I have very catholic tastes in art, but that doesn’t mean I’m not discriminating. Lately I’ve been thinking about giving words to the feelings/emotions/psychic vibrations that must emanate from a work of art in order to capture my everlasting devotion (I am a slave to the visual arts.) It’s not easy. There’s a reason the French (don’t hate me) say, “Je ne sais quoi,” because sometimes that’s truly all there is.
What bothers me, in this study of motivation & slavish desire, is that it’s nearly impossible to speak in general terms, for instance, “If it has green in it, I’ll love it,” when that’s patently untrue. On the other hand, if it does have green in it, there’s a possibility that I may, in fact, love it as green is one of those colors that threads its way through many works of art in my collection.
I believe you can begin to see the difficulty one may encounter in describing what the link is between the viewer & the work of art, of putting that connection into something as concrete as a language. It’s all fine and well to have a focus, like Eli Broad, for instance, who collects contemporary art, but I can’t believe that that’s the only criteria by which he and his wife make decisions about acquiring a work of art. (Of course, we must forgive them, as they have more money than god, & can have whatever they want; with a legion of consultants advising, advising, a flurry of yeses emanating from a sub-rosa rush-hour roar of sycophants. )
It’s different for someone, I would have to believe, with a more limited budget, but at the same time there is no reason to ignore the dialogue that should happen between you and a work of art before you commit yourself to pulling it into your life.
As I see it, the reasons for collecting a work of art spring from the artist’s facility with three absolutes: color, form, and technique. However there is one more reason, one less easily defined, but no less important: the language, the discussion, its raison d’etre. Of course, this dialogue you’re going to have or expect to have will have many layers (ganache, buttercream, fruit, fondant: a cake!,) all dependent upon your level of education and also depending upon how comfortable you are plumbing the depths of your psyche and trusting what it is telling you.
A story: In 1981 a couple of years into my visual arts career, I met the artist Judith Bledsoe at an exhibition of her paintings on canvas & works on paper in Chicago. Of course, I fell immediately in love with her; her bohemian spirit & joie de vivre were infectious and beguiling and lusty (barely contained in her free-spirited angel-haired radiance.) But beyond that was the work, & when you spent time away from Judith, concentrating on the paintings & her visual language, it was easy to fall under her mesmeric spell. One painting at the show, “Japanese Fish Kite” (pictured above) completely captivated me.
Its colors: the golds, grays, whites; its forms: a scaly, glittering fish made of paper bigger than the door what with its skewed perspective, its flatness compelling & dream-like (along with the imagined flying of a kite as magnificent & beautiful & strange as this one.) Her technique: layers and layers of paint, laid one upon the other, then removed/rubbed off/scraped away revealing a depth and a subtlety of color & yes, language, a smoky wisp of fog swirling around your ankles slowly wrapping you in its dewy tendrils, tightening against your chest, pulse racing & I fell, fell hard for its simple loveliness.
The painting did not sell at the show. It traveled away to another exhibition in another city, it was sold to a collector on the west coast, it was gone. In 1997, in an unusual twist of circumstance & fate, my path crossed with Bledsoe’s once again (although we had remained friendly throughout the intervening years.) The opportunity presented itself to represent her & a large crate arrived filled with works, including, please imagine my surprise & delight, “Japanese Fish Kite.” Turns out it had two owners in the last sixteen years, but each one had returned it to its gallery of origin when homes were re-decorated (that’s buying art for the wrong reason.)
But it and I picked up our conversation, the one started in 1981, as fresh now as it had been then. I commented to Judith (she lives in Paris) how happy and a little saddened I had been to discover the painting still rattling around in her collection. She sighed, “it has had an unfortunate life, not loved by someone who understands it & not loved once, but twice. Why don’t you take it home?” I demurred that it was outside my budget (rules of collecting: love and money.) “No, no, cheri, I’m giving it to you.” Her generosity now hangs, much loved, among many cherished works of art, & I like to think happy at last.
Yes, yes, I know, I’ve veered wildly off topic!
It is difficult, I believe, to trust yourself enough to put voice to feelings that are so visceral & pagan; feelings that emanate from such a depth of experience, subconsciousness, & dreams that you may find yourself stuttering & blubbering & if it is ‘the perfect storm’, perhaps you’ll find yourself crying at the waves of emotion breaking against your hoary daytime surf-break.
Please allow me a moment of exhortation: Allow yourself to fall under the spell of art (it need not be visual arts, it may be literature, music, dance, whatever.) Because once you do, you will find yourself having conversations with the work, with other people, with strangers (heaven forbid!) about how it makes you feel. That, that is the language of art.