Art for the Few is a hashtag I found on Twitter today. The tweeter was thinking of a painting. Of Frida Kahlo’s What the Water Gave Me, to be precise. The tweet described the heartbreak of realizing that the painting you’re thinking of is in a private collection. #ArtForTheFew
The thing about visual art–paintings, sculptures, etc.–is that there’s only ONE original.
Writing is a more democratic art form. I write something, and make copies, and then one person or one million people all get to read the very same words. There might be some collectibles–hand bound, first-edition-y, autographed things–but the art, itself, is the same, whether you’re wearing kid gloves and reading a first edition, or flipping through a garage-sale paperback.
I write, but I also paint. I also draw. I also–when time and money and space allow-sculpt.
I don’t claim to be great art. I’m well and truly on the starving-artist end of the spectrum. I sell art, when I can, to friends, and along side the Beanie Babies at garage sales. Sometimes, I give it away. Most of the time, actually. Something to say Thank you, or I love you, or let’s be friends. Big pieces, sometimes, but I also make Artist Trading Cards specifically for the purpose of sharing.
Right now, ALL of my art is in private collections.
By which, what I mean, is in albums under beds, and boxes in closets, and on walls I’ve leaned against, while talking to friends.
An ex-boyfriend has one of my favorite paintings. I did a drawing of a train (More realistic, than my usual) for my friend’s grandfather.
And, round about 1938, Frida Kahlo had the same kind of stories. She gave What the Water Gave Me to an ex-lover to pay off a debt.
On the flip-side, I own a private collection. My friends have to send their work somewhere. And you know those starving artists? Yeah. They sell stuff. Some of it’s pretty good. (And, I encourage you to start your own private collection.)
So, something about #ArtForTheFew that bothers me is the disconnect between my art, the way I lived it, and the endgame, at which point, my art is some monumental, public thing that cannot–or at least, should not—be owned by one person. Because, obviously, I gave a lot of art to one-person type people.
I don’t know where that point is. When does art transform from the artist’s to his friend’s to his community’s to belonging to the universe? When does it become sacrosanct? When do you lose the right to sell it, to buy it, to own it?
It bothers me because it emphasizes the cost of art, instead of the value. As if the fact that one man owns one painting means there’s nothing left for anyone else. As if a few select things are art, and everything else–no matter how much you love it–is a pathetic second-best.
I believe that art is out there. I believe that good art is out there.
I believe there’s enough to go around, even if a few well-known or popular pieces are in private collections.