RESPECT YOUR COLLECTORS Part 1

I keep forgetting I get to reprint my articles from the Fine Art Views” website!

Respect Your Collectors Part 1
by Luann Udell

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….” You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

Real art vs. reproductions?

I want art collectors who are like me—collectors who value the ‘real’ over the ‘famous’.

The last decade has been tough on fine artists and craftspeople. I listen to their conversations about how to stay afloat during financially challenging times.

Some offer smaller pieces as an incentive for sales, or discounts to buyers. Some offer giclees and other reprints of their work. Some don’t even sell their original artwork anymore. They’ve created a secondary market for their images as prints, calendars, mugs and stationery.

There are many ways for people to create the success they desire with their art. There’s no single right way or wrong way–everybody has to find their own way.

My intention for this next series of articles is simply to share my experiences as a collector. I hope it will help inform your individual decisions about which paths to take.

I did not grow up with ‘real art’. My parents had some lovely things, but they were all “decorator prints”, nicely framed but mass produced. (Yep, Van Gogh’s sunflowers hung right over our sofa….) We didn’t know any ‘real artists’—and we would have known, because they’d be missing an ear, right? I never saw anyone throw a pot. I grew up believing that ‘real art’ was what you went to museums for.

Then I went off to college and a more urban environment. There I met someone who was much older than I was and we became friends. The relationship gave me a much-needed window into the maturity and wisdom that might be available to me, too, someday.

One of these interesting windows involved the ‘real art’ thing. I was an art history major and my decorating scheme showed that. Noting my walls covered with posters and reprints of fine art and ancient art, my friend commented that for not much more money, I could have the real thing—real paintings, art and fine craft instead of the knock-offs and mass-produced stuff available in mail-order catalogs and the big-box stores.

“But I like Van Gogh and Chinese scroll paintings and Egyptian cat sculptures and stuff!” I exclaimed. “And I can’t afford the real thing.”

He challenged my assumptions about acquiring art. In the process, he changed my life.

“Real something is always better than reproductions of anything,” he said. “Anyone can buy a print of sunflowers by Van Gogh. Having real art is always better energy, even better than reprints of great art.”

I protested that collecting art on a working student’s budget was out of the question. But he had an answer for that, too.

He encouraged me to go to little art galleries in town and to visit local art shows. “You’ll find a lot of people just starting out,” he said. “Their work won’t cost too much—not much more than three or four of your ‘real art’ posters. Or you can buy something from a gallery on time payments. Or buy real prints—wood block, linoleum, photography, whatever. They’re affordable. Buy smaller works. Buy a little less, but always buy what you love, and you won’t go wrong.”

On my next visit to his home, he showed me his own art collection. He told me about each piece and why he loved it. He told me about the artists he’d met and what they had said about their work.

I was enchanted. And intrigued. I was determined to create an environment like his sophisticated home—a home full of not just real art objects, but real experiences with artists.

I took his advice to heart. Since then, the only reprint I’ve bought in forty years was a Backstreet Boys poster for my daughter. She’s so over them now, but I plan to use it to embarrass her in front of her friends in the years ahead.

My collection of artwork is neither precious nor pretentious. Not all of it is real ‘art’ either. But all of it is ‘real’. Even a poster I own, for a faculty art show at a small school New York City, is hand drawn and colored. I found it at an antique store for a few dollars. I love it.

My rules are simple. I have to like the work, or the artist, ideally both. Some items I had to pay on for months, even years. But I’ve never regretted my purchases. In fact, I’ve grown to love and appreciate them more as time goes by.

I still remember my early purchases—a handmade leather purse; an Inuit soapstone sculpture; linoleum block prints; old paintings found in second-hand stores and at yard sales. I remember the excitement of making the payments for a coveted object, and planning for the perfect spot in my apartment to display it.

I still point out to people the backwards signature on two block prints—the artist, a professor of engineering at the university, was so naïve, he hadn’t reversed the letters in his signature. The odd little error makes his early work even more precious to me.

I am still grateful to my old friend for his excellent advice and insight. My life is richer for it. Thank you Ron, wherever you are!

I think, in some way, his gentle encouragement to ‘collect real’ also helped me eventually ‘be real’. A real artist, that is. When I get discouraged about my work, or get lost comparing myself to other, more talented artists, I remember his words. The work of my hands is my own unique, individual vision. Many people won’t care. But some people will cherish it for that. Those people are my collectors.

As my work has grown in stature and in price, I try to remember myself in those early years. When someone says they can’t afford my work, I suggest several ways they can.

I offer a layaway plan. I make work in a range of price points. Sometimes I trade or swap for their services, or their artwork.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But over the years, I’ve found that most people who really want my work, find some way to have it.

And that means everything to me.

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4 Comments

Filed under art, craft

4 responses to “RESPECT YOUR COLLECTORS Part 1

  1. Thanks, Luann, for another wonderful thought on doing what you love and what you do best. In these times, it is very difficult to be true to your own work and not cut corners to make that dollar. I find that if I do what I love, it will sell…..eventually. And I am proud to be in my booth with my work.
    Happy Holidays,
    Sandy White
    quillingbysandrawhite.com

  2. Fascinating. I started collecting when I was 12–my first piece was a small print paid for with a summer of lawnmowing. I paid on time for art as a reporter, or traded my jewelry for artists’ work (I still have a painting, now in the living room, that everyone calls “Cynthia’s 12-necklace watercolor”). Later on I got so I could afford more expensive work….but to this day those early, painfully acquired pieces are still my favorites. The story of the work, and how I found it, are almost as important as the work itself.

  3. I, too, remember my first trade………1 little ceramic pieces…a cat and a dog. And it broke my heart when the cat broke………but I still have it. I guess it will always have a place in my heart………….along with all the other pieces I have traded for over the years. Especially the ones I keep for myself…

  4. Thanks for this insight Luann – it’s helping me to see how to connect to my collectors better. ;)

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