Jonalyn's Watercolor Blog

How to Choose Art in Two Steps

I purchased my first original painting with my husband. Dale and I went on a very special shopping spree that day and purchased three paintings, two of sailboats and one of a schoolroom. We were newlyweds, decades from knowing we would one day become sailors and homeschool our children, but the paintings prophesied our passion. We are educators and adventurers. We want to make our own path and we love beauty. The paintings found us and we answered the call in the best way possible, we purchased them. They’ve moved with us from coast to coast and they continue to awaken and inspire us.

We’ve purchased paintings as the years went on to celebrate momentous occasions or special getaways we don’t want to forget. These have ranged from lithographs by Disney animators like Eyvind Earle to touched up prints by palette knife painter Howard Behrens. We’ve also purchased photographs from longtime friend Jeff Lefever, as a way to sponsor his trip to the Holy Land. All the purchases we made, along with the many prints in our home, speak to us about what we treasure and where we hope to go. They remind us of the wide shoulders we sit upon in our family generational tree, the broken bones we have mended in our family origins and God-given art of creativity.

Art can reveal and inspire for you as well, but you must follow these two rules when choosing art for yourself.

Many people doubt their own ability to choose a piece of art that ought to live in their home. I believe this is mostly a result of the snobbery from ivory tower intellectuals that tower over the common folk’s taste. I’m here to suggest most ivory tower intellectuals are wrong-hearted and so often wrong-headed as well. They’ve removed the God-given comfort of our time, they’ve gerrymandered the way beauty can save the world so you feel you need their approval before you get a spoonful of salvation. But I don’t want to sidetrack us into intellectual snobbery, instead, let’s talk about rehabilitating your own sense of taste.

There’s a way to know what painting you should choose and it’s relatively easy. There are only two rules:

  1. Let yourself be moved,
  2. Ignore the naysayers.

You can rest assured every human is designed by God to be moved by good painting. I will use the word “painting” to refer to art but it can refer to any installment of art, sculpture, architecture, etc.

Rule 1 – Let Yourself Be Moved

Bill Murray once told the story of how he wandered into the Chicago Art museum and found The Song of the Lark. Having a defeatist day, he found Jules Breton’s painting of how he captured this woman facing her day, the beauty of the sun and the song awakening her to stop a moment. And he thought, perhaps he, too could face his reality without plunging himself into the cold waters. Before I knew Murray’s story, I had purchased a copy of The Song of the Lark. It’s been a staple of my art space before I even had a studio to paint. This woman’s pause, savoring the song. This is how I feel so often in life. This is how I feel when I wait for the Spirit of God to direct my steps. Listen, dearheart, listen closely. 

Song of the Lark, by Jules Breton

This is what it mean to be moved by a painting. But in order to be moved by a painting you must be able to tell when you’re moved. It reminds me of teaching my son how to know he’s hungry. “I can’t tell if I’m hungry,” he would say.

“Well, it takes a type of sensing,” I say, “It gets better when you practice looking for it. But I can tell you how it feels for me, sort of hollow in my stomach and sometimes it rumbles. Sometime I just feel cranky!”

If you have trouble telling when you’re moved by a painting, here are a few ways it feels for me.

  1. You have a physical or emotional experience. For instance, your stomach drops, or your pulse quickens, or you find yourself feeling flushed or even physically struck, “stopped in your tracks.”
  2. You remember the painting or want to remember it, so you take a picture of it.
  3. You think about the painting after you’ve left the shop. You want to tell someone about it, but are a little afraid they’ll not “get” it like you do.
  4. You realize the painting connects to something in your life. This last one is something most people never get to because of the naysayers. However, if you can silence the naysayers (more on that in a moment), and you can sit with that connection between the painting and why you like it, you will be eventually be able to articulate why this painting speaks to you. Maybe it reminds you of your grandmother’s home where you felt so loved as a child. Maybe it reminds you of the simplicity of a childhood friendship. Regardless of the connection, you want to understand why this painting moves you. And you want to enjoy it again and again.

Rule 2 – Ignore the Naysayers

You must remember that there are loud gremlins in all our minds that belittle our natural loves. For instance, I approach a painting, I’m realizing it moves me, maybe I can already see the similarity it has to a feeling I love. I’m staring at it when I hear the voice in my head that’s actually so loud it shocks my authentic voice into silence. The voice might sound like this, “Should I like this, I mean, is it really any good?” And SHAZAM! I’m shushing my own attraction to the painting and shuffling away.

All of us worry that we don’t like the right stuff for the right reason and in the right way. We fear that we’re naturally attracted to isn’t good enough or right enough or fashionable enough. This is one reason most of us are such trend followers. We are pretty sure our own taste is suspect. And critics know this, so do shampoo companies, so they make a lot of money off insecure, afraid you and me. But, if I can suggest it, we all have taste for and attraction for good things, if we can only let those good desires a chance to show up to the party.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t cultivate good taste. I’m not saying you should assume all art is the same, it’s not. I’m not saying beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it’s not. I’ve purchased art that is less well done than I can accomplish now, but that doesn’t mean my taste was wrong, it was just underdeveloped. Sort of like the way I enjoyed $2 Trader Joe’s wine in my 20’s. Not bad, not even that embarrassing, just sort of what you’d expect for girl raised in a teetotaler family suddenly discovering wine. But, you cannot develop good taste by slavishly obeying the critics. You must buy some cheap wine and some amateurish paintings. You must live with them. To paraphrase art critic Sister Wendy Beckett, “You must live with a painting to discover if it is a masterpiece. And if it doesn’t speak to you, you put it away, because maybe you’re not ready, yet.” And I’d add, maybe it’s not a masterpiece.

To look at art is to begin to accept you can learn about yourself simply by showing up. You simply must look. And here’s the best part, all artists also know this struggle. When we create out of that struggle something that is not identical to what everyone else has and then (fearing and trembling) we frame it and photograph it and mount it on walls in PUBLIC, we are waiting for someone like you. Someone brave enough join us and say “That might not look identical to what I’ve been told to like, BUT I LIKE IT. And I want it badly enough to pay for it so I can put it in my home.”

That choosing is what fuels every artist I know. You’ve seen us, and you’ve chosen us, despite all the foghorns blasting you to purchase another cheaper print from the acceptable artists with dozens of gold medals.

So, if you dare, take a moment to see if you can choose your own art. I would be honored if you began by looking in my Shop. And tell me, what moves you? Should you find a piece you want, purchase it this month and take advantage of my 50% off framing sale, only for February!


Canoe Trip on the Exeter River
Morning on the Country Road



Dad Leads the Way


Exeter Reflections

2 Responses

  1. This is really good, Jonalyn. Finding our way in art is like finding our way in life. It takes honesty, vulnerability, and courage. We need to listen to the truth, not the naysayers. (Although, sometimes, the truth is hard.) But yes, beauty (not glitz, but beauty) is an unfailing guide. And, thank God, His mercies are new every morning! Lam. 3:22-23

    1. Thank you, Bonnie, for articulating how this helped you. I just love reading comments like this. Did you know, it seems more precious to find those who are wanting truth, even when it’s hard. But I keep finding that God’s mercies, as you reminded us, new every morning make the hardness lighter than I could have hoped. God give us both the courage to find more places to embrace the beautiful road ahead! And thanks again for your comment.

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