Art Neighbors Worlds Apart

I have a neighbor, whose father warehouses art here in Atlanta.  It's a ginormous warehouse with more paintings, sculptures, and quilts than many established museums have in their entire permanent collections.  I saw a video of it online about a year ago, and I've been disturbed by this tomb for art ever since.

When I first saw it, I was in a state of shock for about 9 days.  If this sounds dramatic, ask yourself, as I asked myself, how would you feel if your life's work was locked up and shut away from the world.  Now ask yourself what if your life's work's chief purpose was the communication of feelings, thoughts, experiences, and ideas, and they were all held captive like gold in a vault while the undertaker went about setting the spot price of metals every day.

I thought about what it would be like for someone to offer me a large sum of money for all my current inventory of artwork.  After thoughts of paying off credit cards, working in a lot more gold (which frankly, I've always thought would look too dense for the airiness of most of my metalwork), and buying my son whatever he wants, I am confronted with the inevitable potential sense of loss and feeling ripped off.

Yes, I am a smart business woman, who knows far better than to torture her thumbs (wrists, shoulders, neck, and back) for 50 cents an hour.  I use a pricing formula to determine the price of my work, based on materials and time - seemingly endless amounts of time.  

I know the value of my work and treat it accordingly, still, if what's in my studio and the galleries that rep me were added up, what would sound like a lot of money to me, in the grand scheme is sadly relative to my middle class upbringing and early struggling artist mentality.  The bigger question is whether I would still have all it takes to make more art.

So if someone bought up all the unschooled paintings in a folk artist's booth or all theirs and their grandmother's quilts, could the makers ever really be sufficiently compensated?  Is art just like baseball cards to be collected and hoarded until the asking price can go sky high?  

At the 2010 SNAG conference Professional Development Seminar Harriete Estel Berman said that she didn't consider a work of art to be finished until it was bought and in the hands of the collector.  Many other artists agreed with this idea, and while I go back and forth about it, certainly there is a unique sense of completion that comes with knowing a piece has found a home.

I sometimes think of particularly meaningful or technically challenging pieces I've created and wondered where they are in the world.  Art they loved and cherished?  Do they add meaning and beauty to someone's day when held, beheld, or worn?  

Much of my work hangs on walls, but the vast majority is meant to be worn, and jewelry, long regarded as treasure, is often hidden away in a box or a vault.  I have total faith, however, in more than 35,000 years of humans' interaction with adornment and shiny things that ritually causes most people to liberate said objects on a regular basis from their temporary coffins.  Keeping things safe or free from tarnish, time, and potential thieves is not the same as hoarding. 

Ok, so yes, art has a long history of being a commodity and a way to show wealth, but entombed en masse while the owner is alive?  Not so often.  There have been more than a few folks, who thought they could take it with them after death.  Fortunately, there have been at least as many, who've spent their lives bringing art back to the living.

There are hoarders, collectors who buy on the black market, and museums with basement holdings that will always far outweigh their limited rotating display space. Perhaps the difference is that rarely does one person determine if and when such a huge volume of work will be paraded before the unwashed masses in a rigidly controlling manner.

In the West there has been a decades long debate in art about who and what determine that something is Art.  (And no one seems to love the bestowal or denial of a capital A in the word more than Atlantans do.)  Some say it's the artist, some say the critic, some say the discerning collector.  I say 3 magic words:  intent, life, and time.

1 comment:

Mt. Baldy Glassworks said...

You have really gotten me thinking. I think a piece of my art is done when I am happy and satisfied with it. So, in that sense it has found a home .... in my heart. I love selling my work, but there are times it is bittersweet as I hand it off. Other times, the joy of knowing someone else loves what I do enough to pay for it is enough to make me feel a little high! However, a warehouse full of art is disturbing. Oh, to find the key and go exploring .....