The Heart of Art Collecting

The phrase “Art Collecting” has a tendency to conjure up images of esoteric libraries, hidden-door handshakes, and ungodly sums of cash. What a lot of people don’t know is that there are many types of art collectors. Some of us are, indeed, the crisp, white suits you may be visualizing, but some of us are also middle class mothers and fathers with a knack for finances and a deep love of the arts. While we may differ wildly in our appearances, careers, and bank accounts, there are a few things every art-collector understands. 

Money = Energy.

Take a moment to consider the concept of currency. All those little bills and coins and numbers hanging out in your bank account are much more than just tokens to spend. They’re actually a direct translation of your own time and energy, and every purchase you make uses up a little chunk of that time and energy. Following that logic, doesn’t it make sense to spend money on things that nourish your soul and enrich your life? In my experience, the more nourished I feel, the more energy I seem to have, and more energy means more money to spend on even more inspiring artifacts and experiences. Do you see where I’m going with this? It’s a fulfilling upward spiral.

"Folded Dollar" by Michael Fitts
“Folded Dollar” by Michael Fitts

Just as importantly, consider just how much time and creative energy goes into each painting, sculpture, photo, etc.. When you really break down the costs of a work of art (financial as well as mental/emotional), the price tag begins to make sense. At the core, art-investors are really art-lovers. We understand the true value of fine art and are more than happy to trade our time and energy for an amazing piece. 

Buying art is one of the most tangible ways to support the arts.

Now, on the flip-side of the proverbial “money isn’t real” coin (pun very much intended), consider that artwork purchased is a physical, tangible testament to the buyer’s support for the arts. Every purchase communicates an important point to the artist: “Hey, I believe in you and the work that you’re making.” Most collectors start out as patrons; in fact, the arts have thrived for centuries thanks largely to the support of wealthy donors and patrons simply investing in what they enjoy.

"School of Athens," Raphael, 1509-1511. Commissioned by patron Pope Julius II.
“School of Athens,” 1509-1511, Raphael.
Sponsored by Pope Julius II.

Like the patrons of old, by supporting the arts we’re celebrating our shared humanity and directly helping to create a more connected world.  With the current rise of information and lightning speed at which technology is evolving, it’s more important than ever to reassert our priorities and establish what we truly value as a society.  If we care about art, it’s important to take a stand and invest in that value, and one of the most direct ways to do so is to actually purchase artwork (especially when 5% of your purchase goes directly towards funding arts education through initiatives like StoriesToArt Gives Back…*hint* *hint*).

You can start small.

You don’t have to be rich or descended from royalty to support the arts. In fact, you don’t even have to be close to wealthy. Take Herb and Dorothy Vogel, for example — you know, the adorable couple who famously amassed one of the most infamous private collections of the 20th century (if you haven’t already, I implore you to watch this documentary). Their love of art was so great that they managed to collect over 4,000 works by some of the most renowned contemporary artists of our time, despite making very little money and living in a small, rent-controlled apartment together. Because of their tight budget, they often contacted the then-emerging artists directly and were able to buy, sometimes in installments, at extremely reasonable prices. 

Herbert and Dorothy Vogel
Herb and Dorothy Vogel in their Manhattan apartment

There are a myriad of different avenues for finding and buying original artwork now: art fairs, brick and mortar galleries, art collectives, online galleries, artist websites, you name it. And it’s easier than ever to find artists new to the field who may sell at lower prices because demand hasn’t caught up yet, so even the most frugal of us can start a collection. 

Art promotes growth and healing.

Cancer Fighting Visualization, by William Pierce
“When I was being treated for leukemia, one of the nurses recommended that I visualize the chemo attacking my cancer cells; she said this would help. So…I imagined a Pacman-like creature cursing through my veins devouring leukemia cells…This sculpture symbolizes that visualization. I’ve been in remission for over 20 years, so my story has a happy ending.”

Fine art impacts not only our physical environment, but our mental and emotional environments as well. Most of the collectors I’ve spoken with have explained that they could spend hours with a certain piece, losing themselves in the color and movement or sympathetically experiencing the story behind the work.

As research exploring the effects of art-viewing on the brain gains popularity, scientists are finding that engaging with art has the ability to promote healing and increase feelings of well-being. A scientist from one such study comments that “experiencing awe can give us a sense of hope and provide a feeling of fulfillment.” Generally, a great work of art helps you uncover something about yourself or reveals a hidden truth about the world, and that is a priceless experience.

You’re helping archive and preserve our cultural history

Remember Herb and Dorothy? Well, in 2008 they donated their collection to the National Gallery of Art, thus preserving and making public some of the greatest cultural works of contemporary American art. Believe it or not, that could be you or me one day. Especially for those of us collecting a lot of work by emerging artists, we should take pride in knowing that we’re protecting a precious piece of our culture in a unique time. That alone makes it worth it.

The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: 50 Works for 50 States
The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: 50 Works for 50 States

We hope this article helped shed some light on the more meaningful reasons for art collecting and possibly helped you feel more confident in your own collection or ability to start one. As artists and passionate supporters of the arts in all their magnificent forms, we also hope we’ve inspired you to do a little digging and save up for that next masterpiece.