People have many different reasons for collecting. Some do it because they love the pieces they collect. Others do it for investment reasons. The excessively wealthy do it for tax evasion. A lot of money is laundered with art. Some see art as a status symbol. Some do it to simply support living artists. For me, collecting has always been about celebrating and enjoying refined creativity. It has also become a way to help support living artists for me.
My husband and I collect for several different reasons but the #1 reason we will buy a piece is because we love it. The first piece we purchased was La Fiesta De Los Muertos by Bill Braun. We had been discussing buying a piece by him for some time. When we saw that piece, we knew it was the piece we had to have. It was a bit whimsical how it happened. We had some friends visiting from Texas and it was their last night in town. The four of us were walking by a gallery and the piece had just gone up in the window. The gallery was closed so we could not be impulsive. My husband and I discussed it when we went to bed that evening. In the morning he took our friends to the airport and then went to the gallery and made them an offer… It was ours. Everything you are looking at in the images below is paint on canvas. Both are a flat surface painted to look like a collage.
Having that piece changed everything for me. I was enamored. Little things would present themselves as new over the next couple of years. I would take time getting lost in its composition time and time again. I’m still enamored by the piece. I think it’s one of the artist’s masterpieces. Soon, I wanted another piece by him but spending more money on art seemed extravagant at the time, so I just continued to follow his work closely. A couple years later, the new gallery representing him was doing a meet and greet for his latest show. I went and met him for the first time. I felt a bit like a stalker or a groupie, but it was great to meet him. I had been thinking about a subject I would like him to do for some time. I asked if he had ever done anything like that and the conversation led to our first commission.
As the years moved on, we added other artists we loved to our collection, but I really didn’t think of myself as a collector yet. A few years into our growing collection, a gallery owner I knew introduced me as a collector to someone. I responded with “not really” and she scoffed at me… “Yes, you are!” I had to chew on that for several months before I felt comfortable with the term. I now realize we have more art in our home than most so the term qualifies. Our collection is quite modest by some standards, but I know it exceeds that of most normal households.
For me, walking through our home and being able to be transported from inside my head to getting lost in one of the paintings we own has become a way of life. It’s the primary reason I collect art now. As I type there is a painting on the wall to the right of my monitor. It’s one we’ve had for years. A couple times today I’ve broke form my writing and gazed on the painting only to fall in love with it again. Some people get lost in books, video games or music. For me it’s the arts, including music, which I collect as well. Some people dream of televisions on every wall, I dream of have a welcoming home which doubles as a gallery with a great sound system throughout the home.
People collect all sorts of things, trading cards, comics, all types of memorabilia, and anything the mind can dream up. In all honestly, I’ve collected hand made items the vast majority of my life. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and loved the handmade items by Native Americans I frequently saw. They were captivating to me. I still have some boxes carved from coal by Native Americans.
In high school an import store opened up in a mall in my hometown. It was filled with hand made items from all over the world. I was inexplicably drawn to the imports from Mexico and Africa. I wouldn’t settle for any of the knickknacks though, I wanted something more noteworthy. I purchased some furniture from Africa and some chests from Mexico. I couldn’t afford to do it all at once so I saved and purchased when I could. I still have those chests but did part with the tables several years ago.
When I got around to adulting in the 90’s, I stumbled across a store filled with expensive hand-crafted goods in downtown Seattle. I was completely enamored with some of the dinnerware in the store. I HAD TO HAVE SOME! I think this is the moment collecting was etched into my soul. Over the years I built up a collection of dishes by Rainbow Gate in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The picture below is of some of them hung on our wall. And by the way, I had that peach long before the world knew what emojis were! The peach was the second piece in the collection which now is large enough to serve a party. It’s our “fine china.”
If that’s our good stuff, what are our daily dishes you ask? Fiesta of course! It’s collectable as well. My spouse says it’s an illness. Is it some kind of flaw in an individual’s makeup? I don’t know. Is collecting something that’s in someone’s DNA? I can’t answer that. Is it a holdover from the hunter gatherer genes which were passed down? Could be, but I really don’t care.
Like I said, I collect primarily to celebrate and enjoy refined creativity. As we did this, the inevitable happened… We realized we had a significant investment in art. At that point I started to realize there was a possibility of some of our collection becoming more valuable. Over the years I watched some of our pieces double in value and I knew I was onto something. Not a get rich quick thing… I just realized the same thing countless art collectors before me have; investing in art can pay off. But, I need to be clear… We have no intention of ever selling any of our art.
To say that I am investing in art would be an overreach. To say that I thought investing in art can be part of a balanced portfolio would be accurate. I would never recommend diverting funds from retirement planning to buy art. It was only after I did feel comfortable with the future financially that I really started investing in art. I also know our expenses are significantly less than those with families to support. What I am trying to say is; don’t go broke buying art.
Very few of us can afford acquiring an incredibly large collection and it is not about competition and never should be by my books. If I were to give any pointers to those thinking about buying art or starting an art collection it would be:
- Rip the Band-Aid off and buy a piece you love… Even if it goes against your better judgment.
- Admier that piece for a while and see if it continues to move you.
- Keep exploring art.
- Buy another piece if you wish… That first piece may tell you art is not for you.
- Go about collecting methodically, even though I guarantee it will seem quite whimsical at times.
- Never put all your eggs in one basket… Diversify that collection in the same manner you would any portfolio. Diversity is goodness.
Once you have decided collecting is for you, I would offer this bit of advice first and foremost… Ask yourself if this is going to be the one that got away and then be honest with yourself. If you are answering “yes” each time you ask yourself that question, I recommend seeing a therapist. If you are being honest with yourself, the vast majority of art you come across will not be for you. No matter how much you love that piece, I seriously doubt it will be the one that got away. I only have one piece that got away and I was being to stingy at the time. I still kick myself for not pulling the trigger on that piece.
If you have found an artist you really love, follow them closely. If you notice they are selling pieces faster than they can make them, and their shows sell out even before the opening, take risks and buy sight unseen or see if they will do a commission.
The last bit of advice I have to offer in this post is never take a gallery for granted. You never know if that gallery will be the only access you have to an artist. With that being said… I have closed doors on galleries without them being aware I have slammed the door shut due to my experience with them. I have also burnt one bridge with a gallery… Well, in all honesty, I nuked that bridge! But it takes two to tango, right???