Monday, September 3, 2012

What Do I Want to Collect?

some of Greta Garbo's amazing collection
photo: Billy Cunningham, Architectural Digest
So now that I've decided to be an art collector, the question is what do I want to collect and why?

These are not academic questions. The world of art is vast, and it's important to understand what I want and even more important to be able to talk about why I purchased it. To just randomly buy whatever strikes my fancy at a given moment means that I will end up with a pile of unrelated paintings rather than a collection.

Of course, at bottom, my purchases would always have one thing in common: I liked them. This is bound to provide some sense of unity, but I feel it would only be a very loose sense of unity. It would be like going clothes shopping and just buying whatever looked good. When I go to get dressed, I'd find I have too many blue shirts (because I like blue) or that I can't pair up enough items into good outfits.

So the downside of 'flying blind' in my collecting is that I'm not really being intelligent about my purchases. I would never know if I was buying a painting for a good reason or just because something in the painting struck my whim or was a hot fad. And, as we sometimes learn the hard way in clothes shopping, today's whim/fad is tomorrow's 'what was I thinking?'

Developing a conscious aesthetic or strategy in my purchases has positive side effects beyond avoiding buyer's remorse. For example, as I have begun to think this through, I feel as though it brings me more in touch with my reactions to art in general, especially when I don't like something. Knowing what my cup of tea is helps me check myself to make sure my negative reaction to a work isn't limited to the fact that the piece has a different 'flavor' that what I prefer. This keeps me open.

Mark Rothko painting
photo: Karmic Voyager blog
An example of how this works is when I found an artist whose works I really liked but from whom I must never, ever buy anything. This artist does abstract paintings featuring several large shapes (usually rectangles) in different colors floating against a background using a third color. I liked the artist's work a great deal but will never, ever buy it. Why not?

The works I just described were painted within the last several years, but they strongly resemble the work of Mark Rothko (the picture of his work here was lifted from a post on the blog Karmic Voyager). Now, if I want to buy a work of this kind, why would I buy anything other than an actual Rothko? (Practically speaking, the answer to that question is that I'll never in my wildest dreams be able to afford it...but I digress).

All artists stand on the shoulders of someone (or several someones). However, I distinguish between someone standing on the shoulders of Mark Rothko and reaching for something beyond him or adding something of their own to translate his legacy into something new...versus a person who is regurgitating his vision and style. The latter is not good art (at least not good beyond the decorative sense). If I'm only responding to the work from a decorative standpoint, then I do not need to be paying fine art prices to get something that serves that need.

This is somewhat random smattering of thoughts on this subject, but deciding what I collect and why is necessary both to be a responsible buyer and to truly get the most out of my experience with what I buy (and out of art in general). Going to galleries and museums will help me evolve my thinking.

More on this as I start figuring things out...

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