Art + Talk Lecture Series with Gallery Director Chris Skidmoore

Our gallery director, Chris Skidmore, was recently invited to share his insights on art collecting at a panel discussion hosted by Contempo Designs. Chris spoke alongside art advisor and friend Harriet Alexander and Aliyya Stude of Sotheby's. Members of the design community came together to hear the panel discussion on how influential and important art is to interior design. Below are Chris' thoughts on why "Art Matters."

Art Matters

Today I would like to visit the notion that art matters, that art and design are related at the deepest level. When you walk into any space or flip through most any design magazine, very often the first thing that is apparent is the art, or lack thereof. 

In thinking about this notion, I couldn’t help but wonder how the conversation went in Lascaux 17,000 years ago. “Honey let’s re-decorate the cave, perhaps we should move that rock over there and this rock over here… And what do think about some art? Maybe a landscape with a Wooly Mammoth.” The two have been linked ever since.

My experience over the last 28 years with both the residential and commercial design process typically goes something like this. First, all functional needs are met first – table, couch, bed, drawers, followed by mirrors, light fixtures, curtains and plants. Then, there is the ‘a-ha’ moment when the remaining empty spaces reveal themselves and art comes up (oops I think we forgot art lighting). Hmmm, art might have to wait because we are 50% over budget, let’s come back to that later…. Do you have any really inexpensive art? I think I have some from college.

The solution is simple: plan from the beginning.  I believe it is a great responsibility of the design professional to shepherd the client through all aspects of the process. Art will elevate or diminish any design. 

This doesn’t mean you have to go pick all their art. It does mean that as you develop the design and assess the needs of the client, the discussion of art starts at the beginning; it is important to have good lighting, it matters where the light switches go and the best place for the thermostat probably isn’t in the middle of a huge wall at eye level. 

I have a few ideas about why my so-called ‘typical scenario’ occurs. 
1.    The design professional might not be comfortable dealing with art. It may be thought of as too personal, or too daunting
2.    The client might indicate that they don’t want help with art or they don’t want to deal with it
3.    Maybe it seems too expensive
4.    It might be easier just to not bring it up
5.    A designer might not feel comfortable introducing the client to someone they don’t have control over
6.    The client doesn’t want to pay for the service and “will handle it on their own”
7.    Will the purchase of artwork take a way from my design budget?
8.    Commissions! I don’t like commissions! I just want what comes from the soul of the artist.  That’s fine except that most of the world’s greatest art came from commissions. I can only imagine how many detailed instructions were given to Michelangelo for the Sistine Chapel,  “More Blue! And, uh… would you mind putting it on the ceiling?” 

All of these are very reasonable concerns and I do not discount them. However, I believe that it is your responsibility to overcome these objections.  It is sales. It is the same sales as when you suggest a slightly more expensive fabric because you know it is the right one or that refinishing the perfectly acceptable kitchen cabinets will change the look of the entire house.  It needs to be built into your repertoire from the get-go. 

If the client is engaged in the art discussion from the beginning, they will either be excited willing participants or more often than not, they will come around during the process. In the end it may be the proverbial “icing on the cake”. 

So, how do I do this?

Many of you already do. If so, do you include it in the conversation from the beginning? If you don’t, add it.  Your clients will appreciate it, it will make your project more successful and you will gain some knowledge, which will come in handy time after time.

I often make the analogy between art and wine or art and music. We are not born with this knowledge. Around the age of eighteen or twenty-one a friend might have come to you and said, “Have you ever tried wine? I just got this amazing Gallo jug wine, you have to try it!” 

“This is great” I say, “I love wine!” Fifteen years later, after I have tried many wines and developed a taste and understanding of wine, I might run into an offering of Gallo jug wine and my inclination will be to look at my watch and exclaim, “Look at the time, I must leave immediately.”  The wine I loved on day one tastes exactly as it did fifteen years ago. My pallet has changed not the wine. The exact same thing happens with our ability to see. It is not until we get out there and begin looking that we begin appreciate what is right in front of us… or not.

Another very important notion is that there is good and bad art. Beauty is not necessarily in the eye of the beholder. We learn to see. Good art functions, it feeds the viewer whether they are expecting it or not. It functions today, in six months and in 6 years. If you have ever been in a museum and been moved by a piece or maybe seen someone tearing up in front of a work, that is what I am talking about.

There are incredible resources in Houston. Three of them are here today. Houston is one of the largest art communities in the country and you will find that most people in the industry are excited to share their knowledge.

As projects arise, get out and develop relationships.  You will know pretty quickly how a vendor will treat you and your client. 

For those clients not interested in your help with art.  Find out why. If it is money, suggest they develop a budget for art over time. Maybe plan to add one piece a year. If it is a resistance to the design fee, make some suggestions for them to come see me or another gallery you like, or reach out to a consultant.  You don’t have to spend lots of time on it, but you will have a big influence on what they do and how the project ultimately looks.

You will most likely be responsible for the art whether you were involved or not. If you have good relationships with good people, you will be protected both financially and aesthetically. If they are already art connoisseurs, great!

Take advantage of the resources out there.

If art hasn’t been a big part of what you are doing, add it.

Art matters!