Collect Yourself

Art is in the eye of the beholder, at least when you listen to our favorite classical artist, Austinite Graydon Parrish. Learn how true artistry is becoming less about dollar signs and more about perspective.

We all know that in the past 20 years, art has become a global business with individuals and investors outspending museums. Sometimes this means discovery, such as a new Rembrandt. However, more often than not, money, especially a lot of it, can obscure art’s greater qualities by turning it into just another commodity.

Remove the price tag and what remains? As Robert Hughes, an art historian who championed the Texan Robert Rauschenberg avers, you have the artwork. A Matisse, for example, is still a Matisse, with or without the hefty cost. One should desire a work of art, not for its varying prestige and expense, but for its aesthetic, which remains unchanged.

You see, as an artist who makes a living painting, I agree with this sentiment. My concern is that homogenization might compromise a remarkable life. Moreover, we lose something when art becomes a product. To prevent this, I encourage you to consider the following thoughts.

ARTISTRY IN MOTION

To start, it is important to learn to look at art, unprejudiced by what you already think you know. Forget the monetary value of art and the hierarchies of taste, quell the pontificating voices of art writers and critics, and set aside the story of the artist’s dramatic life or untimely death. Look instead at the image; then, look again. Many paintings take months, even years to produce. For example, George Seurate’s Us dimanche après-midi ò I’lle de la Grande Jatte occupied the artist for over two years. One simply sees more when spending time with art, even revisiting the same painting day after day, just as the artist did as the painting developed.

Secondly, think of art as a reward for a life well lived, not as an investment. By releasing the burden of buying art for its price, the motivation for purchase becomes more intrinsic: the beauty, the craftsmanship, the design and the subject. One can delve into difficult themes that may not have monetary value but are nonetheless profound by exploring new aesthetics, thinking outside the box and resisting the status quo.

Take pride in your own outlook. This is often difficult to do since life is easier with the endorsement of friends and colleagues. Yet, conversely, history favors the bold, even eccentric, as proven by Louisine Havemeyer who championed Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas, among others, long before fashion caught up with the Impressionists.

BUY WHAT YOU LOVE

Remember, an art collection should be personal and eclectic. If a visitor announces that he has not heard of the artists in your collection, what does that mean? There are dozens of artists whose work is expensive and fèted that only a specialist would know by rote. So, though it may be unlikely that someone will recognize your purchase, be confident and let the quality of the art speak for itself. Boast that while you allowed an artist to spend two years on a piece, like Seurat, you have participated in the creation of something extraordinary.

Finally, take on step further: have a hand in creating the art of the future. Not only can one finance a new masterpiece but also shape the art world. Remember, Sandro Boticelli’s Primavera was a commission. Likewise, Houston’s Rothko Chapel was the shared vision of Mark Rothko and John and Dominique de Ménil. Think big, take the risk and support the artist you believe in. Give them the backing to create, if not the greatest work of their lives, something substantial.

On the other hand, if you are still concerned about the investment, have faith in one truism: major works of art, which usually include complex compositions, bring more money than minor works. Moreover, even major works by obscure artists hold their value better than lesser works by celebrated ones. For example, in 2008 Sotheby’s auctioned Jehan-Georges Vibert’s Gulliver and the Lillipations, 1870, for seven times the artist’s previous record. If you’ve not heard of Vibert, then you are among the majority. This is an example of what few realize… a masterpiece by an artist that is usually inexpensive may reach extraordinary prices, which bodes well for the commissioned works of art.

It seems that as the world becomes virtually smaller, it is harder still to resist the pull of conformity. But stand firm art from Houston to Hong Kong can achieve a distinct identity, be defined by quality rather than commerce and reflect the brilliance of diverse and exciting minds.