What Kind of Art is Best to Collect?
This is an interesting question. In a book I read recently, The Art World Demystified, by one of the great minds in the world of art, Brainard Carey, he contends that most people are uncomfortable with the process of buying art. As an artist, this is obviously an important issue to me. How can I expect someone to buy my art if they are uncomfortable with the process? What is it that makes the general public feel uncomfortable about purchasing original work?
To answer this, I think we have to take a glance back over what has taken place over the last hundred-or-so years in the art world. I would contend that many of the movements that have proliferated have been very difficult to understand, even with a fairly extensive knowledge of art process and art history. More than thirty years after his death, I would bet a great many people probably still wonder why Andy Warhol is so famous. Was it innovative to make a simplistic painting of a can of Campbell’s soup? Did it require any level of artistic skill? Why is it considered avant garde to display a urinal in the show room of an art gallery and call it a “Readymade Art”? Why did a stuffed shark sell for $12 million? Who decided that these things were collectively ‘high art’ and why do they wield so much influence? And at the crux of my query, why do most people feel so alienated by it all?
I believe it comes back to a basic level of human insecurity. People do not want to be perceived as stupid or un-worldly, which is essentially what one has to “admit” when he or she looks at some modern art and says “I don’t get it”. How can one not understand the seemingly universal appeal of this art? I’ll say in the most politically correct terms possible that the art world is a peculiar place, filled with all kinds of influential experts in all different aspects of the business, from art dealers, to critics, to museum curators. They are quite adept at getting their points-of-view widely accepted by “the art world”. But does that mean they’re correct?
In my view the answer is no… and yes. I’m not writing this article to cast aspersions on art world professionals. Most are such fervent art lovers that they have decided to devoted their lives to its advancement. They bring a vital historical perspective and context to the viewing of art. They help us understand elements of art that we otherwise may have missed. In this way they play a very important role. (If you sense a ‘but’ coming, there is indeed).
BUT, all the perspective and context in the world doesn’t mean anything if you don’t like it! I have an appreciation for many kinds of art, but I love classical realism. I always have. Even understanding that there is something clever about displaying a urinal in an art gallery, art that I love still gives me the feeling that there is a high level of talent and skill involved in its creation. Does that make me a relic? Does it mean I’m wrong? Of course not.
There are huge sects of very influential artists and collectors that make, buy, and sell all kinds of art. Is plein aire impressionism dead because Monet did it so well a hundred years ago? Of course not. There are many incredible impressionists thriving today, you just have to know where to find them. The same could be said for any style or medium, you just won’t necessarily find them all represented in the gallery down the street. That gallery has a ‘program’ that is a reflection of the tastes of the gallerist and what he or she thinks they can sell to the public.
We like what we like. I’ve spent most of my life immersed in art. I have acquired a functional knowledge of most artistic movements in history, and have even come to enjoy many that I never thought I would. But the art I love hasn’t changed much. So my message is this: trust your tastes. You don’t need a Master of Fine Arts degree to have a valid opinion! Let the art speak for itself-- and moreover speak to you. If you need a dissertation to understand it, move on. From a collecting standpoint, your personal relationship with the art is what really matters anyway. And from an investment standpoint, maybe the world will agree with you in the long run, see what you saw, and that painting you just bought for a few thousand bucks will be worth millions in the future. It’s happened before and it assuredly will happen again.