I am writing a different kind of post today. I generally try to write practical and helpful posts around the business of art. I love to give tips that might help artists and galleries be just a little more successful. Today though, I want to step back from the business and write a short love note to art itself. I know that sounds a bit cheesy, but I’ve had occasion recently to think a little bit about my relationship to art, and I feel it is important to share a few of my thoughts. Being in the business, I sometimes find myself taking the art itself for granted, thinking of it all in terms of dollars and cents. It’s good to pause now and again to remind myself what it’s all about.
I love art. I could probably equally say, “I live art.” I spend every day of my life thinking about art, working with art, and communicating with artists and art lovers. Other than a brief stint moving furniture as a teenager, I’ve spent every working day of my life in the art industry.
Growing up with an artist father, my earliest memory is not a sight or a sound, it’s a smell – the smell of oil paint. I remember watching my dad hard at work in the studio and seeing landscapes, still-lifes, and florals magically taking shape and form on his easel. I marveled (and still do) at his ability to transform a canvas and paint it into a window of the world.
As a teenager, I went to work at Legacy Gallery, the Scottsdale, AZ gallery where my father was showing his work. There, I started to learn the business. In the beginning, I was working in the background doing the shipping and receiving, cleaning, installing artwork, but what an eye-opening experience it was to see art coming into the gallery and then seeing collectors fall in love with it and buy it.
My true love for art came in my early twenties, however, and I think I can even point to the exact moment when my passion for art began. I was working in the Jackson Hole location of Legacy Gallery when the artist Harry Jackson called. It was a slow day in the gallery, before the summer season had begun, and I happened to pick up the phone. I ended up having an hour-long conversation with Jackson, and it’s a conversation that changed my life.
Jackson was, at the time, a cantankerous old artist creating western sculpture from his studio in Cody, Wyoming. If you don’t know Jackson’s work, that will give you the wrong impression of him. While Jackson was creating Western artwork, he was doing so with the sensibilities of an artist who had come of age with the Abstract Expressionist scene of 1950’s New York. He was friends with De Kooning and Pollock and knew all of the artists that ran in those circles. He studied with Hans Hofmann and Rufino Tamayo.
I wish I could remember the whole conversation (I would kill for a recording of it), but there are a few things I do remember clearly.
Jackson asked me if I had a degree in art history. I told him I had taken art history classes but didn’t have a degree in it.
“Good,” he said, “waste of time.” He went on to tell me I should teach myself about art history (he suggested I start with the Abrams book about Harry Jacskon!).
“I’m a boot-strappin’ sonofabitch” he said, “everything I know about art and art history I learned because I wanted to learn it, not because some professor told me I had to.”
He encouraged me to study it all, from ancient Greek and Roman art, all the way through the abstract expressionists (he didn’t seem to have too high an opinion of pop or postmodern art).
Jackson also explained some of his pieces to me, and even now, one of my favorite works of art of all time is his piece “Cosmos”.
To this day, I’m not sure why he would have spent an hour on the phone with a kid he had never even met (I did get to meet him once a few years later), but I’m grateful he did.
From that day, I became a serious student of art, even though my study has always been autodidactic. I’ve read dozens (hundreds?) of biographies on a wide variety of artists – everyone from Gauguin to Warhol. I’ve spent years studying Ancient Greece and Rome (not only their art, but also their literature and civilization). Once I started knowing the artists, my appetite to see their artwork became almost insatiable. I can’t travel without visiting museums and galleries.
Some of the deepest, most transcendent experiences of my life have occurred as I’ve taken in great works of art. I’ve come to love the technical aspects of the art and the craft involved in creating it. Ever more, though, is my love of an artist’s ability to communicate with me.
I remember wondering, as a child, if other people saw the world the same way I do. Is the red I see the same red you see? Well art has answered that question. Through art I can see that we all experience the world in different ways, and see different things. Art allows me to see and understand the world from another perspective.
I am also amazed by the proximity artwork gives me to human history. I’ll often stand in front of a Greek statue and feel the electricity of knowing an artist, a fellow human, is reaching across time and space to talk to me. I’ll feel that same wonder as I stand in front of a Van Gogh and realize that those brush strokes, mere inches in front of me, were put there by the hand of the great artist. How lucky I am to be able to experience the art!
A Few Things I’ve Learned About my Love for Art
As my love for art has grown, I’ve come to several conclusions about my appreciation for art. First, I’ve decided I don’t have to limit my love for art to one style or period. I can love realism, abstract, pop art and every other style without my love for any one of them diminishing because of the breadth of my interest. I can love Cowboy art and Contemporary and my head won’t explode.
I’ve also learned to enjoy the unexpected. It’s easy, when I’m visiting a museum, to focus only on those artists that I know something about – the big name artists. While I certainly love seeing the famous pieces, I also love visiting museum’s regional art collections, or seeing a show of contemporary work. I also love visiting various shows around the country to discover the art of currently-working artists. Sometimes I’m scouting work for the gallery, but often I try to stroll a show looking through the eyes of an art lover.
I’ve learned to love the transformative power of artwork. It’s a real kick to deliver artwork to a buyer’s home and see how that artwork dramatically changes the atmosphere of that home. It’s equally amazing to see how the home changes the art. There are times when it ends up not working at all, but there are also times when the combination is incredible and you can almost feel everyone’s breath taken away as the artwork finds its home.
I love how artists still have the ability to surprise, delight, and, sometimes, shock. As a civilization, we’ve been creating art for thousands, even tens of thousands, of years. You might think that we’ve seen it all. You’d be wrong. Though art is certainly an evolving on a continuum, the artist’s vision seems never to tire of innovation. Even subjects that have been well-covered over the millennia can appear fresh and new as an artist brings new perspective, insight and technique to bear on them.
Finally, I’ve learned that it’s impossible to separate the artist from the art, and for that reason, I love getting to know the artists. I love reading about the great artists, but, even more, I love meeting living artists and seeing what they are doing. I love talking to them about their lives and work. I like to think that by doing so, I’m seeing art history take shape, and maybe, I even get to be a small part of it.
So, I guess I’m a pretty lucky guy. I get to spend my days surrounded by amazing art, or out discovering it, and I get to rub shoulders with some of the most fascinating people in the world. If I do my job well, I help keep it going and get to be a part of it. Life is amazing!
Now . . . back to work!
What Does Art Mean To You?
How did you fall in love with art? How has art impacted your life? Share your thoughts and feelings about art, and your feedback about this article in the comments below.