Serious collectors


Dear Artist,

A subscriber asked some tough questions: “You often use the term ‘serious collectors.’ 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?”


“Portrait of Ambroise Vollard” ca.1901
painting by
Édouard Vouillard (1868-1940)

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 honour this instinct. Collectors seldom congregate. Throughout history there have never been quite enough of them to go around.


“Portrait of Ambroise Vollard” 1899
oil painting by
Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)

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.


“Portrait of Ambroise Vollard” 1904-5
oil painting by
Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)

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)

This letter was originally published as “Serious collectors” on January 3, 2003.

Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde (Metropolitan Museum of Art)


The audio letters are now ready to give as a gift!
The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are now available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“The Arts Council of England, in a 1998 report on 11 countries, found that Germany spent $85 per capita on the arts. The United States spent a shocking $6. And Canada, in its stubborn balance, spent $46… It’s the Canadian way to be halfway between the Old and New worlds.” (Michael Audain)



  1. This message “We artists are blessed with their passion” made my day. I am a collector. Collecting is an addiction and I am an addict

    • I am happy to get to know a serious collector such as yourself. I am an Abstract artist working in Acrylics.. Would love to showcase some of my paintings for your perusal. Please let me know. My new website will be ready in a couple of weeks.
      Thank you

    • Hi Sal, How could I not reply? As a serious painter, I’d like to invite you to visit my website, http://www.bonniemandoe.
      com. Life is a continually evolving puzzle; maybe you will find a piece you’ve never even dreamed of there. I update regularly so if you like my expressionist passion or my love of color, please consider signing up for my newsletter, where my collector’s keep up with the latest work. HAPPY 2018 my new friend and thanks for your love of art.

  2. One of the “perks” of being an artist is the “swap”. Can be a diplomatic nightmare when approached by someone whose work you don’t actually want to have, but , because I am always cash poor and painting rich, every now and again I find I can have something of someone elses and am happy to pay for it with one of mine. I LOVE the art I own. When I sell one I often succumb to the temptation to buy. Can’t help it. Can’t explain the joy but joy it is and I do appreciate that when someone buys one of mine, that they are most likely in a love relationship with this thing that I have made also. It is living with them and touches something in them that raises them up. Pretty cool.

    • In the late 1960s I gave up working for a pretty good salary to go home and paint. It was a gamble that I won and have had the benefit of winning ever since. What I found out early, somewhat to my surprise, and in reply to Catherine Barron, is that the money I got from an art patron had an entirely different aura. She got it right. For her same reasons, it was simply better value than the dollars on a paycheck.

  3. As soon as you let go of the monetary pull and focus on the creative process and getting busy creating something worthwhile the more chances someone will like it enough to buy it. One size does not fit all, one process does not please all. Once you try to create in order to sell you’ve lost it. Love the quote ‘You are taking part in a great, timeless crap-shoot’. There’s no accounting for taste.

  4. Once upon a time, I painted “for the market,” small works that could be carried under one arm. In a transformation, my paintings are now the largest I can produce and the passion in creating them has grown as well. Experimenting helps keep me bolder, energized and passionate about my work. I have a solo show at the Roene B. DiFiore Center for Arts and Education from Feb. 1-28 with a reception on Feb. 17 from 5 to 7 p.m. The center is located at 307 North Main St., St. George, UT, and I am excited about this display.

  5. Hi Sal, How could I not reply? As a serious painter, I’d like to invite you to visit my website, http://www.bonniemandoe.
    com. Life is a continually evolving puzzle; maybe you will find a piece you’ve never even dreamed of there. I update regularly so if you like my expressionist passion or my love of color, please consider signing up for my newsletter, where my collectors keep up with the latest work. HAPPY 2018 my new friend and thanks for your love of art.

    • I am 75 years old. I always wanted to paint, but my father told me that I will no leave from those money so I studied medicine. In my 68 years I started to paint. I am slowly improving. But in the past I and my husband loved aft. We started to collect, it happened to be a passion. We liked modern art. When we bough 3 pictures in one year we made a decision only one on Christmas. I have nice collection now and I sold two for nice money . So I am cashing my investment. Recently my nephew asked me. How did you know auntie that these people will be famous? I think we both have a good taste.

  6. On more than one occasion a buyer has said to me, ‘I have your painting hanging in my bedroom. It’s the first thing I see every morning and the last thing I see at night and I love it.’ Isn’t that wonderful? Money is always welcome but there’s nothing to compare with that.

  7. Thank you for this article – Sara, would you mind if I commented about this post on my blog and credited it to The Painter’s Keys? My little blog is just a work of love for me, not widely read – but I love to put good info on it at times. It is

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Featured Workshop

Darla Bostick’s 11th Ghost Ranch Art Workshop/Retreat
June 4, 2018 to June 10, 2018

2017-darla-hikeGhost RanchNew Mexico, Darla Bostick, (June and October) workshops


Relax, enjoy, create!


Photography/watercolors/acrylics/mixed media. Group activity room (floor to ceiling vista). Ghost Ranch Lodging/meals provided. See why Georgia O’Keeffe loved Ghost Ranch. Each workshop/retreat is different. The June workshop leans heavier on all kinds of materials –textiles and dye, printing, painting, pouring and more! The October workshop combines the media of photography, watercolor, ink, acrylic and more — using watercolor paper, clayboard, etc!


Daily demos, slide presentations, door prizes and optional happy hour. The website shows how I work from Ghost Ranch scenes to finished paintings.

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I’m a contemporary painter who loves to travel the world over finding pictures to paint, and capture on photo…check out my website and travel with me on my blog “The Traveling Artist Blog.”


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