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January 27, 1998

Between Art Collecting and Art Decorating

by Fred Marchman

Until a collector gets to the level of appreciating Art as an intellectual expression rather than as a merely decorative function, he or she is still just decorating rather than really collecting.

Decoration is undeniably a significant expression of visual art but by no means its sole function. The genius of the great Mississippi artist, Walter Anderson, is that he succeeded in creating both a decorative visual art which also stated an iconic language with which he interpreted the natural world, depicting the marvels and wonders of the physical world of flora and fauna and, to a lesser extent, the world of men. Anderson did not totally delete the activities of human endeavors in lieu of his worship of the natural world; indeed when humans are depicted, they are rendered with the dignity and innate nobility they deserve just as he fairly rendered those subjects in flora and fauna and the four elements. We see his genius interpreting the world of men, fishermen, Indians, Spanish, the people of ancient cultures of the world where he traveled and observed their activities. These people are shown in their particular zeitgeist as they interface with nature. And it is this link to the natural world which provides the persisting appeal of his art, I feel. A serious collector then, must feel a rapport with the artist at some level, and that level I would suggest, is at the level of the artist's intention.

Intention is at the substructure of the work of art and may not always be obvious to the viewer-collector. Intention may be more implicit than explicit.

Something within the collector must say YES! And accord is found, an agreement made, a bond between seer and seen. This happens between the artist and his subject, his inspiration, just as it happens between collector and the object of art.

There is a principle of harmonic resonance at work (or, alternatively, not working) between the two.

Art is an expression of an idea of ideal or a philosophy, may be its highest level I think. I Think matters as much as I Feel. Art is about ideas and ideals as well as about feelings.

The resulting aesthetic product then, depends on whether the expressed object is more idea than feeling or more of a feeling than an idea. In short, whether there exists that balance of heart and mind.

The collector may prefer an art that is not balanced. He may prefer the stimulus of an art that is wild and free, undisciplined perhaps, polarized into the astral, like Pollack, or magnetized into the mental such as with works by Mondrian and the de Stijl school.

The mood of a romantic painter, like Corot or JMW Turner, may strike a resonant chord between the collector and the artist's intention in works of fantasy by such artists as Ernst, Picasso, Miro or Moreau or modern fantasy artist Gilbert Williams' "new age" visionary art. The true collector is a connoisseur of his own feelings so that the range of his collection reflects the scope of his world-view (weltanschaung). The collector may have to delineate his preferences deciding to stay within the parameters of the familiar, his "safe zone" of topical interests, or whether to venture forth into the unknown. This adventure in collecting can be exciting, challenging, a risk, gamble, an investment, a speculation that makes of the collector an explorer rather than a mere decorator.

The visual arts seek more hero-patrons who trust their inner senses. They patronize the living artists of their time and milieu rather than buying the "safe art" of the dead masters for investment, capital speculation or phony prestige and status-seeking.

Such collector-heroes may acquire the avant-garde or better yet come to trust their instincts and support the living artists who live and work in their home town or region. This kind of mutual support can engender a cultural awakening and pride within local communities and help the artists feel less alienated from the materialistic brainwash of rampant Moneyism. The bonding created by the general acknowledgment of artists working in the community adds the value of something somehow sacred shared, even though the work be secular; still it symbolizes a more synchronous culture especially locally and regionally. The national and internationally recognized artists need no further recognition -- they are already getting the lion's share of publicity, fame, funding and fortune. Let us treasure our local visual arts culture in the same way we do the sports heroes, local and state football teams. Even local journalists and authors seem to enjoy more celebrity than do visual artists, though this is a subjective matter, perhaps.

Naturally, any serious art collector wants to collect the art or artist who is a success -- or whom he supposes may someday be a success thereby validating his role as a collector. But this attitude is much like speculating on futures in the stock market where the motive is investing for purposes of monetary speculation. But Art does not exist merely to serve the worshippers of Mammons (greed). Art still exists to somehow serve the soul -- this should be guidance aplenty as to what to collect. An artist said to me recently, "The three routes to art success are Luck, Political Connections, and to be or become Overwhelming." And this may state the dilemma that artists face, especially locally, and nationally as well, but the artists' clients need not subscribe to this concern.

What is success? In any field, this buzz word stirs up different hornets. Terms for success vary according to the value system of the person whether they are artist, art collector or art critic. Above all it seems to me that the work of art must "succeed" in its own terms first, then, the appropriate consumer will find it suitable or non-suitable for his or her collection, based upon those subjective values they share with the picture of sculpture as a "medium" where like minds meet. An analogy might be taken here with movies. The movie you love and cherish, another may deem naive, corny or simplistic for example. Have you ever heard someone rave about a film and you went to see it and felt disappointed and wondered what that person saw in it who recommended it? Collecting serigraphs, etchings, paintings and sculpture is a rather similar experience. So we must consider what is going on in the painting or work of art that we relate to for whatever reasons.

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