By Janet Simpson
Kansas City Artists Coalition, Executive Director
Bill Gates roared into collecting art when he bought Leonardo’s “Codex Leicester” for $31 million. The “Portrait of Doctor Gachet” by Vincent Van Gogh sold at auction for $82.5 million. The list of the ten most expensive artworks is populated by the works of Picasso, Van Gogh, Renoir and Cezanne with prices that range from $47-82.5 million.
I think this is what people think of when they think about collecting art. Astronomical prices paid for artworks by long dead masters. And while collecting at this level is intriguing, I want to talk about artworks by living artists and with much more affordable prices. Collecting as something everyone can do.
My first experience with collectors took place years ago. It was at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and I was on a panel that included Myra Morgan, among others, and we were talking to the novice collectors group. Two things about that night have stuck with me over the years. One was that collections could be begun very inexpensively; and two, that it takes passion and intelligence to create a collection that will inform and delight you over years.
Myra especially talked about the passion that a collector develops for the art and artists they collect. She said that there was a connection that collectors had with the art they collected. That the work really became theirs and she didn’t just mean that they owned it. She meant that the collector got something from the art; that the collector had a very special bond with the art.
People will sometimes say that an artwork “speaks” to them. When someone says that I think that is the beginning of the special connection Myra was referring to, but it’s only a beginning. To get to the place that Myra spoke of, to create a unique bond between an artwork and the viewer; you have to be more involved. I like the music phrase “call and response.” I think it more accurately describes how the relationship can happen.
If the work speaks to you, you answer. You answer with your attention, your interest and your emotions. The connection isn’t static. Time after time you see something new in the work and it feels like it’s just for you. It’s a unique experience, an act of creation in its own right; it can even feel a little subversive. You want to make it your own.
Collectors of contemporary art are the ultimate audience. Not because of the money. Not even because they become intimately involved in the artwork and often the artist, all very good things, but because such collectors and collections are sought out by great museums.
Historically the great patrons and collectors made artists’ careers. Artists could not have done their work without this intellectual and financial support. Today artists are entrepreneurs so their relationship with “patrons” is different. These days, patrons and collectors may not have much of a role in who gets to have an art career; however, they provide support during an artist’s life and perhaps a chance at immortality.
The collector can dramatically effect what art will be seen and known in the future. The Vogel’s collection has gone to the National Gallery; here in Kansas City the Bloch, Nerman and Kemper collections now have museum galleries to house them.
We all benefit from these thoughtful individuals who carefully tend to their passion. These artworks will be preserved for generations. They will be studied, cataloged, written about; it will be probed for insights into our life and culture. The collectors are urban legends and their collections are a testament to a life and money well spent. They will enjoy their own immortality through the art they love.
So if you develop that kind of response to an artwork, if you get it. Or maybe it’s the other way around, it get’s you. But what’s next? How can you get more? How do you keep this going? Go deeply into the experience.
Think of yourself as more than a mere consumer of art; become intimately involved. It’s not a passive experience.
You can be part of the process by being an active viewer, an engaged audience member, a collector.
Years ago one of the panelists challenged the group to go out and spend $100 on an artwork. It can still be done. The idea that collecting art is the only for the very rich simply isn’t true. The point is to jump in and look at art with the intention of collecting. So go ahead right now, right here. You can find really good art by living breathing artists that is engaging, interesting and stimulating. If you chose to, your experience can be even more rewarding because it can include a relationship with the artist. And why not? It’s win, win.
We all know that art has intrinsic value. We know it can be intriguing, compelling and beautiful. That it is intellectually stimulating. That it can expand our understanding of ourselves and the world. That it can give us pleasure. Now consider that you can be a part of something truly amazing. How many things can you say that about?
Republished from ArtNOW 2007