Living with art

By Caitlin Kelly

I think the popular notion of “living with art” means being a bazillionaire in a mansion, the person bidding millions at auctions for Monet and Picasso paintings.

So not true!

But it may be an acquired taste if you didn’t grow up around art, which I did, and it has profoundly shaped my eye, my life, my homes and how I see things.

My father was a renowned maker/director of documentaries and television shows, so we had enough disposable income for him to buy art. His eye and taste — like mine and my mother — is eclectic, so this included Inuit prints and soapstone sculptures, a wooden antique Japanese mask, a Chinese scroll, 19th century Japanese prints, a Picasso lithograph. He is a skilled artist in his own right, so he made etchings, engravings, lithographs and oils. He even worked in silver.

But if you Google Japanese prints for sale, for example, like this stunning contemporary image ($195), or this one, at $14.50 (!), you can find all sorts of beauties, from 18th century to today’s work.

I love Japanese prints, so this is an area I know something about; I saw an amazing show of Hokusai, whose Great Wave, is very familiar, at the British Museum in London in July 2017, and learned that he — like so many famous and legendary artists over the millennia — suffered some very lean years, and was much helped by his daughter, a fellow artist.

If I lived closer (like in Europe!) I would rush to this unique Vermeer exhibit currently in Amsterdam.

I was lucky to inherit some family money, even in my 20s, so I spent time in art galleries and acquired a few photos and prints, some of which I still own and enjoy. Photography is very much an art form and there are so many extraordinary images out there. I treasure this image, which hangs beside our bed, by Finnish photographer Pentti Sammallahti.

His photos, bought from the gallery I bought from, are $1600. Not cheap! But not hopelessly out of reach if this is a priority and you have the means…Here are more of his. I want at least 3 more!

What hangs on our walls is a wide array — photos by legends like Steichen and Lartigue, 16th century tapestry fragments left to me by my mother, a huge Inuit print of a polar bear (over our bed), a Vlaminck litho I bought at auction for $600, which seemed like a hell of a bargain.

The Vlaminck litho, 1929

Unlike wealthy folk, I don’t buy art for investment, although we have sold a few photos at auction when we just needed cash.

We also have three framed posters — one of a Japanese artist and two of Paris. Art doesn’t have to be expensive. You just have to love it and enjoy looking at it.

I feel really lucky to wake up to beauty every morning on our walls. We live in a basic red brick 1960s apartment building with no inherent charm and in a one bedroom, which severely curtails how much wall space we even have!

I think our favorite image (it hangs over Jose’s desk), is an original, signed by the photographer who Jose worked with at The New York Tines, and is an image many Americans know — of John F. Kennedy standing at the window of the Oval Office — by the late George Thames. You can buy a copy of it from the Times for $50 and up.

Do you own art, original or copies?

Would you ever consider buying any?

What sort?

15 thoughts on “Living with art

  1. I have a lot of art on my walls, and it’s pretty eclectic, though unmistakably me. A lot of horror themed art, obviously, like a stained glass Cthulhu or Jason Voorhees drawn in color. I also have posters from movies and TV shows, stuff I picked up at art shows or Etsy or charity auctions (I’ve found some amazing pieces there). I even got some great stuff on my past vacations, such as a painting of Baron Samedi from New Orleans and one of the House of the Seven Gables from Boston.
    Plus ballet pictures, tiger drawings and photos (they’re my spirit animal), and much more. And if the opportunity presents itself, I may get more. It’s not a high priority right now, but I love being able to decorate my walls with pictures that catch my interest.

  2. No matter how low my finances (vying with Lake Mead, it seems), I cannot stop acquiring art that speaks to me. My house is beyond eclectic, and every wall and genre covered: a signed Lartigue photo, children’s art, outsider art (original unknowns and a Bill Traylor postcard), Hannelore Baron mono-prints, souvenirs from my travels, my own assemblage art and photography from the last 30 years. Lately I am making sure that I have something done by my friends (nobody famous, all incredible, some have passed). I want my little house to not be decorated, but curated, for me. And I hope to be carried out feet first! (And my art to go to where it will be appreciated. Which I need to put in writing.) Caitlin, I love that bear print! And your approach to all this 🙂

  3. I also love Japanese prints and woodblocks. A lot of them are so peaceful to look at. I was thinking about getting a copy of one of Hasui Kawase’s (, either Spring Moon at Ninomiya Beach, 1931, or Winter Moon at Toyamagahara, 1931.

    Relatedly, one of my 2023 intentions / goals is to seek out creative possibilities. I’m very interested in learning Japanese-style calligraphy, an artform in itself. Have you heard of the Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh? His calligraphy is wonderful to look at.

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