The current issue of Good magazine has an article on art collecting for the--ahem--value-seeking set. Not a Wolfian Master of the Universe or a fifth-generation Vanderbilt? You can still collect great art, writes downtown Manhattan gallery owner Jen Bekman (view article). “If you rely on the art rags, or, say, The New York Times for news about the art world, it’s easy to get the impression that art is for the very few." But you can start your collection with limited-edition prints that sell on the Web for as little as $20, and originals that cost no more than a few hundred bucks.
Bekman has a point when she writes that when you buy the work of an unknown artist, “it’s nice to know that you’re supporting someone who is probably struggling and dreaming of quitting his or her day job." She also explores how sites like Tiny Showcase are helping penurious art lovers satiate their need.
But she has a hard sell because she never grapples with the larger issue of why people collect. People collect art because they want to have, organize and catalog a group of special, rarified objects. A Collection means something, not only to them, but to art experts and art society--art snobs, in other words.
Collections like that don’t come cheap. A reasonably-priced collection may satisfy its owner, but it’ll never be a Collection. It’s like comparing a university’s rare book collection to the collection of books from the public library’s 50-cent bin on the shelf in my apartment. Yes, I, too, can collect old books. But they do not an Old-Book Collection make.
So, collect art on the cheap, and love each piece you buy on its merits. Just don’t call yourself an Art Collector.