When decorating your home, it’s safe to assume that the furniture and color scheme you choose will have the greatest impact on the design of your space. However, it’s the finishing touches like art and decor that really bring your space to life.
If you’re in the middle of designing your space from scratch or redesigning your home, you might be feeling fatigued by the time you get to choosing art for your walls. At this point, a lot of people either leave their walls blank until inspiration strikes, or they buy random artwork just to fill large blank walls. But art should never be an afterthought.
Art is such an important part of decorating. It helps bring your space to life, adds personality, creates focal points, and sets the mood for the space. But there are so many things to consider when choosing art. At Modsy, we actually get a surprisingly large number of questions about how to choose art for your home.
Because of this, we’re breaking down all the core considerations about how to choose art for your home and giving you tips on how to know what type of wall art is right for you.
Here’s a quick list of the considerations we’ll cover in detail:
- Shape and Orientation
- Subject Matter
Read on to get the full scoop and become an expert at choosing art for your home!
Looking for help choosing other furniture and decor? Check out our Interior design buying guides for expert advice on finding the perfect pieces for your home. Or start a project to work one-on-one with a professional interior designer!
Consideration #1: Artwork Size
When it comes to wall art, size is incredibly important. Art pieces of different sizes will have completely different effects on your space. So, how do you decide what size of art to buy? This could be dictated by the size of your walls or the space you’re trying to fill—for example, a large blank wall might need a large piece of art.
If you’re shopping more generally for art rather than trying to fill an existing space, considering size also helps you understand the effect that various sizes of art will have on your room. Below, we’ll touch on the four basic sizes of wall art.
Small art tends to be the most affordable. Similar to rug pricing, art typically goes up in price as the size goes up. Small art is also the most flexible, as you can hang these pieces almost anywhere.
Size: Small art typically includes pieces that are between 4 and 16 inches in length or width.
What it’s good for: Small art is perfect for creating small, intimate moments on your walls or tabletops, since you have to get up close to see them. This makes this size ideal for hanging in more intimate spaces.
Where to hang small art: These pieces are perfect as accent pieces above nightstands, propped on a shelf, or hung in the bathroom. They work great in gallery walls as well, as you can group small art together to create a larger wall of art.
When you think of the “average” wall art size, this is it. You’ll find medium-sized art at a middle-of-the-road price range, where you can get a beautiful, impactful piece for a reasonable price.
Size: Medium-sized art is generally 25 to 32 inches in size.
What it’s good for: This is a great size for framed art prints and photography. It’s also a great size for pieces that are a little trendy and that you may not hang up forever. They aren’t a complete investment, but they’re large enough to make a visual impact.
Where to hang medium art: Wall art that’s medium-sized is perfect in hallways and over accent furniture. They’re also good for grouping with small art pieces for creating a focal point in an eclectic gallery wall.
Large art is the type of piece that makes a statement in a room. This is the typical size of art to choose when you want to hang or lean just one piece somewhere (rather than grouping it with other pieces). Large wall art tends to be more expensive due to the larger dimensions.
Size: Large art is typically 33 to 42 inches in size, whether in length or width.
What it’s good for: Large art is perfect for making a stand-alone statement. Anywhere a large piece of art is hung becomes a focal point!
Where to hang large art: You might see a large art piece hung over a fireplace, bed, or sofa, or on a large wall in a dining room or entryway.
Extra Large Art
Extra large art makes for a bold impact in your room! If you’re a fan of modern art, this is the scale you’ll find for a lot of original pieces. The idea is to almost overwhelm the viewer and create a striking impact.
Size: Extra large art is pieces that are 43 inches or larger in length or width.
What it’s good for: Extra large art is perfect for creating a dramatic focal point. It’s also a great size for custom art that you really want to show off!
Where to hang extra large art: Pieces of this magnitude usually hang alone on a wall, in a space with tall ceilings or lots of space like a foyer, stairwell, or large fireplace wall.
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Consideration #2: Shape and Orientation
Why think about shape and orientation when choosing wall art? Well, the configuration you choose will largely be based on the wall space you want to fill, and different shapes and orientations are better for different spaces.
In this section, we’ll unpack the four basic shapes and orientations of wall art.
Ok, we probably all know the math on this one—but for posterity’s sake we’ll spell it out: square art is pieces that are the exact same height and width. Because of the symmetrical nature of this shape, square art is very versatile and will look good in most spaces.
A square shape is best for…
Smaller art, as stand-alone pieces or within a gallery wall. (Large square pieces can be difficult to fit on specific walls—though, that’s not always the case, as the room design above proves!)
Landscape Rectangle Art
A piece of wall art that’s a landscape rectangle shape has a horizontal orientation—meaning it’s wider than it is tall. This is the shape and orientation you’ll typically find for landscape paintings (hence the name).
A landscape orientation is best for…
Hanging over longer pieces of furniture, like a sofa, credenza, or bed. This shape also works well for pieces hung above fireplace mantles, if the space tends towards the wider side.
Portrait Rectangle Art
Wall art that has a portrait rectangle shape is taller than it is wide. This orientation takes its name from classical art that featured portraits of people.
A portrait orientation is best for…
Rooms with tall ceilings, as the orientation will draw the eye up. It’s also great for art hung in entryways and hallways for more of a visual impact in these pass-through spaces.
Freeform or Round Art
Freeform art, as the name suggests, has no real form. Rather, it boasts a more organic shape. Because of its curves and more organic nature, we’re also grouping round art pieces with this category. Freeform art can be a multitude of shapes and can be hung individually for more of a statement or in a grouping of organically shaped pieces like in the room above.
Freeform or round art is best for…
Larger, open swaths of wall where you want to make a statement or in small, awkward spaces where fitting a standard piece of art could be a challenge.
Consideration #3: The Medium
An art piece’s medium is what the piece of art is made of and/or the method used to make the art. This is the biggest factor in choosing art, as it has the greatest effect on what the art looks like and the mood it creates. You’ll likely find you gravitate toward certain mediums more than others.
Below, we’re breaking down the most common art mediums, general pricing considerations, and what design styles they work well with!
Oil and Acrylic Painting
This is the medium that many famous, iconic paintings are made with. (Think: da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, van Gogh’s Starry Night, and Monet’s Water Lilies.) Oil and acrylic paintings are perfect for creating a focal point due to their vibrant colors and ability to show incredible detail and beautiful brush stroke textures—so hang them where they will be seen, like in your living room, dining room, or bedroom.
General Price Point: These pieces tend to be more expensive due to the skill it takes to use this medium. This is especially true for one-of-a kind, original pieces. Love the look but not the price tag? You can find reproductions or digital prints that mimic the look and feel of a real painting but are much more affordable. (We’ll talk more about this later!)
Special Considerations: Be sure to position these paintings where they’re safe from UV rays and moisture, both of which can damage acrylic and oil paintings. So, no bathrooms, kitchens, or in front of large, sunny windows!
Watercolor is a water-based paint that is applied to textured paper. Because of the way the water mixes with the paints, the colors featured in watercolor paintings are intrinsically less bold and more subdued. There’s less precision in watercolor paintings vs those made with oils or acrylics, giving this medium a more relaxed and casual vibe.
General Price Point: Watercolors are an easier paint to work with than oils or acrylics, so watercolor art is generally less expensive. However, as an original piece of art, This is a great option if you want an original work of art without the high price tag.
Special Considerations: These pieces are best hung in dry spaces like living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms. That may seem strange, but watercolor paintings must be kept safe from moisture, as the paint can still bleed and smear if it gets wet.
Photographic wall art is simply printed photos that were taken with a camera! Photos can be from a digital or film camera and come in either color or black and white. This medium can feel the most personal, as it features real life. Photography can commemorate or feature family members, life events, or travels. But it can also be professional shots of nature, people, objects, or events in history. This is a very versatile medium, and photography can go anywhere in a good frame—though photo prints will fade in direct sunlight, so be mindful of hanging photos in bright, sunny areas.
General Price Point: If you’re framing your own photos, this can be one of the most cost-effective ways to fill your walls with art. Professional photography will naturally be more expensive but still tends to be one of the more affordable mediums of original art.
There are many different kinds of printing methods, which all create what are known as prints. Some of the popular methods include woodcuts, lithographs, engravings, etchings, and screen prints. As an art form, this is known as printmaking. This medium is not to be confused with digital art prints, which we’ll cover later.
General Price Point: The price point of these types of prints depends on the maker and if a work of art is mass-produced. Art prints are often produced in a larger batch, where one design can be printed infinite times once the original image template is created. However, some artists do limited runs or special-edition prints. So, they may only print 200 of a particular piece and never sell it again, making each print more rare and valuable. Ultimately, the number of prints available will contribute to the final cost. Regardless, prints tend to be more affordable than paintings, making them quality investments and a great way for a person to play around with their preferred art style.
Drawings and Sketches
A drawing or sketch is another common form of original art, usually done on high-quality paper using materials like ink, graphite, or even pastels. This medium can be quite striking due to the monochrome coloring. Drawings and sketches make great accent pieces and art within gallery walls, as they tend to be created on smaller pieces of paper.
General Price Point: Similar to prints, drawings and sketches can be more affordable, since they typically take less time to create than paintings.
Mixed Media and Collage
Art created from a multitude of different mediums is considered mixed-media or collage art. These pieces usually feature different paper cut-outs or found objects, grouped together into an artful arrangement. Because of the layering and mix of textures, we love the idea of hanging a collage somewhere where viewers can stand up close and get a good look at the intricate details.
General Price Point: The price point of a collage is completely dependent on the size of the piece, the artist creating it, and the materials used within the collage. Smaller colleges tend to be quite affordable.
All of the mediums above can be reproduced digitally for mass production and wider availability. Whereas an artist generally only makes one original painting, drawing, or collage, digital reproductions can be printed innumerable times. However, not all digital art is a reproduction of an original. These days, many artists only create digital artwork. Some modern artists start with a painting or drawing and digitally finish it, while others create artwork exclusively on their computer or tablet.
General Price Point: This is the most affordable way to build an art collection. While original artwork isn’t in the budget for many people, digital prints allow people to purchase art from specific artists or brands at a more approachable price point. You can get beautiful small and medium-sized prints for under $50.
Not all wall art is framable. Case in point: textile art. This medium uses plant-based or synthetic fibers that are woven into a decorative object. These pieces are traditionally woven by hand or on a loom and therefore have a handmade quality and uniqueness to them. Textile wall art—like woven wall baskets and tapestries—is a beautiful way to add color, texture, and patterns to your walls, plus introduce more freeform shapes to a room.
General Price Point: Handmade textile art tends to be around a medium price range because of the skill and time required to create each piece. However, today, some companies machine weave textile art, which makes it more affordable.
Consideration #4: The Subject Matter
A piece of art’s subject matter is simply what the piece portrays! This is another huge factor in determining which type of art you choose for your home. Do you like antique-inspired portraits of people? Abstract paintings? Drawings of animals? These are all different subject matters.
Below, we’re unpacking the most common subject matter categories and what styles they go best with!
Landscape art showcases scenery from the world’s natural landscape. These pieces usually have a very serene vibe—nature tends to be quite relaxing and restorative, after all! The typical mediums for landscape art are paintings and photography, though you’ll definitely still see them in prints and drawings.
Everyone has a different idea of what types of landscapes speak to them and what they find most beautiful. So, consider choosing a landscape that depicts a place that is personal to you—something that reminds you of your favorite city, your childhood home, or a favorite vacation spot, perhaps?
Landscapes are a great choice for…
Homes of almost all styles! However, they’re seen most often in rustic and traditional spaces. They’re also used widely in homes that practice feng shui design.
Still lifes (yes, that’s the plural form!) are a genre of art that depict a grouping of inanimate objects. A common motif for a still life is a table setting with food and tableware, flowers in a vase, or a bowl of fruit. Still lifes can be created in a variety of different mediums, and each one changes the look and feel of the still life. For example, an oil painting still life might feel super realistic and conjure up paintings you’ve seen in a classical museum, while a watercolor still life might feel more playful.
Still lifes are a great choice for…
Traditional, rustic, and transitional styles. But if you have a different design style, you don’t have to miss out on this subject matter! Simply find one with a cute theme or humorous, playful slant—like a beachy still life for a coastal space or fast food and melted ice cream still lifes for an eclectic one!
Abstract (or non-objective) art is a style of art that became popular in the 1900s, especially post-World War II. This is a very modern style that doesn’t showcase any object or attempt to portray a visual reality. (In stark contrast with representational art, like still lifes or landscapes, which represent real life.) Rather, you’ll see shapes, colors, lines, and movements that are intended to be an expression that evokes a feeling or revelation. Ultimately, this style is all about exploring forms and colors.
Abstract pieces are a great choice for…
Contemporary and modern styles. You’ll often see large-scale abstract art in these styles! Typically colorful and full of movement, abstract expressionist pieces work well in a high-energy space of the home like the dining room or even kitchen, making for show-stopping focal points in those spaces.
Portraits and Figures
Portraits and figure drawings are art pieces featuring people, where the intention is to represent a specific human subject. As a result, they tend to be very expressive and personal. You’ll find portraits of people both famous and unknown (in photos, drawings, and paintings). Whether super literal or slightly more abstract, these pieces always focus on the human figure. Because of the personal nature of this type of art, portraits tend to be hung up in more intimate spaces, like bathrooms, home offices, and bedrooms. But a small or medium portrait would be a great addition to an eclectic gallery wall!
Portraits and figure art is a great choice for…
Almost any style. Historically, you’d see formal portraits in very classic and traditional spaces. However, today portraits and figure drawings are created in modern, humorous, and even super minimal styles. So, this is really a subject matter that spans across styles.
Animal art is wall art that features animals. Sometimes it’s literal, in a more landscape approach like the painting above. Other times you’ll see a stunning black and white photograph of a single animal that shows off its beauty and majesty. And sometimes you’ll see animal art featuring animals dressed up in human clothing and accessories. Animal art really runs the style gamut. However the animals are portrayed, these subjects add a whimsical and more casual feel to a home. They work great in living rooms and other casual living spaces where you want to add a little life.
Animal art is a great choice for…
Rustic spaces and kids rooms. Animal art is typically more rustic in style, but animals are seen a lot in traditional and classic art too. But on the more playful end of the animal art spectrum, you’ll find a lot of pieces that bring a whimsical quality to a kid’s room.
Botanical art features—you guessed it—botanicals! This can be anything from flowers (arranged or wild) to trees or plants. Similar to landscapes, botanical art has a very serene feel. Because flowers and plants are naturally colorful, botanical art is a great way to add color to any space.
Botanical art is a great choice for…
Rustic, traditional, and classic spaces. Botanical art is most often rustic in style, but it can lean classic or modern, too, depending on the specific subject matter and medium used. These pieces can be used in virtually any room of the house, including bathrooms and kitchens.
Maps and Posters
Not many of us use paper maps today as a form of navigation. We have phones, after all! However, in the past, printed maps helped people navigate during travels and exploration. Today, maps make for beautiful wall art when framed. You could hunt down a vintage map to give your space a more antique vibe. Or you can find a more modern interpretation that was never used as a literal map but is merely a nod to navigators from the past!
Maps and posters are a great choice for…
Homes with an eclectic and collected worldly vibe. However, they can also look great in both traditional and modern spaces, depending on the style of the map.
Architecture and Cityscapes
Architecture and cityscape wall art are pieces featuring buildings, cityscapes, and other architectural structures. This type of art is a great way to commemorate a favorite place you’ve visited or even the city you reside in. Often, they have a more graphic or vintage-inspired quality to them.
Architecture and cityscapes are a great choice for…
Industrial and modern styles, as it’s a subject matter that’s a bit more utilitarian. Art like the pieces shown above can also be fun in a kid or teen bedroom!
Reproductions are just reprints or remakes of original pieces that are typically well known. Reproduction pieces have been made of many famous works of art throughout history. This simply makes iconic pieces more accessible to more people, since the originals are typically in private collections or museums. A true reproduction will be in the same medium as the original (vs. a digital print of the original).
Reproductions are a great choice for…
Classic and mid-century styles, since a lot of reproductions will be more classical or mod in style. This is also a great option for those who love a specific classical or iconic art piece or who have a passion for certain historic artists.
Other Considerations When Choosing Art
When starting or adding to your art collection, it’s important to determine how much you want to spend on art, first and foremost. Art, especially original pieces, can be quite expensive! But it’s also a great investment that you’ll have for years to come.
Replicas vs Original Works
We’ve already touched on this—but original works of art are one-of-a-kind, so you’ll get something way more unique than you could find at a big-box store or art retailer. But you will typically pay way more for it. Replicas and digital prints, on the other hand, are way more affordable. But these pieces are also more common, so they don’t hold their value in the same way as an original piece of art. What you choose simply depends on if price point or uniqueness is more important to you. There is no right or wrong answer here!
Art and overall color scheme choices go hand-in-hand! Whether you opt for colors, black and white, or neutrals in your wall art drastically depends on the other colors in your space and the style you art you’re going for. You can revolve your whole design around a specific piece of art, or you can choose art as a finishing touch which reinforces the existing color scheme.
Frame styles can add another dimension to your art—so it’s important to carefully consider the color and style of your frame. A minimal wood frame will have a very different vibe from an ornate gold one!
Where You’ll Display Your Art
Where the art will be in your home is super important. This impacts the size and shape of art you choose. But you also have to consider the natural elements the art will endure in any given space, like heat, sunlight, and moisture. And, of course, you’ll want to think about how to hang your art. For large, heavy pieces, make sure you find a stud!
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