites will appear. Likely, you will see other things that you appreciate at those galleries as well. Art is incredibly personal and my general advice is to go with your gut when choosing a painting -- you will know when you find the perfect piece."

What about couples who don't like each other's taste in art?

"One of the most common problems I encounter is two people who have completely different taste in art trying to decide on one piece! My advice is to take turns. Often, when both parties have to compromise, couples end up with a painting neither of them love. If you have three or four spots that are in need of art, assign each person their own spot -- maybe in their favorite room. Then, if one of the parties spends most of their time in the kitchen they get to stare at their beloved painting all day and the other party gets to spend time with "their painting" in the library."

What are the benefits of small works?

"The small works in my collection are some of the pieces that I cherish the most. There is always a spot in my home for another small work, although I certainly do not have space for any more large pieces. Usually, it does not take the artist any less time to create a small work and it often produces the same effect as a larger piece, especially if the color is bold and the composition is intriguing."

What about sculpture?

"Many people think that sculpture can be difficult to place, but it adds so much drama to an interior. You don't have to think of sculpture as large scale bronze statues though...there are many great smaller sculptures that could fit on bookshelves or a console table to add great interest to a room."

What's the best way to avoid buyer's remorse?

Emily says, "Take your time when shopping for a painting to add to your collection. Most of my clients take weeks or months to make a final decision. Take the painting (or paintings) you are interested in home 'on approval' and hang them in your space. Live with them for three days or so and see if you really love them as much as you thought you did. The 'on approval' policy is standard at most all galleries, so don't be afraid to ask to 'try before you buy.' Also, do not be afraid to tell a gallery owner exactly what you are willing to spend. It makes it much simpler for the gallery to narrow down your choices and then you will not be pushed to purchase something out of your budget."

And here are a few more tips:

Buy what you love, because you will have it forever.

Your art doesn’t have to match your sofa.

Frame your art to best present the painting, photograph or print -- not to match your décor.

Emerging artists are not necessarily less talented than established artists, and they usually cost less too.

Go with your gut when you are choosing art. Let it elicit an emotional response in you, and when it does, you will know it is right.

Don’t listen to the “rules”, if you want to collect several pieces by the same artist, go ahead -– it’s your collection.

Buy local -– whether it’s a local artist or a local gallery – you will likely feel more of a connection with the piece and you will be supporting your local talent!

Credits: Images one through three are from YouTube. Image four is Margie Stewart's Harbor. Image five is from Accents on Accessories. Image six is the KWID Bungalow as seen in HB June 2001. Images eight, nine and eighteen are from Paris Rooms by Stephen Mudge, Rockport 1999. Image ten is Dorothy Goode's Homage 41. The design in image eleven is by Candler Lloyd. Image twelve shows the work of Steven Gambrel. Image thirteen is Peter Dunham's work, via domino. Image fifteen is Muffie Faith's house seen in the July 2008 issue of Charleston Home. The kitchen in the next image is Thomas Jayne's via New York Social Diary. Image seventeen is gallery owner Timothy Tew's as seen in Atlanta at Home, Wyrick & Company, 1994. Image nineteen is Kathy Bennett's library, Southern Accents, October 2008, followed by a detail view from a house designed by Amelia Handegan, also from the same issue of SA. Kathy Bennett gravitates to works that capture the human form, last image, again SA.

And one more Gambrel, Elle Decor, January 2008.

Well, just one more Gambrel, from his city portfolio.


balsamfir said...

Great post. As an artist, I appreciate the boost. As a stingy collector, I agree about never regretting purchasing art I really wanted. I would only add that I much prefer the touch of a human hand to a reproduction.

Style Court said...

Thanks Balsamfir. I've been thinking lately about how memorable rooms -- at least rooms I like -- nearly always have original art that is personal to the owner. We've discussed it here before but I'm more aware of it than ever!

Mrs. Blandings said...

Brilliant. One of your best.

Anonymous said...

Very helpful information.

When my husband and I married and bought our first home together, we observed that our most beloved pieces had very personal meaning for us (a still life painted by my mother, a sculpture my brother made, photographs we had taken), and we vowed not to decorate our home with anything that wasn't personally meaningful to us.

But after several years of staring at mostly empty walls, I must admit that our resolve has weakened a bit. So I truly appreciate the actionable information you've shared here.

An Aesthete's Lament said...

Re "Indiscreet" ... I always was bothered by the multicoloured mats used for the pictures in Bergman's sitting room ... Like a shower of jellybeans ...

LINDA from Each Little World said...

Wonderful, wonderful post!! My husband and I both have art degrees and have our work and that of friends on display. But we also buy as much as we can afford. We do make a point of agreeing on most purchases. Now and then if it's something one really wants and the other hates, then you must pay for it out of your "personal allowance."

With art and antiques it can be difficult because you have a limited time to decide, in the sense that it's not like mass produced items that will always be available. And you will never forget the one that got away!

"Indiscreet" is one of my favorite movies for the very room and art collection you depicted. And then there are all the evening gowns!

Style Court said...

Anon -- sounds like you have some very special things. Real treasures. I'm so glad this post was helpful!

Style Court said...

Patricia -- ever so flattered. Thanks very much.

Style Court said...

Oh but I guess I should thank Emily!

Style Court said...

Aesthete -- I think people love or hate them! I suppose most curators, framers, gallery owners and artists find them too decorator-ey.

Style Court said...

Ms. Wis --

I'm also so pleased that you approve! I know you think quite seriously about art and collecting. So glad you shared your input here.

And yes, the dresses are great :)

Renée Finberg said...

what an exellent post.
don't stop with this one , do more on the subject.

i knew there was a reason why you are on my 'daily reads 'lists
( my blog-roll).
i enjoyed every word of it,
and miss emily is 'right on' with her advise too !!


Style Court said...

You're very kind Renee! I've got some follow up ideas.

Stacy said...

Love it, love it, love it! This is a wonderful post. A fantastic combination of helpful and beautiful.

Emily Amy Gallery said...

I am so thrilled with the great response to the post! Also, I am so pleased to see so many people interested in art and collecting. What a joy!

Anonymous said...

Great post, both informative and beautiful.

Karena said...

As a former gallery marketing director, I agree wholeheartedly with Emily's thoughts on aquiring art. Whether large or small, originals really are preferable, unless the artist is now so priced out of the major market and you love their work.I would love to have my works of art represented in her gallery! Great post!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Very valuable advice. Excellent post.

Old late night re-runs of Indiscreet had a big effect on me as a little girl. Long before I recognized the beauty of Cary Grant, I saw clearly the beauty of that London apartment!!

pve design said...

Your post just reminded me of 2 items that I had framed to give to my husband Christmas morning, both keepsake items from a far and distant place.
Silly me, I completely forgot that I had squirreled them in a secret hiding spot. Well, his birthday is coming!

I have always admired the collection at the Paul Smith Store in New York, letters, art, and bits of life all conveniently on display.

One of my favorite posts. I think I say that each time, with every comment.

Visual Vamp said...

Well, this is pretty fabulous.
The new year must have put a rocket in your pocket!
Wishing you the best for 2009.
xo xo

Style Court said...

It's so gratifying to read these comments. You all care about art and your input here is appreciated. Thank you!

Erin Gates said...

Thanks for this great post! As a former "gallerina" I so agree with all of Emily's tips- I always told clients to walk away from the painting and if they still thought about it days later to buy it. I have a painting gifted to me by an ex boyfriend that I still love so much- I told him I loved it and I found it wrapped under the tree. Too bad he wasn't as kind and sweet as Cary Grant the rest of the time! :)

Things That Inspire said...

I love art, and think original art really distinguishes and interior. I agree with Mrs. B, I think this is one of your best posts ever.

I have the opposite problem; I have too many small to medium pieces, not enough large pieces. Every year I shop at the Trinity Artist Market in February, and always find amazing art there for very reasonable prices. I tend to me much more cautious about making large painting purchases because it is such a commitment in decor, finances, and wall space!

I am determined to visit Emily's gallery sometime soon! I love the images on her website.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this great post! I've been guilty of matching my art to my sofa... a habit to break in 2009.

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Really fantastic advice. I would say this also applies to fine furniture and antiques.

I particularly like what Emily said about couples with different taste which happens ALL the time. As it is so important to love what you buy, compromising on a piece isn't the best policy. I never thought of taking turns instead. EEE

Courtney said...

What a great post and such great advice. Emily seems like an absolute doll and I bet her space is a warm as she is.

Jessica Claire said...

great advice!

I agree that a piece of contemporary art often looks surprsingly at home in a traditional setting. It livens the space up and infuses a modern energy into the room!

Jill said...

Fabulous post...Bravo, three cheers, hip hip hooray!

Style Court said...

Erin -- that's priceless!

Style Court said...

Everyone, just want to say again how thrilled I am with your generous comments and input!

An Aesthete's Lament said...

I don't find the mats too decorater-y ... I just find them distracting ... I can't see the art for the mats' excessive personality ...

Style Court said...

I shouldn't have used the vague description "decorator-y." I was thinking decorator's preference -- something quite graphic for the wall vs. a choice that might have best set off the art, which is what I think you mean :)

Paul Pincus said...

love this post. i've never been able to forget the framed drawings with different coloured mats in indiscreet. i really love the idea. that said, it probably does nothing for the work it frames. still, i'm drawn to the concept and the colours!

i just read aesthete's comment: I can't see the art for the mats' excessive personality ... i could not have said it better! cheers, courtney!

ps maria kalman is having a show and book signing at jackson fine art (atlanta)...i love her work and i so wish i could go.

Maria Killam said...

Just found this from Things that Inspire! It's a wonderful post!! Happy New Year!

Style Court said...

Happy New Year Maria!

carolyn quartermaine said...

..what a fabulous set of images .. we,ve poured over these coloured frames for years , almost impossible to recreate , and its the perfect grey Mayfair backdrop...the appartement of dreams of my most favourite inspirational movies ..........

Style Court said...


I first learned about this movie in your book :)