The Art Collector
In May, when I visited the Burchfield Penney Art Center’s Members Exhibit at Buffalo State College, I was certain I would be writing about the experience (Judy’s Journal 2012 August). While we were there, my husband and I saw “The Unseen Burchfields,” an exhibit of art and memorabilia from private collections. John and I usually go our separate ways in galleries, but he made sure I read the speech posted at the front. It was given by Charles Burchfield in April 1964.
Burchfield spoke about the relationship between artist and collector. His ideas turned out to be more meaningful to me today than in April 1964. I was getting ready for finals and graduation and waiting for a letter offering me a teaching position in the Buffalo Public Schools. While Burchfield was in Upton Gallery giving his speech, I was preoccupied and did not attend. Ironically, here I am, almost 50 years later, writing a blog about Burchfield’s speech.
I live on both sides of the equation (Judy’s Journal 2009 January, March). Making art and collecting it are as natural as breathing. Both require passion. And funds. I see a piece of art and, if my budget allows, I buy it. When we get it home, I find a special joy in placing it, looking at it and taking care of it. I even have a special paint brush to dust artwork.
In many cases, John and I have met the artists whose work we collect. Those conversations are crystal clear memories. I can tell exactly when I knew I could not live without each piece of art. With a passionate embrace, we bring each treasure home. To date, we have about 70 pieces of art by other artists. Our small home is bursting with art.
I also stand on the other side of the equation facing the collector. It goes without saying: whether or not I actually meet a collector, my gratitude knows no bounds. That may sound dramatic, but I never assume I will sell any work. In fact, I am always shocked when someone else loves my work as much as I do.
Years ago, at the reception for one of my first exhibits, a person approached me and said, “I would like to buy…” My response: “Are you sure?” Standing next to me was my artist/friend, who waited until the sale was completed and “the collector” left. He turned to me and said, quietly but firmly, “Don’t you EVER do that again!!!” A stern lecture about the importance of self-confidence followed.
Burchfield wrote that someone buying your artwork allows you “to continue painting with some security. Worry over this prime essential keeps most artists from doing their best or doing it at all.” Would I be able to continue painting if I never sold another piece? Yes.
What do I do with money from selling art and writing? I end up spending every cent (and more) in materials and underwriting the costs involved in “being an artist.” My writing and painting are supported by my having been a teacher. I am privileged in many ways, because it allows me to paint and write what I need to express and not what someone else wants to see or hear. This fact leads me to make some very non-commercial work and have some unprofitable years.
Burchfield believed that “no matter how soundly established an artist may be to his own mind, he has the need from time to time of confirmation from the outside.” I like to talk with people about my art, but when someone decides that a particular piece is worth paying for, that creates a special bond. When a person buys a book of my poems, it feels great! But there are more copies available. My artwork is one-of-a-kind (and more expensive). Burchfield put it this way: “The warm interest and understanding (of what he is doing) on the part of his fellowman is a great satisfaction and an incentive to continue his explorations of the world of the spirit and imagination.”
Burchfield talked about a group I know very well: collectors who love your work, but lack the funds to buy it. He called them “collectors without portfolio-they collect an artist’s work by merely loving them, and telling the artist of their joy in his art.” I have had the pleasure of meeting these collectors often, and they make me glad to be an artist. Who wouldn’t want to have their work washed in admiration? The glow is golden, if not green.
The final collectors Burchfield discussed were those who buy because of a gut-level belief in the work. They do not buy as an investment, or because the artist is the hot new item, or because the critics have anointed her or him. According to Burchfield, these collectors are “highly venturesome…they may be right or they may be wrong; time alone can supply the answer, but they provide a most favorable climate for the pioneer artist, the one who is venturing into unknown land, which even if it turns out to be an artistic desert, is worth exploring.” Because my work lacks a single recognizable “style,” and continues to be “all over the place,” these are the collectors who support my art.
And I am eternally grateful.