Friday, May 27, 2016

On Collecting Art

By Ken Elliott
Pierre Bonnard Le Bain, lithograph

I read a blog post this week about Starting an Art Collection by Invaluable, and it got me thinking about my own approach.

One of my earliest memories was a reproduction of a snow scene oil in my grandmothers living room when I was 3 years old.

I still remember two large, framed prints that my mother bought for my childhood home, one being a Corot.

In what was surely fated, years later I began working at a series of very good frame shops and became acquainted with very good works of art. Later I got into the gallery business with two other young guys, fully immersing me into the art business.

I began to buy art when I was working in the frame shops. The feeling I got from acquiring an appealing work of art was more rewarding than furniture or clothing purchases. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but the artworks were adding something to the room and my well-being.

Budget was a big factor in my apartment days but art comes in a lot of forms and being resourceful, I stretched a printed fabric onto a 4’ square frame. It was the biggest work of ‘art’ on the wall at that point and it just made the room, all for $35.

Later I purchased my first oil painting. It was about 18 x 12, a vertical of delicate, tall grass. I was struck by how it was painted and just had to have it. The price was right - $85.

I recall my dad coming by and remarking on it. He asked what I paid for it and when I told him, he was pretty surprised at how expensive it was. I felt proud to have done something beyond the norm that day. Years later he asked me about the price of a large oil by a very well-known painter. I told him he really didn’t want to know and we had a good laugh about it.

Once I got into the gallery business in Houston with two colleagues, my collecting became more serious. I began to study prints by early masters and 20th century Americans. As young gallery dealers, we needed to be better informed about the works we were exhibiting so we could better inform and create knoweldegable collectors. We studied, purchased books for our clients and followed the auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. It was glamorous and fun as our research and collecting expanded, helping others do the same.

Years earlier, a marvelous collector began mentoring me and gave me an important piece of wisdom. He said there two kinds of art: decorative and historical.

It provided me a roadmap, a basis for collecting a variety of things. I also learned along the way to just buy what you like.

Having that historical / decorative reference has been very helpful to me throughout the years. I'm less likely to spend a lot of money on something that just catches the eye or appeals to me in a decorative way. I'll save serious money for something that really thrills me or for an important artwork.

When collected objects are gathered in a room or home, they naturally fit together because they reflect the collector’s interests while stimulating the mind and creating comfort. I also like that each piece has a story and place in time. Many times the acquisition is every bit as interesting as the artwork: how it was obtained or tied to a special event or place.

As an artist, I keep some of my own works along the way. These works have a value to me because they represent important breakthroughs. It represents the best I could do at the time and I like having those creative landmarks as a reference - they keep the bar high. I’m always aspiring to do better and these works urge me forward.

Acquiring the works of others also brings something new and precious into the home. Extraordinary objects amaze and thrill the collector as well as the viewers.

Pleasure comes not from the price but from the experience of something new, the acquisition of mystery, beauty or even outrage for your space. You can capture the moment of creation itself.

Living with works of art is enriching on many levels, one of my favorites being when the artwork reveals a secret of its creation. What a marvelous gift from the artist, a timeless joy for the viewer.

Art lasts. We know Degas, but not the Mayor of Paris at the time.
Gather a bit of creation, something timeless and bring it home with you.

Ken Elliott is an artist and writer living in Colorado.
Fine Art Website
His award winning book Manifesting 123 and you don't need #3 website

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