Easy and Elegant Life

The Search for Everyday Elegance and the Art of Living Well.

But Is It Art?

Van Gogh Sunflowers 1888

Almost every dormitory room at school had Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” hanging on the wall above the desk. Well, not the real thing, of course, but a poster.

Matisse Blue Nude

This being the 80’s and the Levi’s 501 Blues campaign being in full swing, Matisse’s “Blue Nude” was another popular choice. Matisse was followed closely in popularity by Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” or an Ansel Adams black and white tree.

It is a liberal arts school.

I had a Patrick Nagel “Sunglasses” lithograph. Which tells you far too much about my college age self.

For my birthday this year, Mrs. E. bought me two paintings. Days later we ran across a favourite local artist finishing a painting of the Roman Catholic Cathedral here in Richmond. I almost made him an offer on the spot and wish I had.

Which is all leading up to today’s question. As many of you know, Mrs. E. and I are fanatic about the Murphy’s. In fact, before we knew who they were, we pasted a small newspaper cutout of Gerald Murphy’s “Cocktail” into the front of the travel diary we took when we decamped to St. Raphaël.

So when I saw this (incorrectly attributed to Charles Murphy):

Cocktail 1927 Gerald Murphy

I decided to buy it and turn it into a framed piece for the bar room.


Harold Acton writes in Memoirs of an Aesthete “Between the photographers and the interior decorators, the role of the serious artist has been reduced.” (He is referring to the fifties when abstract art came onto the scene. He felt that Pollack and his like did wonders for interior decorators as their swirls of colour could play into any colour scheme without competing for attention the way that a classical painting would seize centerstage.)

What do you think (my piece aside, I like it, it means something to us and it’s staying)? Can posters and photographs live side by side with the real thing? Or would you rather see a piece by a talented student? In creating an elegant space, is authenticity more important than empirical beauty? The same could be asked of furniture reproductions.

What is your advice for those just starting out? Live with the blank wall or single good piece or fill a space with a reproduction?

11 thoughts on “But Is It Art?

  1. I think cocktail is a lovely choice for your bar. In my opinion, appropriately selected art (original or otherwise) is always a nice compliment to a room. When we were house shopping recently, Mr. Luce & I had an ephipahy. One of the homes we *almost* bought was owned by an artist who filled the home with gorgeous original abstracts, but in their family room, had hung beautifully framed photocopied concert announcements. This isnot something I would have ever considered, but but given the hip factor of the bands and the dates of the posters, I assumed they were important to him and his wife. I walked away completely rethinking elegant and cool.

  2. I have loved seeing your chosen art collection! And, I truly enjoy the artwork in many of my friends homes – prints and originals. For some reason though, because my own personal taste covers abstracts, classics from the old masters, black/white photography, landscapes, cityscapes, and family photos, I find filling all my walls with art too busy and mentally distracting, and feel peace with beautifully colored blank walls. It makes my small 1,900 sq. ft. house feel more spacious and serene. But, that’s just me.

  3. I’m no art expert, nor a design person, but I think it is all art. In the immortal words of the old Cajun Chef Justin Wilson [re what wine to drink with what] “Just drink what you like, you!”. Your surroundings are supposed to please you. Go with what you like. I like the look of your bar a LOT.

    Oh, and at my undergrad college [albeit in the 70s] every dorm room had the Farrah Fawcett swimsuit poster in it. But then it was in Florida…


  4. I have been in the homes of many young families with relatively good taste who have nice homes that are well presented, and then I have been to the homes of those who have great artwork on the walls and the difference is night and day.
    One is safe and nice, the other has style. That is the difference, style!
    In terms of originals or prints, or even posters;
    I never painted a day in my life till I found myself in college, married, broke, and looking at blank cinderblock walls.
    I looked around at a bunch of cool stuff that had simple hard lines, the kind that are easy to reproduce, and painted large scales original, while quite stylisticly plaigerized, paintings. The result was a space myself and others loved to spend time in. It had style.

    With “Cocktail”, if you are trying to avoid your bar room looking like a dorm room with posters, try producing, or having someone else produce, a large scale “cocktailesque” image for your wall. If it is too small it is insignificant, if it the same size as a poster you may as well have a poster, bigger than a poster is cool no matter who the artist is.

    I say tatse and style trumps the need for accepted originals.

  5. As I *am* a person just starting out, I’d say a few reproductions are better for a room than blank Sheetrock. I am a film buff, and I have a dozen or so film posters in cheap (for now) frames. Some are actually wonderful pieces of art—e.g., and rather unexpectedly, “The Man with One Red Shoe.” Others hold sentimental—but little artistic—value. But they fill my walls until I can populate my residence with originals.

  6. I love to see a person, or young couple start out with a work of art that they absolutely fall in love with. When I was eighteen I had the Van Gogh Sunflowers hanging very proudly. Now, I do like to see vintage posters framed and hung. Very cool. An original art whether the style, is contemporary, traditional, or transitional even by an emerging Art Institute student is a treasure.

  7. I want to look at what I want to look at, not by virtue of how it comes to be on paper. Taste is many, many things. It is defined differently by all, happily so – that is what your Dad went in to defend and I say, the print is fine, I would not trade my wall-size Fores for all the world…

  8. Well here at Rosemary Cottage — a very basic suburban house — there are very old portraits-on-oil around the house; mid-century prints of European watercolors hanging in the dining room for the summer — and a small collection of vintage Ouija boards in the home office/guest room. Love them all! — including a very homemade oil painting from Goodwill that hangs on the wall by the breakfast table. At the Winter Holiday time — it is replaced by a framed Christmas fruitcake recipe — in my Scots grandmother’s own hand. And in the fall — I have a Victorian embroidered Tree of Life tapestry for the dining room. And — in the main guest room — an old tapestry from Belgium of a huntress with a falcon. Now — which of these artworks will be dashed by a so-called design or art expert? And will these experts march up to an art museum’s shop and demand that the prints or reproductions be removed because someone thought that the peasants should not have them in their homes?

    Jan at Rosemary Cottage (I am fascinated by the eyeball in the photo ……

  9. Hi Jan, I like that you change the decor seasonally.

    The eyeball came from a surrealist themed bar in Washington D.C. . The bar is defunct but our friend and Mrs. E. did manage to procure one of the eyes which were used over the ceiling lights. On high holy days it is used as a G&T pitcher in accordance with the custom instigated by our friend.

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