Collecting Art

"I had a large collection of various artists, but there were no Picassos. Friends told me that I ought to buy at least one of his works, if only for the sake of completeness, but I continued to demur. Somehow, however, they managed to persuade me, especially since someone was selling one of Picasso's paintings cheaply. When I brought it back to Moscow, for a long time I did not hang it, because I realized that there was nothing to hang it alongside in my gallery: It was at odds with everything and brought a harsh note of dissonance to the whole collection..."

These are words from Sergei Schuchkin, a wealthy member of the merchant class from Moscow in the late 19th and early 20th century who helped create a home in Russia for one of the most comprehensive collections of 19th century French Art in the world. Schuchkin was an early collector of the Impressionists and he bought the works of Monet, Degas, Sisley, Gauguin and many other recognizable names while the artists were living. The collection he amassed was his pride and joy, was a catalog of his life and an extension of his personality. He believed it was his civic duty to bring the greatest works of human culture in the world being made at that time to his homeland. 78 years after his death, he is not known for the fortune he amassed, nor the business deals he orchestrated. He is known for the collection he spent his life creating.

You see, with great pieces of art, the life of the painting doesn't end after the completion of the piece. The painting of a painting is only its adolescence. Its life must continue after it passes from the hands of the artist into the world. The piece goes on and builds relationships with collectors, creating stories between the art and the people who own it. These people, who have created life around the works, pass these pieces of art to museums and the public in the form of history. They become pages in the social catalogue.

Schuchkin continues:

"...Eventually, I hung it not far from the entrance, in a darkened corridor, where there were no other paintings. I had to walk along this dark corridor every day to get to the dining room for lunch. And as I walked past the painting, I would sometimes involuntarily glance at it. After a time, it became a habit and I started to unconsciously to look at it on my way past every day. A month passed and I began to realize that if I had not looked at the painting, I wasn't quite myself at the lunch table - something was missing. Then I began to look at it for longer and I got a feeling exactly as if I had a piece of broken glass in my mouth. And the same time I found myself looking at it, not just on my way to lunch, but at other times too..."

Wonderful paintings are sensory experiences. To look at a painting (in person) is an experience that is not understood intellectually, but rather, emotionally. Living with art that is aesthetically rooted is to experience something organic; an object that will mature. It is a dialogue. One day you may see red and blue and yellow, another day sadness and angst. Then again, the next time you see it, you may be relieved and filled with calm. The work changes with the watcher and the collector seeks this relationship with their work. The work they are drawn to becomes a record of their life, of their feelings and of their experience. Where they place it, what other work they group it with, the arrangement on the wall, all become expressions of the collector themselves. The artwork gains a new form of expression through the relationship with its collector and their relationships with artists and the world, adding history that enlivens the piece.

Schuchkin continues:

"Then one day I was horrified because I felt the picture - despite the fact that it had no subject - there was a core of iron, an implacable strength. I was horrified because suddenly all the other pictures in my gallery seemed to be lacking in this core, to be made simply of cotton-wood and, - worst of all - I no longer wanted to see them. They had lost all interest and meaning for me. I bought a second Picasso. I already felt I could not do without him. I bought another...and eventually he possessed me and I began to buy picture after picture and would not look at any other artist. So it was that the gallery received 51 pictures by Picasso, far more then any other artists."

For the collector, the development of a collection is an experience of self actualization. Each piece and the context of its purchase is a record or a memory. It is like looking at old photographs. "isn't it funny that I was into this when I bought this piece?", "look at how dark my tastes were when I bought these works," "what was I going through then?" The year Sergei Schuchkin bought his first Picasso painting was the year that his wife and both his sons passed away. The lovely Pastels and images of French life were no longer suitable, he craved the "core of iron." The experience of owning original artwork is a highly personal endeavor and it is no surprise that those who collect take such pride in the works.

Preobrazhensky added about Schuchkin:


"When he spoke of Picasso, Shchukin did not say that he admired him more than an other, or that Picasso was the best of all, no, he said that Picasso possessed him, just as if he were hypnotised or under a spell."

This is an age where material goods, gadgets, etc fly in and out of our hands, are flushed through our possession. Few objects, if any, that we utilize and experience on a day to day basis carry sentimental weight and spiritual value. Why not welcome more of that experience into our lives? Own something that not only reflects your personality at a specific point in time, but, that will grow with you. Something whose meaning will be in dialogue with the experiences of your life.

It just starts with a little commitment that will grow into a large investment. Putting away $10 to $20 dollars per month and buying 1 to 2 pieces a year. More if you are up to it, but even a small amount can net something that you appreciate and enjoy. One doesn't need to look in Galleries to find good art and connects to you personally. I suggest the burgeoning collector start with something as simple as a hand made coffee mug. A piece of art that they will use every day. Once that seed of enjoyment has taken root, it is not hard to anticipate the next piece. Keep an eye out at restaurants and cafes. Find the work on the wall that you enjoy. Contact the artists, offer what you can afford or see if they have other options. Collecting is about relationships, both with the artists and with the piece. I encourage you all to start with at least one piece of something and see where it leads.

There are some great resources and marketplaces online of course as well.

www.etsy.com is a wonderful place to start finding your morning mug. Here is a recommendation to start looking, the artist Katie Marks. A friend of mine from high school.

Also check this place Ziibra. Its a cool new idea that connects art and people. I have 2 subscriptions myself.

Look around when you are out and about. There may be something there. Something made by hand.

The point is, save some money, find something you enjoy and start collecting. There is a whole lifetime to acquire objects which have no meaning. Intersperse something spiritual among them. An art collection is organic and needs time to grow. It cannot be rushed and the work that appeals to you now you may never feel connected to again.

Good Art is the mirror surface of a river and like Heraclitus once wrote, "you could not twice step into the same river."

*Image is a picture from Schuchkin's Picasso Gallery in his home. The writings from Schuchkin follow correctly from section to section and are not edited or cropped.

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