The Why and How of Art

Art in living room

Stacey Lapuk, ASID

Art plays a pivotal role in your experience of “home.” Have you ever wondered why it makes such a difference? How do you choose artwork that you love and determine the space it will occupy on your walls, a shelf or pedestal?

I’ve been in love with art my entire life. It’s who I am. I grew up in Connecticut in an arts-oriented family where creating things was simply what we did. I graduated from college with a degree in Fine Arts and have spent years exploring museums, architecture, and art around the world.

I’ve experienced how fine art amplifies and deepens those unique connections we have to our lives, our environments, and each other. Art enriches us. Art transports and transforms us.

Your art-buying decision begins with your emotional reaction – your gut feeling. You feel moved. It might be a feeling of wonder, or awe, or a sense of connection to what you’re seeing. Years ago, I saw a photograph at the Sausalito Art Festival. I simply couldn’t get the image out of my mind. I went back to the festival each day, and found myself back in front of that photograph each time. I was drawn to the image in a manner that’s difficult to describe. I finally purchased it, and to this day, it brings me peace and inspiration.

Why are you drawn to a piece of art? Does something about it fascinate you? Interest you? Make you feel happy? Peaceful? Remind you of something or some place wonderful?

Art has a strong impact on the human brain. Viewing, analyzing and creating art stimulates our brains in substantial and long-lasting ways. We are working hard to make sense of the unique visual information we are receiving. From Michaelangelo’s renderings to Mondrian’s abstract designs, art is stimulating our brains to organize and make sense of the shapes, colors, textures and patterns we see.

In fact, the more time we spend viewing a piece of art, the more we are able to stimulate both conscious and unconscious brain functions. Art supports us in six primary ways:

First and foremost, art gives us joy. Art makes us FEEL. Stunning paintings and amazing – perhaps even perplexing – sculpture can jolt us into an experience of awe, interest, joy or sadness.

Second, art relieves stress. It gives us space to live in the moment without distraction, and our normal worries simply dissipate, similar to what meditation does for us. Research shows that gazing at a piece of art can increase the blood flow to your brain by up to 10%, as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin – our “happy” hormones – are released. At the same time, cortisol levels – our stress hormones – are lowered.

Third, art improves our cognitive abilities. To make sense of what we’re experiencing, our brain has to stretch and grow new neural pathways. It’s even been shown that arts-related field trips for children improve their critical thinking abilities.

Fourth, art makes us more attentive. With all things digital, we’ve become so used to doing things that require short attention spans that many of us have lost our ability to anchor ourselves, settle in and pay attention. Art engages us, and holds our interest for longer periods of time. We’re trying to understand why it makes us feel a certain way – what is it that keeps us looking at it, connecting it to our own experiences and history.

Fifth, art activates our imagination. Art makes us wonder. It makes us curious. It makes us want to ask questions. Art stimulates thought, encourages creativity and expands our view of the world.

Choosing art, then, is incredibly important.

My work is intrinsically connected to the science of Biophilic Design, which turns the ingrained longing all humans have for beauty and connection to nature into specific design principles. Because of that, I’m aware that particular patterns you might see in a painting, for example, will trigger our innate need for beauty. This, in turn, ignites our desire for that particular piece of art.

Oftentimes, we don’t know why something speaks to us, and resonates with us. And likewise, we’re not certain why something might repel us. But the feeling is there.

Art makes us feel alive.

So how do we choose the right art for ourselves? How do we find art that is most aligned with our own sense of self and our own idea of home?

Here’s a framework that will help you choose art that will fill you with lasting joy:

The first approach is to fill a visual and visceral need. You have a corner crying out for a wonderful sculpture, or a large, empty wall over your sofa or at the end of a hallway. What you choose will not only affect you as a stand-alone piece in and of itself, but it will also interact with the environment in which it’s placed.

Designers know that the shapes, forms, colors and textures in a painting speak to the other furnishings and colors in the space. The art is part of the energetic conversation in a room and should create balance, energy and flow. This will raise the resonance of the room, helping you feel happier and expansive.

A splash of red in a painting, for example, will draw the eye to the red chair. A room can be visually lengthened by placing a piece of art depicting a meandering road on a far wall. Thoughtfully placed art directs your gaze and your experience of a space without effort and often without conscious knowledge.

The second approach to art is as an investment. Some art buyers are searching for quality experiences, and as an owner, you now have a fabulous story to tell as well as an amazing piece of art. There is the joy of the discovery of new artists as well, and the mystery of how a piece was born. Why do some paintings continue to grow in value while others remain private unseen treasures? The price is always determined by the amount someone is willing to pay for it. I don’t know any art investors who don’t care deeply about art.

A third approach to art is starting your own personal collection. How wonderful would it be to create the same sense of wonder and awe you get in a gallery or a museum in your own home? The stories you acquire when you buy art are often as rewarding as the art itself.

The right art increases the overall energy of a space. Just like in a clock store when all the ticking is in sync, the resonance of your entire home will elevate to the level of a beautiful piece of art. I had a client with a huge, magnificent Monet over her living room fireplace. The entire space was designed specifically to draw your attention to the painting and it felt amazing.

The fourth approach to art is to commission the perfect piece. Working directly with an artist is a wonderful opportunity and is inspiring and fun. You might love a particular artist, but don’t see a piece that’s quite right for where you’d like it installed. Maybe the color is off, or the size won’t work – so creating one together is the ideal solution.

Sometimes people commission a painting to memorialize a once-in-a-lifetime trip, or to create a family portrait. I once had a gorgeous mural painted for a client’s dining room, and among the plants were clues to the client’s lives: golf clubs and books. For a client’s family room with young children, we created a mural of the world, with images of important people throughout – Madam Curie and Ghandi, among others. You may even ask an artist to update a piece of furniture with a great faux finish or create a custom trompe l’oeil for an important space. Just about anything is possible.

Learning about all that is possible and available to you as an art buyer can be a lot of fun. As with all things, the more we learn about something, the more we appreciate it and garner even more energy and joy. Visit art galleries, festivals and museums to experience all sorts of pieces; there are so many styles, periods, mediums, and subject matter. Each has its own energy, its own history and story. You may be drawn to an old master or an up-and-coming artist. When you support talented and interesting emerging artists, you help to create even more beauty in the world.

Speak with gallery owners and artists. Learn the backstory of a piece you’re considering calling your own. Be aware of the hours and hours invested into each piece, and the artist’s skill and insight required to create the powerful imagery.

Each of us is a mosaic of pieces that we cherish – different chapters in our lives, various connections to people and places, our experiences and adventures. The objects we collect and surround ourselves with reflect that mosaic.

A rich, multisensory home – what I like to call three-dimensional paintings in which we can live and thrive -sets the stage for a joyful life. When you wake up each morning and experience the beautiful art you’ve chosen, the energy of that art comes back to fill you. It reflects the best of who you are and reminds you of the people and places you love.

No matter what your approach, my wish for you is to surround yourself with amazing art. It will bring you endless joy and wonder. If you need help to achieve this in your home, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Stacey Lapuk, ASID

Stacey Lapuk, ASID is celebrating her 30th year with her firm. Named “One of America’s Ten Designers To Watch” by Design Times Magazine, one of the “Top 100 Interior Designer in North America” by Blink Art Resources, and the winner of multiple national design awards.  Her goal is simple: To co-create with her clients the home of their dreams with responsive and comprehensive solutions, and timeless, beautiful results. 

Her full service firm attracts clients desiring the finest workmanship, materials and custom design. Facets of work include partnering with architects on new construction, remodels, kitchen design and bath design, color consultation, custom furniture, flooring, area carpets, wall and window treatments, lighting design, art procurement and antique acquisition.  Service areas include but are not limited to Marin County, San Francisco, Napa, Sonoma, Ross, Kentfield, Belvedere, Tiburon, San Rafael, and Pacific Heights.