Serious collectors


Dear Artist,

Yesterday, Annette Waterbeek asked some tough questions: “You often use the term ‘serious collectors,'” she wrote. “What kind of person is this? How do they choose who to collect and who not to collect? Do they collect only artists that the marketers have made into a hot item? How large is the demographic? Where do they congregate? What do they like? What do they not like? How does one capture this market? As an artist is there more to this than just putting out good work?”

In my experience, collectors come in all shapes and sizes. Some are turned on by mystery and challenge, others by art that makes them feel comfortable. Investment, decoration, fashion, escape and pure impulse are factors in collectorship, but you have to know that collectors may respond to a variety of motivations that are often beyond an artist’s calculation.

Collectors may take the advice of someone, but the best ones make up their own minds. They are often compulsive, acquisitive and upwardly mobile. In a free society, there’s nothing wrong with that. Collectors may admire craft and technique precisely because it is beyond their own reach. The best ones honor this instinct. Collectors seldom congregate. Throughout history there have never been quite enough of them to go around.

Serious collectors have art in their closets. Serious collectors think they see value better than others. Thankfully, the value they see is arbitrary and relative. They think art has magic. They appreciate the freedom to choose. They may have some sort of trigger mechanism between their cerebrum and their cerebellum that causes them at times to spend with abandon. We artists are blessed with their passion.

On this sunny Cuban shore, at the turn of the year, I’m looking out over an ocean. Where the waves meet the sand, small children are collecting small shells. “Dulce,” cries one of them — the Spanish word for “pleasing.” Treasure. Delight. Joy. From this place people lose their lives trying to get to something they think is better. It’s over there. But it’s also right in here.

Best regards,


PS: “Ruthless, greedy, tyrannical, disreputable — yet they have one principle worth all the rest, the principle of delight.” (Kenneth Clark on collectors)

Esoterica: Dream your dreams. Hone your work. Aim for quality. Take your chances. When all else fails learn to be happy in your work. You are taking part in a great, timeless crap-shoot. “If there were dreams to sell, what would you buy?” (Thomas Lovell Beddoes)

The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thanks for writing.


Serious collectors
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA


painting by Eleanor Blair

The serious collectors I know have a few things in common. Their purpose is focused on the art. They are not looking for a decorative item, or a good investment. There is some aspect of the work itself that has hooked them; subject, scale, artist, whatever. They may not spend a lot of money, but they will spend as much as they possibly can, sometimes arranging to make small monthly payments to acquire an especially treasured painting that is more than they can afford all at once. When they have fallen in love with a particular artist’s work, they will come to every show whether they can afford a painting or not. They will take their time and look carefully and with great pleasure. Their capacity to enjoy art is deep. They are drawn to what they love.


Collecting art as an investment
by Monika Dery, Hinton, AB, Canada


painting by Monika Dery

The only reason collectors have art in their closets is because they’re buying art for investment (i.e. in place of buying stock on the market) in order to appreciate the money they’ve spent — in my mind, not to appreciate art.

We have friends here who have a “very valuable” Dali wrapped in blankets under their bed. They proudly showed it to us and it’s certainly not a painting that anyone would hang on the living room wall. There’s a cross, a skull, a “dying world” sky and several other things I can’t remember. They’re hanging onto it till they either move into a condo where there won’t be room to store large, unlovely paintings – or until they run out of RRSPs and need the cash. The rest of their artwork is not Dali, but the wife’s watercolours… which nobody else is willing to buy (or maybe she’s so attached to them that she can’t bear to part with them, I don’t know them that well.)

Also, I find it very sad that there are no “patrons of the art” anymore. Those traditionally wealthy people who could afford to collect art and help promote artists that they feel are worthy of their support. It seems to me that in the late 18th and early 19th century there were many of these people, but now the “landed gentry” have fallen on hard times themselves with not enough money to maintain their estates, never mind support starving artists.

I find I spend as much time on preparing and promoting my artwork throughout the country as I do on the actual painting, and that is very frustrating. But it is paying off and I’m selling lots of paintings… but I’d rather be painting… Do you know of any good agents out there? There was an agent/promoter here a few years ago who took dozens of artists for a ride by disappearing into thin air with a store full of paintings and money owing.


Collecting for the love of art
by Jocelyn Goodman

The only thing I know for sure about collectors is that if they are collecting only in the hope that the value will go up and sometimes they are sadly disappointed. I bought a Georgia Jarvis because I loved it. It is called “Pumphill Kids.” Georgia had just died a young woman and she was great at whimsical art; after she died, her art was copied in so called limited editions and flogged by the thousands and now my painting is not worth 10% of what we paid for it, so I am happy that I love the painting and not that I collected it at the time because she was the hottest artist in Calgary.


A year of change
by Hayley Gibson

This year a lot of things are going to be changing for me: a move to a big city I don’t know, the death of a loved one, new jobs, friends, activities and adventures. I want to make sure that I keep following my dreams the way I have tried to do so far in my life. To be brave and to not be afraid or intimidated by anyone or anything. To focus on creativity and keeping the creative spark alive. To be a better listener and a better friend to everyone I care about. I also resolve to get a tattoo on the bottom of my foot before the year is out! This will be a good year.


Four resolutions
by Margaret Bonneau

I came up with 4 (resolutions) that I have a chance of keeping. 1. Carry a small sketch pad everywhere (you never know…) 2. Each week begin a fresh painting from the sketches 3. Attend two workshops that will push my limits 4. Complete 30 paintings and launch a show. Pay off my visa bill for framing the 30 completed paintings; file the 365 sketches & take a vacation, all by year-end. I’d feel pretty good if I accomplish this (do resolutions really help? We’ll see.)


Original digital prints acceptable
by Barbara Mason


painting by Barbara Mason

I read with interest Raymond St Arnauds reply to the digital print explosion and wanted to let him know that the Northwest Print Council, of which he would be an eligible member, accepts original digital prints as original prints. This was a huge step for us, but we see the future. We do demand the work not be a reproduction of another media in any way and would hope the editions would be limited to a reasonable number. Otherwise, we say, “go for it.” So far we have not received amazing exciting great work… but I know it is out there. We do feel that it is a shame that University and art-school printmaking departments are closing and we write lots of letters trying to persuade institutions to reinstate these departments.


Art to bring the world together
by Moncy Barbour

We only have a short while to write our life. The only thing worse than not having what you want, is to have everything that you want. Do you remember the ambitions of your youth? I am glad that I have not everything I want in art. I need that ambition and motivation. Since life is so short I feel fear to risk the safety of safe art. How can I carry painting where it has not been before? How can I find the courage to spend my remaining days on a wild goose hunt? And if I hunt will I make the kill? I have been searching for the golden egg. I think that I will just keep quiet and only work in my studio. Somewhere I have to find the en plein air in my mind. I paint not only for myself but for one tired soul to stop and look to have for a moment a break. All the arts are important to me. They are a product of civilization from the beginning and they can keep us. Maybe art can bring the world together in a common word of Peace. We all can speak that word. Art is not just a labor to me. I hope my wife and I can get to NYC this spring. I am happy there as beside a still pond.


Inheritance tax
by Karen Jacobs


painting by Karen Jacobs

You have probably covered this situation at some point so perhaps you can direct me to that discussion. I’m beginning to be concerned about inheritance tax on my paintings when I leave them behind. My inventory is large and my prices are respectable; about half of what I paint does sell, but that still leaves a lot to be dealt with by my three children.

What do you suggest? Are there precautions that should be taken? Just because I’ve sold some work doesn’t give the remaining the same value and they shouldn’t be taxed as such. Should I be sure to destroy things that don’t have a chance of selling in today’s price range? Older works from past series that have no market value compared to current work? The more I think about it, the more confused I become.


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