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Fine Art Collecting #1: Why?
The Significance of Art
It is no accident that art has always been highly valued. More than any other human production, art captures the essence of our humanity, our esthetic and spiritual yearnings. It is what endures of us, what continues to touch and move us across centuries and cultures. Beyond anything else, this is the reason to collect fine art: to bring its vitality and uniqueness into our lives.
With today's technology, many kinds of art are available to us. We can hear the world's finest musicians play a Mozart sonata in our own living room. We can watch the dramas of Shakespeare or Ibsen on our television screens, listen to the words of poets, thinkers, great performers of opera, jazz, folk. We are very lucky!
The Visual Arts
But a painting? A sculpture? We can see pictures of these at best, and that is simply not enough. For these arts, there is only the original painting or sculpture itself. No reproduction or photograph, however excellent either may be, can touch that original.
A few years ago, in Florence, Italy, I was out walking and caught a glimpse of what clearly was Michaelangelo's sculpture, David. I approached the piece more and more slowly with a mounting sense of horror at myself for the disappointment rising in me. What was wrong? I fully expected to be awed as I had been when, in my early 20's, I had stood just 10 feet away from Michaelangelo's Pieta in St. Peter's cathedral in Rome, and could barely contain myself in the face of such lambent beauty. And now, 40 years later, I felt nothing. Had I become so jaded?
The David I saw that day was not Michaelangelo's. It was a copy standing where the original had itself stood until it was moved indoors to protect it from environmental damage. Two days later, I saw the orignal and awe was only one of the emotions I experienced in the powerful aura of the sculpture.
Living with Art
To live with a piece of original art is to live with an aliveness, a presence that keeps your attention and constantly renews itself in your imagination and eye. It doesn't much matter if the painting is representational, impressionistic, or abstract; or what it depicts or doesn't depict. A good original painting will live and breathe and bring that life to the room you put it in. If it doesn't, then you might as well frame a piece of fabric that goes with your sofa/rug/drapes and save yourself a lot of money and grief.
It used to be that only royalty, the very rich, or the church were able to own great art. Beginning in the late 19th century, art became available to the burgeoning middle class until today just about any of us can find the way to collect original art. We have become art's patrons. The simplest home can be transformed with a single painting that expresses its owner's deepest thoughts and feelings. There is nothing else we can own that can do that for us.