Seshaan by Lisa Fromartz evokes the liveliness of a carefree summer day. Image courtesy of the artist.
In my last column, Why Art? Part I, I got deep about art and the common good. Now let’s talk about the benefits of art for you personally.
Art is the best way to set or change your mood. What do you do when you want to pump yourself up for a workout or a performance? If you’re like me, you blast a driving beat that makes you feel like you could pitch an elephant into the air. Rihanna, Beyoncé, and anthems by Katy Perry power my cardio. The beginning of my playlist for boxing workouts is the Rocky theme, Eye of the Tiger. It’s a total cliché, but it works for me every time.
What do you do, though, when you want a mood influencer that’s less ephemeral…or that doesn’t require Airpods? Before art took over my home, I painted my walls. At one point, my kitchen was a Tuscan orange (my favorite color), my living room a soothing shade of sage green, my office a sizzling chartreuse-and-black combo, and my bedroom a soul-lightening ochre. When my dad saw those first few strokes of eye-popping color, he thought I’d ask him to help me repaint it in a few weeks. But I was working on my first book contract and holding down a Devil Wears Prada day job. After long hours of catering to my über-high maintenance boss, I needed my home to restore my spirit enough so that I could still pour my heart out on the page. All that color catalyzed a surge of life-affirming chemicals in my brain every time I walked in the door.
If humble latex paint can do all that, how much more power does an artist have to help you shape your emotional landscape? To illustrate, I took three very different kinds of art and put them in the same room. Without changing anything else—not even the throw pillow—the art completely shifts the mood of the room.
If you want to be energized, a vibrant abstract with lots of movement will do the trick. The painting above, Seshaan by Lisa Fromartz, telegraphs dynamism. After an early career making hard-hitting political art, Fromartz felt drained. To reinvigorate herself, she started experimenting with lightweight industrial materials like vinyl, plexiglass, and aluminum. She sculpted colorful cutouts into fantastical shapes that are full of exhilarating movement and was hooked. Her new practice made her feel great, which is exactly how I feel every time I look at her work. She also reworks the lines of her sculptures into paintings and prints. In this instance, the heat of her palette maximizes the warmth of the room. Like a sunny day, this painting imbues the space with an infectious sense of happiness.
Now take a look at the very same room after the art has been replaced with minimalist drawings by Gloria Ortiz-Hernández. They radically change the ambiance. Now the space says, “Calm down, relax, and rest.” The luscious depth of these drawings is like visual Xanax. The roundness of the forms is soft and comforting. There’s movement in these works, too, but it’s a languid migration that lulls the mind. Contemplating them is like watching the petals of a flower open or tracking the moon across the sky. No matter that there’s still sun pouring in the windows, doesn’t this image make you want to climb into it, lay down on the couch, and take a nap?
But don’t just yet. Stay with me a little bit longer.
Check out the difference that this brooding oil by Valeri Larko makes. Suddenly, the room feels much more serious. Doesn’t it even seem like it’s less sunny? It’s not—that’s just the power of the painting. This is an environment that makes me want to think, study, or work. Larko’s urban landscapes focus on forgotten places, and she doesn’t sugarcoat them. This painting, Crushed, was made on site at a junkyard as part of her Salvage Yard series. The jumble of discarded, disintegrating appliances reaches to the sky. Nonetheless, the artist shows us the beauty that’s still within them. Her composition turns what others might see as trash into an industrial-age Velveteen Rabbit; a mass of pastel luxuries so beloved that they eventually wore thin. This space now begs you to question what you think you know, to look deeper to find the truth, to more fully appreciate the life you already have.
As Swizz Beatz, who’s the art collector and art entrepreneur behind the artist-supporting enterprise No Commission, recently explained, “Art is for everybody. If you want a Rolls Royce…that doesn’t mean you’re not going to drive a Toyota to work until you can get to the next level.”
Art isn’t just for the 1%. It’s for all of us. You’re gonna put something on your walls, so why not get the most inspiration out of it that you can? Don’t cheat yourself. Whether it’s a mass-produced poster or a one-of-a-kind painting, don’t just choose watered-down images that go with your bedspread. Go for the profound. Choose art that makes you feel exactly how you want to feel. Art that empowers you. Art that soothes your soul. Art that challenges your worldview. Art that makes you feel grateful.
Use the power of art to shape your state of mind every day.
Holly Hager is an art collector and the founder of Curatious. Previously an author and a professor, she now dedicates herself full-time to help artists make a living from their art by making the joys of art more accessible to everyone.