Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Collecting Art - Mistaking One Thing for Another

In the past year, there has been a lot of fervor over a bird known as the Ivory Billed Woodpecker. This once thought-to-be-extinct bird, North America's largest woodpecker, as was reported by National Public Radio's Morning Edition, was declared to be alive and well in a swamp in eastern Arkansas known as the Big Woods because of seven confirmed sightings. Not much else has been reported since last April, and one wonders if the scientists are purposely staying low key to protect the endangered bird, or if the whole thing was an embarrassing mistake.
An avid bird watcher, I am familiar with the Pileated Woodpecker, which is very similar in size and markings to the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, and quite often mistaken for the perhaps extinct bird. A pair of these majestic, yet secretive birds recently appeared not ten feet away from where I stood. It was exhilarating, but I knew enough to know that these birds were not to be mistaken for the legendary "Lord God Bird," a moniker for the Ivory Billed because supposedly that's what you said when you saw the massive bird. Those new to collecting art are often worried about making beginner's mistakes, such as mistaking one thing for another, and thus getting ripped off. But unless you are jumping into collecting the works of the Old Masters, there's very little you can do wrong if you follow your own heart. People buy art for different reasons. I once read an article about good investments, and the author quoted statistics that said you would have done seven times better had you invested in Barbie Dolls than if you had invested in the stock market of a set period of time. I know, I know.... art can be an excellent investment, but those people that bought Barbie Dolls instead of stocks were following their passion and enjoying every minute of it. Collecting art should be the same. It was like when I saw that beautiful pair of woodpeckers. My heart raced, but I didn't jump up out of my chair and rush to call the Audubon society before I pulled out my Peterson's Field Guide to Birds and verify my identification. I was happy in the revelation that the birds were beautiful and satisfied with the sighting. It wasn't necessary to me that I had seen a pair of Pileateds instead of the Ivory Bill, because what I did see was extraordinary sighting on its own, and I was satisfied with what I had. When buying art, first of all ask yourself the obvious question. Do you like the art? If your answer is yes, then the most important question has been answered. Some artists are better than others, some are better at self-promotion, but when it boils down to it, art is subjective. If you like an artist's work and a lot of other people do to, and that artist becomes well known, then you do have a better chance for selling your art at a higher price than what you paid for it. However, when you purchase you need to also ask yourself. Am I buying this as an investment, or do I want to hang it on my living room wall, or both? The more an artist exhibits in galleries and museums, the more likely that artist is going to become well-known and thus collectible. And if that same artist dies young, or for some reason stops producing, then the value of that artist's work can even skyrocket if that's a risk you are willing to take. If you're looking to put your money into a sound investment, we recommend you develop a relationship with a financial advisor who doesn't recommend art collecting as some of them now do. If you want to enjoy life, and have art that enhances your life, then we say buy what you like and enjoy. An excellent source of information on collecting art is "Collecting the New : Museums and Contemporary Art" by Bruce Altshuler. Do you have a favorite book on collecting art? We'd like to hear from you.

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