Earlier this summer I was asked for my thoughts about collecting art. It’s an interesting question to ask an artist, and quite frankly one in which a little context goes a long way. Ask a young artist and you’ll likely get a lot different response than someone who’s made a career in and around the visual arts. For instance, more than a few of my students feel that all they have to do is paint or draw something and people will line up to buy their work. Successful artists eventually come to understand that everybody collects something.
So why collect art? I tend to think that collecting in general, is something we learn to do as kids. I collected baseball cards; my brother hoarded football and basketball cards. In fact, we both still have those, along with the boxes of comic books and other ephemera that was the world around which my childhood revolved. As a collector myself, I found that the practice didn’t so much dissipate as it did undergo an unconscious evolution. With maturity came many personal interests and, I think, a natural inclination to collect ephemera or exemplars that dovetailed with those interests. Art is one of many legitimately and infinitely interesting passions of collectors. There tends to be a number of reasons people collect art:
- Special interest subject matter. Whether the subject of a work is dogs, cars, trains, marbles, specific locations, etc., a work of art that represents one’s special interest is often a natural outgrowth of that interest. One of my uncles, for instance, was an avid outdoorsman and loved duck hunting and fly fishing. The walls of his enormous den were a testament to that love, decorated with limited edition reproductions and original paintings from various duck and trout stamp exhibitions.
- A sense of posterity. When you collect an artist’s work, it’s a form of immortality. You perpetuate the memory of that person when you keep something personal, something they made, or a reminder of them. Many collectors altruistically think of themselves as caretakers of history.
- A sense of time or place. Artworks can take us back to a time, a place, or a feeling. They can lift one’s spirit or inspire a sense of nostalgia. A collection of paintings of a particular location can bring about fond memories and recollections. For some collectors, artwork fills a void and provides some level of psychological security or comfort.
- A sense of intimacy. Some collect art because they feel a need to be connected to art. My uncle made a point of getting to know the artists who created these works, making his pursuit all the more satisfying. I am fortunate to own a Picasso lithograph and an Ansel Adams print. Although I never met either artist, each and every time I enjoy those works I feel a profound sense of connection to two greats who’ve influenced artistic philosophies.
- The quest. For some, collecting art is about the hunt. As a collector of rare vintage racing bikes, I confess to understanding all too well the pursuit of “unobtanium.”
- Interaction with like-minded collectors. I believe there is also a desire to engage in social interaction with collectors of a similar bent. I love to go to auctions, and it’s often that we see and interact with many of the same regular auction goers. We’re all on the hunt, and often our hunting ground and prey overlap. Do we compete with each other? You bet we do!
- Just because. For some, collecting art provides a platform from which they can engage in enjoyable research, knowledge, and learning about the artist, the art materials and techniques, the era, the driving motivations or causality of a work. Perhaps one’s interests come out of a pride of ownership or an appreciation for beauty and aesthetics.
Collecting small, intimate art.
I have an exhibition coming up in September. I’m putting a lot of thought into what I should hang, and this includes giving due consideration to my patrons. My work has evolved considerably since the long ago days when I was all about making very large oil paintings. This will be the first exhibition I’ve ever done that focuses entirely on sketches, and the idea came about because I got to know and listen to those who have collected my paintings, drawings, and designs. As an artist, I learned:
- Although many people enjoy large paintings, I was repeatedly asked about smaller works and limited edition reproductions. Such works are a great way for someone to begin a collection. One is seldom introduced to collecting art through the acquisition of a major work: Small works are baby steps and help the beginning collector to become more familiar with an artist.
- Sketches demonstrate the way that artists think; they show the artistic processes. They are intimate and tend to “invite” a viewer into the world of that artist.
- Typically, smaller “less important” works and sketches are also a less expensive way to get into collecting. (Not always, but you get the point.)
- Sketches are kind of personal too. A shared sketch is a shared experience.