IlluXCon 7 has come and gone. A lot of artists came with mountains of boxes containing paintings, drawings, sculptures and so on. By the end of the show, a long train of collectors carrying boxes removed a lot of them from the show and took them to homes around the world.
An art collector is a very special breed of person with regards to his impact on others. As a music fan, I might purchase the entire catalog of a band, purchase many concert tickets over the course of the band's career, and maybe even some branded merchandise. But my support is distant, and my impact relatively small, even if I buy as much of the above through the artists themselves, at a merch table or their website. Doubtless, large numbers of folks like myself allow the band to continue to make music, but the scale is relatively small, and any one of us can't help too much, though I know it is appreciated.
An art collector however has a very different impact. Spending larger sums of money on original art, and sometimes very large sums, the art collector can have profound effect on the life of a visual artist.
At those amounts, the collector is most certainly sponsoring the creation of more art, and fostering a more secure life for a tangible amount of time. When an artist goes home from a show with days, weeks, or even months worth of income, they have been afforded the freedom to create more. I and some other artists I spoke with, spoke in these terms over the show: about the time that such purchases were allowing us to try new things, to create pieces unconstrained by our very necessary clients who fund much of our year by assigning us projects. Apart from that, the purchases literally pay rent and expenses that we live on.
Artists want to create, and that desire to create is so deep-rooted that it often is the last thing an artist clings to, even if the rest of their world is falling apart financially, indeed even if it would be wiser to quit for awhile and do something else to earn a living. Perhaps worse than the financial difficulties are the psychological ones faced by people who are constantly unable to provide a secure income for themselves.
As I walked around the show, filled with artists well-known and those just beginning their journeys, I was struck by how little I knew about some of the folks there. What difficulties, what challenges were there, what weight of anxiety haunted the artist? Hopefully none, and certainly I know that many are in fine places in their lives currently, but among so many, certainly there were a number of artists shouldering incredible burdens: illness or family with illness, soul-crushing doubt, 6-figure college loan repayment (a whole other topic), and so on. Each puts forward their best face, no one wants to burden others with their challenges. All artists want every purchase to be about the art--that's why they make it. And it occurred to me that even those who we think have "made it" may in fact be among those most afflicted.
For this reason, I also find it interesting how subdued artists can be in talking about their sales with each other--even though we constantly ask one another! We all want each other to do well, we want to celebrate with our friends at their accomplishments. If one of us has a great show, the others want them to enjoy that because we care about them and love their art. And yet we're all a bit bashful in expressing the happiness that accompanies our successes when we have them, because we are well-acquainted with the other side and what that feels like.
But those who collect should know that while money cannot buy happiness, it can buy relief from the tremendous weight and pressure of many worldly worries for some length of time. And it does. Sometimes, the length of time is long enough that an artist is able to finally clean up persistent life issues plaguing them. Sometimes, it gives them the support needed to strike out in a new direction, which can utterly transform their work. Sometimes, at the right moment, it might literally save a career about to end.
Collectors owe none of us these things, of course. It would negate the point of why we create to think otherwise--we only want our work to connect with others. But what I am trying to do is to connect collectors further to the true importance of what they do in the world.
There is one other, smaller effect that they may not realize they have, and that is, "The trickle-down effect." Obviously, we artists are huge fans of art. Those who are friends with lots of artists present at IlluXCon on Facebook saw a steady stream of posts by artists who did what they always do: having sold some of their own work, they took a portion of this, however large or small, and then went on and purchased the work of others! Whether a collector intended it or not, a little of the money put into the hands of one artist was immediately handed over to another. Collectors therefore not only benefited the artist they purchased from, but in a tangible way benefited many others, as well. I can say from experience that the percentage of artists who do this on any basis is very high.
I picked up three small pieces this year. One of them is the meat of this post, and is by the incomparable Omar Rayyan. Omar holds the distinction of not only producing excellent work, but also being one of the artists in this field that my own wife has hoped to have a piece from. Actually, I own another black and white ink drawing of his, a decorative-border illustration which I haven't featured yet. But Omar's signature work is done with animals, and we had yet to pick one of those up. So, having sold some artwork, I had the distinct pleasure of talking with my wife about a few pieces I photographed and sent her to consider (with Omar's permission), and then purchasing this one directly from Omar and his wife Sheila:
Perhaps I was able to think more about all these things because my life and career have honestly been fine of late, as the rollercoaster goes. And part of that is due to collectors who have supported my work, who maybe don't appreciate how special they are. Omar may have thanked me for my purchase, but at a distance he was also thanking those who came and purchased my own work this year, whether he or the collectors who purchased my work realized it.