The Art of Giving Art

Years ago, I discovered—quite by accident—that the ideal wedding gift for a couple you don’t know well is a painting.

Decades after the ceremony, when the couple has lost, broken, donated, discarded, re-gifted and forgotten all their other wedding presents, they’ll inevitably still have yours, hanging proudly in their bedroom, hallway, living room, or somewhere in their home.

It’s also the only wedding gift they’ll quibble over during the divorce.

How’s that for the “gift that keeps on giving?”*

Few presents are as memorable as an original painting, and giving one to your sweetheart, spouse, partner, relative, friend, colleague, mentor, pastor or shrink is a smart way to signal that you’re spirited, cultured, thoughtful and indisputably big-hearted.

But which painting should you choose ? Here are five tips:

Go for original. Original paintings are one-of-a-kind and thus more valuable than reproductions. And by choosing an original painting, you eliminate the risk your special gift also hangs in the wait room of the local Jiffy Lube.

Go for small. Large paintings can make a bold statement, but the recipient might not like that statement. Small, intimate paintings, in contrast, are hard to dislike and easy to display. Remember, you’re not an interior decorator.

Judging Amy. Oil on canvass board. 10 x 8 inches.

Go for safe. Landscapes, still lifes and figurative paintings—if competently painted—will be well received, while most nudes, portraits and “protest” paintings (like “Judging Amy,” at right) won’t. Avoid, in particular, any portrait of Elvis on velvet (also known as a “Velvis”). These works are, shall I say, an acquired taste—and most likely reproductions.

Go for personal. If you know the recipient has a passion for hiking, give her a rural landscape; for sailing, a seascape; for travel, a cityscape; for gardening, a floral arrangement; for cooking, a still life of food.

Go for finished. Don’t give a painting that still needs to be framed. It’s like giving a kid a shiny toy truck without the batteries.

Last, but not least, remember the gift of an original painting can increase in value. Who knows? The artist one day may rank among the majors. You just never know.

In 1964, Bob Dylan received a painting of Elvis as a gift from Andy Warhol, an artist whose reputation was far from solid at the time.

Dylan disliked the painting and hung it over his toilet, until a friend offered to trade it for a sofa.

Today, the Warhol is worth millions.

But follow my rules and your gift will never be traded—not even for a sofa.

Now, go shopping.

*A college buddy recently told me he can’t remember his first wife, but vividly recalls the painting he received from me as a wedding gift. She confiscated it during their divorce.