If you go down the rabbit hole of "wall decor" on your favorite retail websites, or walk the decor aisles of home goods stores looking for gifts, you will find a lot of soft, calming landscapes; bold, abstract expressionist images designed to match your couch; and black-and-white photographs of flowers, cafes and charming side streets in Europe. They range from $50 to $500.
But here's the thing: They are all mass-produced, which means the artists get almost nothing, and the retailers clean up. Every dollar we spend on a commercial print of a water buffalo is a dollar that could go to support the arts instead. If we spend a little differently, not only do we get something beautiful to hang in our homes, but an artist also gets to keep his studio.
This year, if you'd like to give art as a gift, consider doing it in a way that supports our artists and art institutions. For roughly the same amount of money that you would be handing over to a faceless corporation for an assembly-line reproduction, you can get something that's one of a kind.
Here are some ideas to get you started.
The drawers at Blue Sky Gallery
One of our most well-respected galleries has an entire wall of drawers filled with one-of-a kind photos from established photographers, which are immensely satisfying to leaf through. They start at $100. If you want to buy a gift for the photography lover in your life but don't want to choose it, you can give a credit at Blue Sky (ask for Amanda, and she'll hook you up).
Membership to the Portland Art Museum
Less than $100 gets you and your significant other free admission for a year (and 10 percent off at the gift shop). But what you're really buying are museum dates, some of the most romantic dates of all time because you get to make out in front of a Basquiat or a Brâncusi. You are buying the chance to dress up and see the newest exhibition on your way to dinner or a movie. And if you know art lovers who prefer to wander the museum galleries at their own pace, an individual membership is $65.
If you're looking for something practical and refined, like an heirloom-quality cast-iron pan for the cook in your life or an indestructible pannier for your friend's bike, ADX is bringing together local craftspeople and their wares on Dec. 10 from 10 am to 7 pm. Everything is made by hand by local artisans.
If you aren't ready to take the leap to paintings, photographs or sculptures, and want to buy functional art instead, check out the work from the brilliantly talented ceramic artists at Eutectic Gallery (eutecticgallery.com). You will find everything from formal vases to stoneware mugs that look like they were made from corrugated cardboard.
If someone in your life is a fan of art, but you don't know where to begin, you can give a hand-written credit for whatever amount you can afford, and tell the recipient to spend it at any gallery in town. It's hard to explain the joy of walking into a gallery and picking out a piece of art that someone else paid for. Or if you know your loved one's favorite gallery, you can put an amount on credit with that gallery. For amazing work priced from $35 to $500, start with Wolff Gallery and Blue Sky. If your budget ranges up to $1,000, check out Nationale, Stephanie Chefas Projects, and Froelick. All of these galleries have websites where you can view available work.
Commission an artist
The most meaningful gifts I have ever given or received were commissioned from local artists. You can contact an artist whose work you admire about a custom piece, and you will be surprised by how willing most artists are to work within your budget. Here are a couple recommendations to get you going:
Alyson Provax (alysonprovax.com) is a printmaker who creates fine-art letterpress pieces. If there is something you want to express with text, she's the one for you.
Shelby Davis (shelbydavisstudio.com) is a sculptor and craftsman who can make just about anything, from a customized table with metal inlay to a concrete casting of your favorite vegetable to a bronze sculpture of your favorite person.