Collecting Black Art
There is little question about the central place of art in our lives and of its importance
to our well-being. Civilizations throughout the ages have venerated art whether for its form, its function or its spiritual significance.
Today we are faced with a breathtaking array of artistic expression - from literal, realistic renderings, to abstraction; from the legacies of early art movements to the highly personal and individualistic styles, subjects and techniques of contemporary and cutting edge artists. A feast, and also quite a job for the viewer. Knowing about art now seems to be a skill requiring specially gained expertise, or at least a great deal of exposure. And if we add to this diversity of artistic expression, the existence of an organized “art market”, and the complexities of the modern marketplace, we can see why buying and collecting art can often be a daunting task.
The idea that collecting art is an activity reserved for the wealthy is just not true
today. Every one of us can participate in the pleasure, the beauty, the stimulation, the inspiration, and even the profit of viewing, buying and collecting art. And for many of us, there is so much more to gain from mining the
rich depths of an artistic tradition that has for so long been overlooked and undervalued - the art of Black America and the African diaspora.
Starting a Collection
So, how does one become an art collector? And how does one develop the eye and the skills for collecting art? The process starts with an attitude and approach: collecting art requires first and foremost an open and curious mind, and a bit of an adventurous spirit. With that attitude, the journey can be very enjoyable, and even addictive.
If your approach to collecting is primarily for investment, this strategy can be a risky one, though, and the ability to discern what is good and enduring art and what is not, becomes critical, since, generally speaking, the popularity of an artist has very little to do with current real value or future worth of work by that artist. Catchy, commercial and easily accessible works are generally not very collectible. Of greater importance in evaluating contemporary art is the originality, intelligence and the artist’s emphasis on communicating an idea. If your preconceptions or unfamiliarity with contemporary art are hard to get around, a well-informed art dealer or gallery can be useful as a filter and ally. Or just try to focus on what the artist is trying to communicate and how well he or she does it.
WHAT IS A COLLECTION
Collecting Original Prints
(This section is reprinted from “A Guide to the Collecting and Care of Original Prints”, a publication of the Print Council of America.)
How should a beginner proceed to collect? It is a question often asked. The voice of
experience would probably answer as follows: It is best to adopt an experimental attitude. Start with something that appeals to you for any reason whatever, as, for instance, because you have read about it or seen it at a
friend’s house. Look at it, study it, and learn what you can about it and the artist who made it. Then go on to buy others in the same way. Have the courage of your own taste. You will make mistakes – everyone does
at first – but mistakes are expendable. Only by daring to make mistakes will you learn from your collecting. You will find that some prints, like old friends, wear well, whereas in others the emotive potential is soon
exhausted. The latter will become the mistake for you, and can be eliminated.
- “A Guide to the Collecting and Care of Original Prints”
The emotional connection that you make with a work of art is the first signal you should
heed. Although we are often influenced by notions of appreciation and status when we make our art buying decisions, the overriding factor should be because we like it.
REPUTATION OF THE ARTIST An artist with an established career
and who may be in major museums would, of course, be eminently collectible. Indeed there are many distinguished collections comprised of masterworks by important African American Artists. Some of the notable ones are the Hewitt
Collection, The Paul R. Jones Collection, the Walter O. Evans Collection and the Harriet and Harmon Kelley Collection.
AUTHENTICITY No one wants to buy a fake. Know your source if you are buying original art from anyone other than the artist. A reputable dealer will know the work he or she sells, and often has the information to authenticate works by popular artists.
QUALITY Generally buy the best you can afford. The most effective way to develop an eye for quality is to look at art. If you are not skilled at assessing the aesthetic value of a work of art, rely on an experienced dealer. After all, who looks at more art than an experienced dealer?
RARITY Although there are exceptions, rarity tends to enhance value. Here again, you may have to rely for guidance on a professional art dealer who tracks the market and who has some knowledge of the availability of works on the market. This is a less relevant concern if the artist is younger and still producing work.
CONDITION The condition of a work is important. As far as is practical, look for defects or damage that would detract from the value of a work. The errant splash of paint, occasional smudge of pastel, or certain other seeming flaws, deliberately or accidentally done by the artist, on an original work do not necessarily detract from the value. Remember artists are not unduly preoccupied with neatness when they are creating.
PROVENANCE While this issue is not of great relevance to most beginning collectors, the issue of provenance (who has owned the work and where it has been) can influence the value of a work of art. If a work has been in prominent collections or has been included in significant exhibitions, it adds to the pedigree of the work. Bear in mind that most contemporary work will not have yet established a provenance.
VALUE The idea of art as an investment is popularly held by some and even promoted by many dealers. This approach is not always a fruitful one. While some artists’ work has appreciated considerably over time, there is no safe way to predict future gains, and collectors should be wary of any such promises. Besides, collections built purely with profit in mind tend to be mediocre collections. It is collections formed with passion and intelligence that stand the test of time, both aesthetically and monetarily.
Read more about collecting original prints and printmaking techniques
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