The Q&A Hole: What's the Use of Owning Original Artwork?
With Chris Cubas, Jill Schroeder, Shannon McCormick, and more.
By Wayne Alan Brenner,
10:00AM, Mon. Feb. 2, 2015
Here's the latest of our weekly Q&A Hole series, wherein your reporter asks questions of various interesting people around Austin and beyond.
Now here's this week's call and response:
WHAT'S THE USE OF OWNING ORIGINAL ARTWORK?
Chris Cubas, Comedian: I honestly don't know. I mean, if you like looking at "Starry Night" or water lilies or whatever, then why does it matter if it's an original? If the artist is still alive and you want to support them, I get it. But if you want some famous dead guy's work, that's just a way for rich people to show off. It's the upper-class version of driving a giant Hummer.
Jill Schroeder of grayDUCK Gallery: Because it expresses your aesthetic; it’s a great conversation topic when guests are over; artwork can elevate the interior design of a room. All of those things are true, but I buy art because it makes me happy on so many levels. Just the other day I finally hung my artwork in my new house. The work transforms the rooms from functional to vibrant personal spaces. Each piece brings me back to when I bought it, like a favorite song or photograph – it encapsulates who I was when I bought it. I also think about the artist and their process to complete the piece that I love, their quirky personality and design impulses that make each piece unique. I smile when I look up at the work. The world would be a much better place if everyone owned art.
Shannon McCormick of Gnap! Theatre Productions: That’s the question? “What’s the use?” Not “Why do you own art?”or “What drives people to start collecting art?” But “What’s the use?”
There is no use, there is no specific ethical/moral/capitalistic value or benefit to be extracted from owning original works of art. You can’t input x value of art and know you can extract y value of social status or cultural benison. As Frank O’Hara said in a different context, you just go on your nerve.
Look, I’d be dishonest if I didn’t cop to part of collecting as a form of signifying – look at me and my delightful tastes. The more interesting questions to me, though, are the ones I raised earlier: What drives you to own an original?
Simply put, I love material culture. I own original works, sure, but also multiples from various folks, low-print-run minicomics, and other kinds of print and material culture ephemera. There are a lot of things driving this, but fundamentally, things bind you to moments in time, to time itself, to the fact that you too are a material body and a thing that is subject to time. Original art works are anchors to history and at the same time promise the physical permanence that can transcend your own mortality.
Have you noticed that the more digital our lives have become, as we load more and more of our culture to the cloud (you know who else lives on clouds? Angels, the dead strumming on harps), there’s been a parallel move in certain quarters calling us to the things of the world. Sure, it’s easily mocked (a la Portlandia) as the domain of a certain college-educated whiteness, but it doesn’t mean the hunger for authenticity underneath is any less real.
Steve Brudniak, Sculptor: Here's the Curmudgeon POV that I have taken in recent years: Owning original artwork is a responsibility. Your cat uses your Matisse for a scratching post? And it's a Matisse poster? Big deal. But if it's a canvas painted by the famous guy? You will get stomach acid.
I love original art. I don't hang anything that isn't, but I rarely collect anymore. For one, I have little proper display space left. My own work is starving for real estate. I like the Buddhist/ Bacharach perspective: “Out of those chains, those chains that bind you.” If I was a one-room recluse, living on rice and meditation, though … I guess I’d probably have a piece or two of budget, original work.
It’s not hard to exemplify why we value original work. In the recent news a woman described what she pulled from her burning home: A few valuables, photos, and her children’s drawings. The hand, especially the hand of loved ones, makes art alive. Art is made by something alive, it's someone's hard-earned creation. It's personal, meaningful. Pricey or historically significant work can become (artificially?) precious. I once helped move a Rothko into storage. I felt like I was carrying a multi-million-dollar building that could be destroyed by a doorknob any second. I look at Motherwell, Kline, Pollock – won't even mention the postmodern junk art of today – knowing that we have been conditioned to presume greatness. (Sorry, folks. Shrug.) Huge, phenomenally expensive, famous; four sloppy brush strokes, hung on a massive museum wall, even to me feels precious. I too have been brainwashed, seeing the emperor's new clothes.
There's little use in owning much. I would have preferred an indigenous way of life, but, alas. But yes, original art (on your useful insulated wall) will warm the heart in the knowledge of what's there, if one is sensitive or inclined enough to care.
Tim Doyle of Nakatomi Inc: For me, this is a tricky one, as I'm in the business of selling silkscreen prints – there are no real "originals" other than the black-and-white line art drawing I do first. So, from a consumer level, I don't really see the point of buying an original painting. I don't really get off on the idea of owning THE! ONLY! ONE! in existence. However, as an artist, I do really like owning a few original pieces from other artists who I love and respect – in order to learn more about their process. But these artworks aren't kept in sterile frames – they're touched and handled and smelled and analyzed. So that's why I own original art. But I am a huge weirdo.
Jennifer Balkan, Painter: I am still humbled by the idea that the manipulation of blobs of paint laid on a canvas can stir someone's senses. This fuels my passion. I have a dialogue with my canvas that continues as I paint, but once I finish the work and it leaves my hands, a new dialogue begins – with the viewer and the work. I would hope that it continues and changes through time – that is, that a viewer finds new meaning as s/he resides with a piece.
There is an energy that lives in an original work of art that is cultivated through the hands, heart, and craftsmanship by the artist and that is transferred through the work to a viewer. It occupies a metaphysical space of its own. A collector brings all of her or his own thoughts and life experiences when visually consuming a piece of artwork. It is personal and wonderful to be able to own an original piece of art; to know that it is one of a kind; you and only you reside with this creation; it is a special friend that you and only you have. When humanity ceases to exist and evidence of our existence is discovered by the next race of beings, it will be wonderful to leave original artwork as part of our legacy.