Why Do You Want to Start Collecting Art?
by D. Amari Jackson
Why do you want to start collecting art? Why should you want to start collecting art? What does collecting art do for you? What can it do for you?
Over the past month, as part of the sign up for its free virtual collectors course, Black Art In America has asked those interested in learning how to collect art an important question: What interests you most about this Start Collecting Art class? Or, put differently, why do you want to start collecting art?
The responses have been both varied and telling. Here are some excerpts:
- “I’m interested in learning more about art and where to find it; in addition, engaging in the art community to support their work. Last, I’m on a budget but want to start investing in things that make me happy, and looking at art by our people gives me joy!”
- “My interest dates back to my youth. I always loved the beauty in art… I wanted to be an artist but I have two left hands. I can remember enjoying a TV show as a youth where a lady would draw as she told a story.. it was amazing, better than animation. I also love museums and photography inspired by the world, nature, and people. I took notice that minorities are underrepresented in the art world… A trip to Africa I recently took inspired me most of all, I didn’t realize that art is most of their lives. To give minorities an identity in the art world is extremely important… whether you are the famous black artist or black art dealer.”
- “I want a constant representation of black arts and culture in my home. I wanna be surrounded by empowering and provocative images. I love to read and my book collection needs to slow down… now I’m focusing on the arts.”
Clearly, there exists a variety of incentives for African Americans, in particular, to begin an art collection including culture, pride, aesthetics, investment, self-representation, and art education, to name a few. For collector Mike Brinson, who has acquired art for three decades, the reasons may be varied, but the benefits are clear.
“Everyone should build an art collection because the benefits can be immensely gratifying and perhaps life altering,” offers Brinson, noting how “an art collection will nourish your soul and will deliver every day. Building an art collection is a journey of self-discovery. Initially, what is being built might not be clear because your aesthetic preferences will change as your life experiences and knowledge of art expands.” Given this natural evolution, Brinson promotes that slow but steady can win the race. “Eventually your direction will become clear and then deliberate,” he counsels.
“At the end, your collection will likely be a visual representation of you.”
Coming of age in Chicago during the Black Arts Movement of the late 1960s and early 70s, Brinson never considered buying Black art until the mid-90s when he desired an Afrocentric decor for a new living space. “I had no working knowledge of art, so I invested in a few open edition prints,” he recalls, quickly progressing to “limited edition prints from local art galleries and then to original works. As my knowledge of Black art increased, I became interested in collecting more historically notable and culturally relevant works.” Today, Brinson has close to 150 works on display in his personal collection at home, split between two dimensional works on canvas and paper, and three dimensional sculptures.
“For a brief period, I was partly motivated to purchase artworks that would offer a return on investment and impress others,” says Brinson. “I now realize that the real reward in building an art collection comes when you can forge a spiritual connection with the artworks acquired.”
For Black collectors, such a cultural-spiritual connection with art is far from new. In the 1920s, during the Harlem Renaissance, prominent Afro-Latino historian, Arturo Schomburg, accumulated a sizable collection of art celebrating and documenting African American culture. To preserve history and support his artistic peers, Schomburg both purchased their works and commissioned them to produce art honoring Black historical figures. As a result, in 1926, his extensive private collection was purchased by the Carnegie Foundation for the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library. Once there, it was put on public display in the Division of Negro Literature, History, and Prints which, in 1940, was rebranded the Schomburg Collection of Negro History and Literature and, subsequently, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Along with Schomburg, Harlem Renaissance writer-poet, Countee Cullen, collected the works of such notable artistic peers as Palmer Hayden, Augusta Savage, and Hale Woodruff.
In October 1943, the Barnett-Aden Gallery was opened by Howard University professor James V. Herring and former student and colleague Alonzo J. Aden in a home they owned in Washington, D.C. One of the first Black-owned galleries in the nation, the Barnett-Aden Gallery provided a viable platform for artists of color alongside works by prominent white artists in segregated Washington, D.C. Over a 25-year period, the gallery was recognized for bringing together artists, politicians, professionals, writers, and musicians of all races to network, socialize, and talk art. It featured the works of such notables as Charles White, Edward Mitchell Bannister, Alma Thomas, Elizabeth Catlett, Lois Mailou Jones, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Laura Wheeler Waring, and Henry O. Tanner.
In the 1960s and 70s, Detroit gallerist George N’Namdi captured the spirit of the protests and social movements of the era, stemming from a personal collection and a desire to preserve the culture of African American people. In 1967, Paul Jones of Atlanta began collecting African American art as a response to the lack of representation in galleries, museum exhibitions, and collections. Among Jones’ initial acquisitions were works from the Atlanta University Annual Exhibition of Paintings, Sculpture and Prints by Negro Artists. During the same era, Bernard and Shirley Kinsey began collecting art and artifacts from their travels around the globe, seeding The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection that continues to tour today.
In the 1980s, amidst increasing institutional “multiculturality,” the noted exhibition “Hidden Heritage: Afro-American Art, 1800-1950” ran at the San Antonio Museum of Art. The show inspired Harriet and Harmon Kelley to begin collecting African American art in their San Antonio home and, less than a decade later, their own collection—The Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of African American Art—became a touring exhibition, making an appearance at the same museum in 1994. Around the same time, the collection of prominent artist, curator, and art historian, David Driskell, toured in the exhibition, “Narratives of African American Art and Identity: The David C. Driskell Collection.”
In 1998, decades after the deaths of its namesakes, the Barnett-Aden collection was purchased by successful entrepreneur and co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, Robert L. Johnson, upon the closure of the Museum of African-American Art in Tampa, Florida. This tradition of African American art collection has persisted and grown well into the 21st century with a large number of current, established, new, and celebrity collectors, including the likes of Walter O. Evans, Pamela J. Joyner, Larry and Brenda Thompson, Denise Gardner, Larry Ossei-Mensah, Elliot Perry, Charlotte Newman, Rudy Austin, Bernard Lumpkin, Ivy N. Jones, Sean Combs, Oprah Winfrey, Jay Z, Pharrell Williams, Kanye West, Grant Hill, Swizz Beatz & Alicia Keys, and many more.
Needless to say, many in the African American community now see the value and benefits of collecting art.
“Often, I would not realize my personal connection to a particular work until years after placing it in my collection,” explains Brinson. “I believe this happens when your connection to a particular artwork is buried in the subconscious. Part of the self-discovery process connected to art collecting brings these connections to the surface.” On the other hand, he acknowledges that “building an art collection that has a unique personal signature does not have to be psychologically deep. Art collections could exhibit an art deco vibe or a message that you want to convey. This too can also be greatly rewarding.”
Brinson puts forth some important things to consider when building a collection including the value of having your family and others in your living space “on board. It is better if they can be active participants in your art collection activities,” he promotes.
The good news, continues Brinson, is that, today, “there are many young talented artists creating all types of artworks that are accessible and affordable. Therefore, it should be easy to create a deeply personal visual art narrative for your living space that will accommodate everyone involved.”
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AMARI JACKSON is a creator, author, TV/web/film producer, and award-winning journalist. He is author of the 2011 novel, The Savion Sequence; creator/writer/coproducer of the 2012-2014 web series The Book Look; writer/coproducer of the 2016 film Edge of the Pier; and current writer/coproducer of Listen Up! on HBCU GO/Roku TV. He is a former Chief of Staff for a NJ State Senator; a former VP of Communications & Development for the Jamestown Project at Harvard University; and a recipient of several writing fellowships including the George Washington Williams Fellowship from the Independent Press Association. An active ghost writer, song writer, martial artist, and journalist, his writings have appeared in a wide variety of national and regional publications.
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