Chicago Life #4 (6/6/05)
Letís get down to basics. Letís answer some reader questions. Why Art? How Should I Look at Art? How do I learn? And, How do I Collect? All of the answers are ultimately intuitive, but are frequently clouded by irrelevant hype and noise.
Whatís so wonderful about Art is that it isnít necessary. Certainly not the same way food and sleep are. You could lead a whole artless life and never know what youíre missing. Art isnít about taking care of our physical needs. Itís emotional and visceral. Itís about taking care of our spiritual needs. Art lends depth to our thoughts, context to our feelings, meaning to our foibles and glory to our triumphs. It leads the way, yet shows us where weíve been. It documents our very existence.
For me personally, the very best thing about art is the non-linear thought I experience. Itís as if I can feel my brain experiencing, diagnosing, and working to comprehend a work of art Ė a rollercoaster flurry of activity, neurons firing, pleasure mounting. I guess Iíd call it a gut reaction, or maybe an interpretation of an emotional response. Regardless, it leaves me feeling not only wiser, but more capable of living, appreciating and solving the diverse array of problems and challenges that shape our lives on a daily basis. Without art, without the stimuli, without its catharsis I would not be as competent as I like to think I am.
Not only that, I learn about myself by experiencing art. I learn my likes and dislikes. I notice how my taste changes over time. I learn about divergent ideas, an array of other cultures, concepts and contexts I would never have had otherwise. I am educated by art.
How to Look at Art
Itís that simple. Look at it. Just look at it. Donít pass (much) judgment on it. Itís okay to conclude that you like it or you donít, but donít worry about it. Just try to experience it. And keep your head out of it as much as you can.
Start looking. Then, after youíve done enough looking to have forgotten the ones that are not interesting to you, ask yourself which ones were. What were the two or three favorite pieces that you saw? What if anything did they have in common?
Look at those commonalities. If there isnít any unifying element, donít worry about it. Keep looking. If there is, acknowledge it. For now, focus solely on the things you like. In my mind if you ďlikeĒ 10% of the art you see, you are having a great day.
An adjunct way to learn about art is to look at art magazines. Same rules apply Ė just deal with what you like. Pick up a magazine, find something interesting and read about it. All that other stuff that looks like gobbledygook, forget about it!
Over time trends will emerge. Your knowledge will grow. Tangential interests will evolve and you are on your way.
How to Collect
Youíll notice that nothing in the foregoing talks about buying. It was about looking, learning and appreciating. Buying and collecting are a subset of that.
There are two initial ways to begin acquiring works of art: do it on your own, or get help.
If you are going to do this by yourself you are likely going to make some mistakes, i.e. purchasing things that are not as valuable as what you paid for it. This is okay, but protect yourself. Start low. Make it affordable. Live with a while. Learn from it. If it keeps on giving, great. If it doesnít, get rid of it. Give it to a museum (not likely), your temple or church, the kids. Move on to something that resonates. Keep learning. Keep growing. Keep on.
You could also hire an art consultant, who can educate, guide, steer and protect you. You will make fewer mistakes, but what you acquire will not have as much ďyouĒ in it. For some people thatís a good thing.
Acquiring art shouldnít be an all at once experience. It is about growth and education. Buying the work of a living artist gives you the opportunity to participate vicariously in that artistsí career. Buying the work of a non-living artist is a different albeit parallel pursuit.
A good art dealer welcomes the opportunity to educate, realizes that a sale might not come for months, if at all, and still is eager to share their enthusiasm. Trust and confidence are very important. Look to establish a relationship with a limited number of dealers you like personally and trust. Allow them to educate you.
You are now learning from multiple sources; reading, listening and most importantly, looking.
Thatís about it. Make and keep the process enjoyable. It is about you and your interests. Enjoy the process and art, and acquiring art can give you a lifetime of growth and satisfaction.