Art and Patron Must Match

One of the ideas presented in Michael Cunningham’s novel By Nightfall is the idea that art must be matched to the patron. In the book, a very wealthy art collector has had a “difficult” piece of art that she has tried to like, but cannot, and “exchanges” it for a different piece that is better suited to her.

Most of us who do not deal in million-dollar objet d’art and do not have the right of exchange do this in our own way. We walk through galleries and look at a variety of pieces. Most of the time, we keep walking. Once in a while, we stop and really consider a piece. We weigh the price against our potential enjoyment of the object in our own home or office, and, of course, our budget. Then we make one of three decisions: “yes,” “no,” or “not today.”

This last decision is the one which causes us problems. We have decided that we like the piece, that we would like to live with it—at least for a while, but for some reason we cannot make the investment on this day. The problem is that often our appreciation and desire for the object continues and we go back to visit it, or view it on the internet, or think about it often, or all of the above. Sometimes we actually go back and buy it, if it is still available. Very occasionally, when we go back, it is not as appealing as it was originally.

A friend of mine has spotted a sculpture that she wants very much, but has not (yet) purchased. Recently, we talked about why she likes it so much. She said, “It describes who I am at this moment in time.” This, naturally, led to a discussion of would she like it a year from now, when her situation changed and she moved on from where she is now. She didn’t know, had no way to know, but seemed willing to take the risk, if she could manipulate her budget to bring the piece into her home. This suggests that there is more to the appeal than the immediate.

Many aestheticians agree that the object of art is contemplation. Is this a piece that you will want to contemplate for years to come? Will it continue to hold your interest? Will that interest hold long enough to justify the cost?

And that’s what it’s really about when we purchase art, regardless of the price range. Will it be a long-term match for us? Do we want to be married to it? Will it continue to fascinate us next year, next decade? Of course it’s about other things as well, but the determining factor, assuming that we can budget the piece, is whether we will like it the same dollar amount or more in the future. If so, we make the purchase; if not, we move on to the next gallery.

This is not just a matter of taste; I like many things I would never think to purchase. What causes the decision to acquire? It certainly includes where we are in our lives, how we feel emotionally, what we think is important. But it also includes our education and experience and our sense of aesthetics. In order to appeal to us strongly enough for us to part with hard-earned money, the art object must speak to us in a way that signals its value to us, both in the present and in the future.

Only when the art work speaks to you in such a way that you want to contemplate it for as long as you can, and you are willing to make the investment (which sometimes is more than financial), will you have a match. And only then, as with any deep commitment, can you look forward to a long, complex, rewarding relationship.


Date: Monday, 4. July 2011 0:21
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Aesthetics, Audience

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1 Comment

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    I only own a few pieces that I’d actually refer to as art – two paintings, a glazed pot, and a grouping of photographs – so I haven’t had a lot of experience with purchasing art. For me, the decision has to do not just with who I am “at the moment,” but who I am at the core – the me that’s always been and, I believe always will be. That’s a connection that I recognize immediately when I view a piece of art. But, it’s hard to say where that connection leaves off and the very ordinary matter of taste begins. Certainly things like subject matter, color, form, and more practically, how or if the piece fits with my space (i.e. does it work with the sofa?) enter into the decision. I’m sure I consider these things on some level, but it feels like I’m acting on my gut, because it’s usually a choice that I make very quickly, possibly impulsively, though I prefer to think instinctively. However I process it, I’ll have to say, I have yet to regret the decisions.

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