Collecting an Artistic Legacy
By Shantay Robinson
“Becoming a champion for the artists you find interesting is a great way to ensure your investment grows with time.”
Collecting art can start with the decorating of a new home but turn out to be a passion. Artists create art out of a need to communicate a message, but if the artwork does not find a home, then the art is missing that much needed communication. The relationship between artist and collector is vital for the existence of the art world. While going to a gallery opening is a good time, as one views art, drink wine, and socialize, galleries are businesses that survive on the patronage of collectors. Like with most things worth understanding, there is a learning curve for collecting art. But if the would-be collector stays open to learning, he can amass a collection representative of his taste that can accrue in value over time.
In 2003, Patric McCoy, Carol J. Briggs, Joan Crisler, and Daniel T. Parker formed a nonprofit based in Chicago for individuals interested in collecting art. “Diasporal Rhythms seeks to build a passionate group of collectors engaged in actively collecting visual art created by contemporary artists of the African Diaspora as well as to expand the appreciation of those artists’ work.” The group hosts studio visits, seminars, workshops, and art show previews for collectors. McCoy recognizes that the term collector is a word loaded with expectations that the collector is rich, that art is expensive, and that you have an encyclopedic knowledge about art. But he calls these notions myths.
In order to collect art, one does not have to be an expert. While understanding a bit about art does help to make the best choices, collecting artworks that speak to you personally is a great way to get started. In “Getting Started: Collecting Memories and African American Art,” an article for The International Review of African American Art, Halima Taha, suggests that would-be collectors “spend time learning everything you possibly can about art…familiarize themselves with art terms, media, and techniques…and focus on a medium or period for specialization.” Taha advises that would-be collectors learn from investment mistakes and have the courage to purchase at the right time.
Two of African American art’s most famous collectors amassed large enough collections and established reputations as important patrons of African American art to create museum collections in their honor. Dr. Walter O. Evans who grew up in the 1940s was not allowed to attend art museums, but after becoming a medical doctor, he started collecting art in the 1970s. His collection spans more than 150 years and some of the works can be viewed at Savannah College of Art and Design’s Walter O. Evans Collection of African American Art. Dr. Otis Thrash Hammonds was an Atlanta physician. His home in the city’s West End and 250 of his artworks were acquired by the Fulton County Board of Commissions after his death in 1985. The residence was converted into the Hammonds House Museum.
Collecting art can be a very valuable experience monetarily as well as morally. An understanding that you are preserving culture is rewarding. Perhaps collecting hundreds of artworks is not feasible or desirable for the would-be collector, but smartly collecting a few artworks can allow for a legacy within families that develops throughout generations. Becoming a champion for the artists you find interesting is a great way to ensure your investment grows with time. Collecting art can result in a legacy of valuable artworks when purchasing works that reflect the times, make important statements about culture, and are from artists who have proven to be successful. Being concerned with the monetary growth of one’s collection may not be interesting to everyone and it doesn’t have to be a major investment. Collecting art that speaks to the collector’s taste and looks good in the collector’s home might be all that’s needed to satisfy one’s artistic cravings. And that’s enough.
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Shantay Robinson participated in Burnaway’s Art Writers Mentorship Program, Duke University’s The New New South Editorial Fellowship, and CUE Art Foundation’s Art Critic Mentoring Program. She has written for Burnaway, ArtsATL, ARTS.BLACK, AFROPUNK, Number, Inc. and Washington City Paper. While receiving an MFA in Writing from Savannah College of Art and Design, she served as a docent at the High Museum of Art. She is currently working on a PhD in Writing and Rhetoric at George Mason University.
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