6 Big Advantages of Black and White Artwork

1. It matches everything. On Sunday mornings around here, my wife and daughters often change their outfits more than once because the colors don’t match. Because of my background in the fashion industry, they’ll appeal to me: “Should I wear this with that skirt, or that with this top?” Often, my response is “Black goes with everything.” And it does!

When you decorate your walls, a major consideration is how the wall art harmonizes with a favorite rug, sofa, or wall color. And often a special piece of art is foregone because “it doesn’t match.” Or, folks will buy a striking piece of art and put it in storage because they can’t find a place to hang it.

With black and white art, that issue disappears. Do you have pale yellow walls in your living room? One of my drawings will harmonize beautifully. Blue and white walls in the baby’s room? The art sings a perfect duet with those colors, while gently drawing your eye. Rustic feel to the entry? Amidst all those warm tones and wood, there’s no better spot to hang black and white art depicting nature.

2. It’s timeless. Impressionism, pop art, modernism, post-modernism—who has time or energy to keep up with all the latest fads in decor? Don’t all of us just want something that never goes out of style?

Folks have been depicting nature for as long as they’ve had eyes to see it and a charred stick to draw it; and there’s something about black and white that supersedes all the artistic fads. Michelangelo’s drawn studies for the Sistine chapel are as powerful today as when he first drew them 400 years ago, and they will for centuries to come. Nobody forgets the sheer power of a drawing executed with skill and verve, and the power of black and white art grabs the attention and sticks in the mind regardless of passing fads.

3. It’s sophisticated. Ever wonder why symphony orchestras don’t dress in polka dots, or why Darth Vader doesn’t wear pink? There’s  power in pure black and white. It makes a statement; it’s unforgettable. Black doesn’t rely on flashiness for attention; it’s stronger than that. Think of a black-tie event, where black limousines pull up to the white marble venue with white spotlight beams and camera flashes. Whether in black print on the white page, or in your own home, obnoxiousness becomes forgettable and the understated stands out.

If you’ve never enjoyed the photography of Edward Steichen or Ansel Adams, check them out. They show us that the carefully-composed black and white image has more power than the loudest print, and the sophisticated buyer has snapped up those powerful black and white works for close to a century.

4. It’s individual. In a world of conformity, isn’t it nice to have something that’s uniquely yours? I know marketers pretty well, and they sell a lot of stuff by convincing folks that they’re unique when they’re doing just the same thing as millions of others. How many Adidas shoes or Ford pickups have you seen in the last week? Yep, thought so. Where do you get your inspiration for your own home, including how to decorate? Did I hear you say Pinterest? Yep, thought so.

 So when it comes to art for your own special place, do you really want some mass-market poster of the Eiffel Tower? Some mass-market print you bought on line or from a bin at Bed Bath & Beyond? Fewer subjects are as individual as the art we hang on our own walls. And what we want to express is our own thoughts and feelings—what speaks to us individually, not what throngs of other people are doing. And black and white art beautifully expresses that individuality, both in its form, which is immediate; and its, essence, which lingers with us far after the everyday images have been forgotten.

5. It’s simple. I’ve been fascinated by Japanese architecture for a long time. For hundreds of years, the Japanese have simplified their indoor and outdoor spaces and brought nature into the picture wherever possible. They are masters at simple, natural color schemes and the encouragement of simplification, and I admire that.

Nature frequently simplifies things down, whether with snow in the wintertime blocking out all but the strongest forms, or fog that mutes color and hides detail, or even by large swaths of one color to offset a single focal point, such as a broad blank sky accented by a single cloud. I seek to learn from that. I use a single element—graphite—to create my drawings, and try to create a single simple area of focus in each composition, just as the Japanese do—and nature has always done.
6. It’s honest. Color has implications. Ever notice that construction workers don’t wear dark green vests, or rescue workers don’t wear cyan? You know there’s a reason that traffic cones are bright orange, and food packaging is usually warm colors. There’s even a reason Walmart painted the walls of their customer service desk a particular color, when they know that so many irritated customers coming there will need be calmed before their problem can be solved.

Artists who work in color understand the same thing. It’s why they use colors the way they do: Green for nature, blue for calm; red for danger, orange to warn or even incite. I see a number of artists use paint or pigment “straight from the tube” for pure swaths of emotion. That’s fine for them, but I choose to depict my subject without all that camouflage. When you look at black and white art, you're looking at its soul. You see the bones of the tree, the music of the sky—the pure essence, without all the trappings and masks of color. And there’s something refreshing about seeing what’s really there, sometimes for the very first time.


And a bonus:

7. It’s a conversation starter. Time and again, when people first see my art, I hear them exclaim, “Wow, that’s a drawing?! ” And they gaze and examine and look back, again and again. I’ve even heard professional artists and photography buyers say this. So in that awkward pause between welcoming guests into your home and seating them for dinner, you have a perfect foil for string up the conversation—as well as winning compliments for your great taste in art. :)

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