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Collecting Fine Art #2: Why? by Barbara McCauley

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Collecting Fine Art #2

Having introduced the power and historical value of art in "Collecting Fine Art #1: Why?," let's look at some other aspects. I will limit my remarks to painting since that is my domain, but anything written here applies as well to the other arts.

The Rarity and Singularity of Art

An artist is one who is gifted in a particular way, or ways, like Da Vinci for example, whose talent and skills went in several directions, all of them important. Whether the artist's direction is single or multiple, however, the artist is but one person, with one lifetime, short or long, during which there is usually a period of development, a flowering when the finest work is created, followed often by a decline. So the number of years an artist produces the best work is only a portion of that lifetime. Obviously then, the number of paintings produced is relatively small. Happily, most artists work long and hard, creating a goodly body of work; even so, there is that limit of one person, one lifetime, and that creates rarity.

A painting itself is a totally unique entity. Even artists who paint a number of pieces on the same theme, apparently repeating themselves, consider each piece a one-of-a-kind. And most artists paint individual paintings like no other they have painted. So owning a painting is owning an absolutely singular piece. There is no other like it. Kind of like owning the Hope diamond. There is only one of them and only one person can own it.

The Artist Him/Herself

Then there is the artist him/herself. While all of us have our own unique abilities, talents and ways of seeing the world, an artist's talent and vision are unique to him/her, in themselves rare. Such abilities do not occur in everyone. Even rarer than this, however, is the artist who actually follows that talent over a lifetime. Many young artists with talent and vision simply do not have the perserverence art requires. So maybe out of 100 persons born with a special artistic gift, only one of these will devote him/herself for year after year to allow these abilities to flower. 

The life of an artist is one of trial and failure, of scrounging out a living somehow so as to be able to pursue that true inner path. The "starving artist" may no longer apply in our American culture, but an artist is one who is highly disciplined and, indeed, often foregoes the comforts and pleasures the rest of us take for granted. Years of working without recognition are daunting and many on this path give up in despair. Those left "standing" after long years of such a life are people of great dedication, great grit. Whatever their accomplishment, we have to admire them. They are true artists.

Art as Investment

On a more mundane level, rarity creates a monetary value which is why some people collect art for investment. As an artist develops, if s/he finds an audience who appreciates the work and actually purchases it, then the value of that work always goes up. For both artist and collector, this is the best of all worlds. The artist gains greater freedom to continue without worry; the collector sits on an accumulating investment and has the additional benefit of a deeply satisfying work of art. For the adventurous, collecting relatively unknown artists becomes a passion. Gertrude and Leo Stein were among the early collectors of Picasso, Bracque, the impressionists, some of today's most acclaimed artists living in France at that time. What a high that must be: to choose something you deem excellent, which excites and delights you, and then, years later, to have the whole world catch up to you! 

With its rarity, singularity and investment values, it is hard to imagine collecting anything that gives us so much, especially when you live with art you love, which fulfills you in deep ways. Collecting original fine art has no downside really: even if you  pick a painting of an artist who never becomes famous, whose painting never gains in value above what you paid for it, if you love it, and if it expresses your inner life, what, indeed, have you lost?