Buying art for your own home is a matter of taste, but purchasing art as a gift for a friend can be tricky. Buying art as an investment is a different story altogether. Of all the different genres of artwork, abstract art in particular can be downright intimidating. By its very nature, it defies definition. How do you know if it’s any good? We asked some experts in the field here on the First Coast to share their thoughts with us about how to navigate purchasing abstract art for your own home or as a gift this holiday season.

Casey Matthews is an abstract artist who lives in Fernandina Beach. She specializes in multi-media paintings which are visually intriguing and energetic, and is represented by galleries from Boston to Austin to the First Coast.

“People tend to ‘overthink’ abstract art,” she says. “Sometimes you just have to ask yourself, ‘Do I like this?’”

Matthews suggests a unique way of assessing a piece’s personal appeal. “Since abstract art lacks an actual subject, the artist needs to develop a ‘secret’ language with the viewer, so ask yourself several questions,” she says. “Do the colors evoke a special response? Do you feel a sense of motion in the arrangement of forms and negative space? Does the piece have or suggest texture, depth or three-dimensional perspective?” A ‘yes’ response to any of these questions indicates that a closer inspection may be warranted, perhaps even leading to a purchase.

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“Hopefully,” she says, “my work will more often than not inspire the desired responses.” She emphasizes that a true artist paints because of a need to do so. Like a musician who would still play to an empty room, an artist will continue to paint even if no one ultimately purchases the work. “That’s obviously not my preference,” says Casey with a smile. “And that’s why we artists depend on the assistance of designers and gallery staff to help expose and promote our work to potential clients.”

Julie Schulte, ASID, is the owner of Schulte Design Associates in Jacksonville. She has been providing interior design services for over 25 years, primarily to residential clients. When developing an overall design concept with a client, Julie first discusses the elements of alternative interior styles.

“Of course, the home needs to reflect the client’s preferences,” she says, “whether coastal, traditional, contemporary or mid-century modern.” However, that need not limit the selection of art, which Julie believes is “integral to any successful design theme.”

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There is a difference between art and décor, and while the latter may work together to create a specific theme, artwork in a room serves overall design by acting as a unique point of interest.

“I believe that the most interesting rooms are those that possess ‘aesthetic tension’ as a result of contrasting the principal design concept with a differing style of art; for example including abstract art in a traditionally themed space,” she says. In other words, “strive for the unexpected.”

Hillary Tuttle is the owner of Stellers Gallery in Ponte Vedra Beach, a venue which features the work of a variety of fine artists. Gallery personnel serve as liaisons between the client and artist, giving a buyer the necessary information to connect with a work.

“Gallery staff should educate the client regarding an artist’s inspirations and techniques, as well as providing insights into an artist’s background, training and even personal interests,” she says. The purpose of the gallerist is to help reduce any apprehensions that clients may have regarding a potential purchase and to assist them in better understanding the work itself.  She also recommends that clients broaden their knowledge and familiarity with the genre of interest by visiting multiple galleries, art walks, and artist cooperatives.

When asked about purchasing abstract art for the home as an investment or to match existing décor, Hillary responds without hesitation. “There are no guarantees on value appreciation, and matching décor, more often than not, is only a short-term solution,” she says. “Base your purchasing decision on an emotional attraction to a piece. Most importantly, enjoy the process. Art is meant to inspire, after all!”

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When considering the purchase of abstract art as a gift, Casey, Julie and Hillary each recommend proceeding with caution, given the wide range of responses an individual can have to any particular piece. To increase the chances of successful gift-giving, Casey suggests selecting a piece from an artist already in the recipient’s collection, or from one who employs a similar style. Play it safe, and start small.

“Many artists offer smaller, less expensive pieces, especially around the holidays, so that may be a good place to start looking,” she says.