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Creative Life News Blog

What Does ART Mean to Us? Why Buy Art: Commodity or Companion?

arwork by Janet Strayer Art
Le Musée Privé, collage by Janet Strayer

Why Think About This?

An artist friend visited yesterday. She lives in Aix-en-Provence, and we haven't seen each other for years. Now, after the pandemic travel restrictions have been lifted, I'm living in Provence for this month. So, we could finally have a personal reunion. We sat outdoors, talking for hours while we ate a simple meal on the patio of a cottage rented in a rural spot just outside the village of Rognes. (I've posted pictures of this scenic spot on Instagram, which you can also access in this site's menu under "About"). We talked about much in our lives, of course, and some of it was about making art and exhibitions we've had or seen.

I woke up this morning thinking about all the ground we'd covered in personal terms and as artists. What do we want from art? Why do we make art, seek to see it, even to own it if we can? As a thinking sort of person, I tried to distill for myself the role art plays in our lives. What does art mean to us: to artists, viewers, and people who buy it. So much has been written "about" art in terms of art interpretation, art history, art critique, art evaluation and appraisal. But my thoughts were travelling on a more personal level. No generalities quite fit when we're thinking about individuals and their different inclinations or preferences.

What Meaning Does Art Have for Us?

Art's Meaning for Artists

What does art mean to artists and published art commentators? Much written about paintings and modes of painting (Modernism, Impressionism, etc.) is about content, how it was made (process), or what it seeks to do (impact). Every "artist statement" you read on a website or in a gallery tends to focus on some or all of these three points. In contrast, viewers often have little to say, or certainly to write, about these matters.

Art's Meaning for Viewers

If you scan the multitude of collective sites for viewing current postings of artwork online, you see occasional commentaries from viewers. Often brief, complimentary and appreciated by the artist posting the work, they also tend to be quite general in their gloss of "likes" or "congrats". Very seldom does one get to read a response that reflects a deeper reaction from viewers, if indeed the artwork inspired one.

Art's Meaning for Art Buyers

Why then do people buy an artwork, especially one that costs more than a meal at a fine restaurant or a piece of furniture? Several possibilities come to mind: decoration, investment, the allure of owning a one-of-a-kind original, the possessions ratings-game, the culture credit of possessing fine art, as a souvenir or memento of a special time and place, as well as a genuine interest in and love for the artwork. In the last instance, (the one that most interests me), the artwork does something to or with you. expresses something that makes you see deeper, more, or differently. You feel something in the artwork that you need or want to feel. It acknowledges a part of you, stays with you, and holds something for you, perhaps changing a bit as often you choose to look at it. It becomes a companion, not just a purchased commodity. I'm both excited and grateful if and when I can buy an artwork that can be a companion. (I'm over the moon when I can create an artwork that connects that way!).

Art as a Companion, not just a Commodity

Seeing and feeling art as a companion may be too personal a conclusion for some of you. It derives from both my introspections while painting what seems (to me) a significant artwork and my subjective reactions to artwork I've purchased over the years. It certainly doesn't happen with every painting I make or see. I think the companion-commodity distinction offers a useful and meaningful insight to those who wonder about buying art. As a commodity, art may be a good investment, a decoration that fits well with a given setting, a unique thing that draws attention, or whatever external reason led to its purchase. As a companion, art engages a relationship.

I think of all the artwork I've made, the work I've purchased, and even the work I return to look at in museums (impossible to buy). Just some of it has the quality of being a companion rather than even a highly valued commodity. That is, each artwork with that quality lives with me, somehow expressing something I don't necessarily need to put into words. The artwork remains vital and alive to me, because of me, the viewer. It hits home. If I'm a collector, my artwork is my very personal, sometimes very private, museum. It lives where I live, speaks to me, and takes me places I want to go.


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