Why Do I Collect Original Art?

I have had many people, including many in my family, why I will spend as much as I do on an original piece of art. After all, I could spend a whole lot less and buy something pretty close at a furniture store, department store, or even at Target. To most, as long as you like it and it covers the walls, why pay so much more for something else?

To me, mass produced art, like that found at these places, is much like any other mass produced item. They lack that human touch, the emotional connection, and the craftsmanship found in an original piece of art. For some things, mass production is fine. I don’t have a problem with a mass produced car, refrigerator, or washing machine. But for something as personal and meaningful as art, I need that connection. I simply must have that human touch. There is no comparison in the craftsmanship. It is a matter of quality. I am willing to pay a premium for quality. I believe that everyone is willing to do that.

How do I know that original art has higher quality than mass produced art? First, people pay more for it. This sounds like circular reasoning, and perhaps it is. Ultimately, any product is only worth as much as people are willing to pay for it. Since people are willing to pay more, it is, by definition, worth more. Second, an original work of art is the only one in the whole world. Even prints and posters that have the same image are not the same, because you do not see everything an artist has done in that painting. You cannot see the brush strokes, the mark of the chisel, or the seam on the bronze. In other words, the hand of the artist. No matter how good the picture, the reproduction, or the print, you can’t ever capture it all exactly. Only the original truly shows what the artist intended. I’ve seen many images of “American Gothic”, but the original took my breath away. I’ve seen images of Francis Bacon’s “Pope Innocent X” but you can’t imagine the power of that painting until you are standing in front of it. You can get an echo of that effect, but you’ll never be able to quite capture it.

Another reason is that I view buying art as an investment in our culture. You can’t invest in our culture by purchasing a mass produced object. That isn’t culture, that’s machination. Supporting the symphony by going to a live performance is better than buying the CD or the MP3. The sound isn’t the same. The experience isn’t the same. If you go to the concert, then buy the recording, you get to relive that experience. With art, you get to live that experience for as long as you own the work.

I also want to support our local economy. It is important to understand that many of the galleries and artists are basically small business owners. These business need money to keep going. I value those businesses, so I pay them for their products and services. The beauty of this is that I know that the money is going back into other parts of the economy locally. The artists I buy from are generally local. They buy their materials locally (for the most part). They spend their money here. The galleries rent space locally. It is generally a win-win-win.

That’s why I only buy original work. Higher quality work, investment in our culture, and support of the local economy. I’d love to hear about why other people buy the art they buy.

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Landscape Painter Video

This is a video from YouTube by a videographer by the name of RustyScupperton. His real name is John Thornton, and he is an artist from Pennsylvania. He has done many videos about the arts and artists in the area. In particular, he profiles people from the Pennsylvania School of Fine Arts, which is one of the premier art schools in the country.

This video tied in so well to my “What I look for in Landscapes” post, I thought that I just had to post it. The artist describes his ideas of landscape and how he uses techniques to teach his students. I love hearing those ideas from artists. I also like how the video looks at the details of the painting.

When I initially look at the paintings, I see what I’m sure everyone else does. Interesting landscapes, interesting colors, and well rendered. But look at the clouds, how well they are done. You can see shadows, not just under the trees, but IN the trees, in the bushes, and on the sides of the hills. You can almost feel where the clouds are. When he zooms into the canvas, you see his brush strokes and the layers of paint. It is fabulous. If I were there and could afford them, these would definitely be works I would want in my collection.

If you are interested in more art videos of this type, I suggest doing a search on YouTube for RustyScupperton. He has hundreds of videos.

Who Can Successfully Collect Art?

People often assume that I must make a lot of money to have a hobby like collecting art. Believe me, that is not the case. I thought this video was a great example of what you can do with a limited budget.

Of course, the most amazing example of people who developed an incredible collection is Dorothy and Herb Vogel. If you haven’t seen the documentary Herb and Dorothy (which is on Netflix), I recommend seeing it.

What I Look for in a Landscape

I went to an art gallery in Burlington, IA over Thanksgiving. They had an exhibition of the members there. As with most art shows, there were works that were good and others that were more amateurish. I don’t want to seem critical, but collectors are looking for certain things. My first advice for artists who have the will, talk to people who don’t buy your work. If you are at a show and you find someone who seems to look at your work, but don’t buy it, ask them why. Don’t take it personally, find out what they did see and didn’t like or what they didn’t see and were hoping to. Use that to improve your work. For collectors, these are the techniques I use to compare quality of landscape paintings. I’d be interested to hear any other ideas.

In terms of paintings in general, if I see the grain or texture of the substrate (canvas, board, paper, etc.), you didn’t use enough paint. I can understand if that was what you were trying to do. But if you are trying to paint a landscape, seeing the wood grain or canvas really detracts from the work, in my opinion.

I do, however, want to see those brush strokes. Unless you are going for photorealism, seeing those strokes shows your technique, skill, and advertises that this is a hand-crafted original, not a print. I have seen many works where the artist has tried really hard to cover those brush strokes up, like hiding your fingerprints at the scene of the crime. I’d rather see the opposite and other collectors I’ve talked to feel the same. Don’t be timid or be afraid of being “painterly”. Even the most subtle art needs your bold and confident hand.

For the composition itself, I look first at (and for) clouds in my landscapes. If the clouds don’t look realistic, or don’t exist, I generally don’t buy. A mass of blue, even textured and layered, just is not as interesting to the eye as cloud features. I want to be able to look at and enjoy the piece forever. Having a cloudscape with the landscape features adds a level of depth and complexity. Also, clouds are generally pretty difficult to do well. It is a mark of a good artist to be able to do clouds convincingly, which is why it is important for me to look for them.

I am also interested in the shadows and shading. Does it look like the object that is supposed to be casting the shadow? What do the subdued colors look like? Do the shadows look warm or cool? Should they look like that (this indicates where the light is coming from)? Are they in and around the objects that cast them, or just on the ground? Again, this gives depth to the painting that allows the viewers (collectors) to keep coming back to explore the work.

The last thing I look at is the stuff that most people talk about – composition, color, values, and the like. Seriously, this is the LAST part. Are the basics done well? It isn’t that it is unimportant. It is more of an assumption on my part that the artist knows and can execute these well. I don’t want a landscape that has poor perspective.

Landscape paintings have been around for hundreds of years. Those that are the most sublime seem to share similar characteristics. The artist displays confidence and uses enough paint. The basic elements of the painting are pleasing to the eye, but they execute those difficult details that take a hill, mountain, trees, or a lake and make them extraordinary.