Own a True Original

I am an artist, a pastel painter. You may have seen my work hanging in the Harrison Center. Of course, I’m an art lover, all kinds of art. When my three kids were growing up I encouraged them to explore as many types as they could. Our house was filled with their best efforts at ceramics, painting, drawing, photography, and playing musical instruments. Turn a corner in our home and you could end up in the middle of a dance rehearsal, a film set, or a discussion of proper grammar and good editing. They each ended up as professionals in at least one area of the arts. (Not musical instruments, though. Let’s just leave it at that.)

I am a patron of the arts. (And, I’m not talking about classes for my kids here.) I enjoy buying albums, books, and movies; I willingly purchase tickets to museums, dance performances, and concerts. There is something intensely special about buying an original piece of visual art that you love, however. The experience doesn’t compare with enjoying the arts in any other way. It’s not superior; it’s just different. There is a disparity between 2D, 3D visual arts and other types of art.

Visual art is unique among art forms. Other created works of art, from film to dance, from the written word to music to photography, are designed to be reproduced, replicated, or performed; the more reproduced the better. The interest of choreographers, authors, composers, filmmakers, and photographers is to have their work enjoyed, perhaps materials or tickets purchased, by as many people as possible. This is their intent. With visual art creations, the original piece of art holds the real (and perceived) value. This is the intent of the visual artist.

I expect some kickback on this …

You may be thinking, “What about the high value of original versions of manuscripts, or the actual author’s notes on a famous novel?” True. However, I would argue that this was never the initial intent of any artist. Just this summer, an anonymous buyer purchased the original manuscript of Don McLean’s 1971 epic hit American Pie for a cool $1.2 million. That’s a big piece of pie. McLean, now 70, reportedly said that he wanted top dollar for the manuscript to provide for his family. Ha! I’m sure that wasn’t his intent back in 1971 when he recorded it as the title song of his second album. His first album had really only succeeded at providing cover material for singers like Perry Como. McLean wanted to hear his own song on the radio.

“What about the high cost of prints, especially limited reproductions?” True. You can lay down quite a few dollars on a print. However, it would never compare to the cost of the original. My husband Lou and I laughed last year when Nu Couché, a painting by Amedeo Modigliani, was sold through Christie’s for $170.4 million. We laughed because we have a copy of that painting in our bedroom. We purchased it from artposters.com and probably paid about $17.04. It wasn’t signed by the artist. I didn’t even have to sign for it when it arrived in its cardboard box.


Once Upon a Time in Shaolin

“OK,” you’re thinking, “but what about Once Upon a Time in Shaolin?” This is the limited edition double album recorded by hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan. And, in this case, “limited” means one copy. One. It was pressed and stored in a vault in 2014 until purchased last year for $2 million. The buyer, Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli, isn’t permitted to print copies for commercial purposes until the year 2103. He can only play it at private parties. … I have no comeback for this one… Moving on.

You might argue, “What about the high value associated with seeing a Broadway play with the original cast?” Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of Hamilton, grieved theatergoers worldwide when he left the musical this summer. He teased that he might rejoin the show sporadically in the future. Ticket prices will indeed shoot up for those performances, if they happen. True. But this brings me to the point of ownership.

There are many forms of art that are ephemeral. They are meant to be experienced briefly, never owned. They transport you to another state of mind that may affect you long after the experience has passed. This isn’t limited to plays. Think of movies, concerts, and dance performances. There is so much artistic and physical effort that go into preparing for these.

I love this quote by (culinary artist) Julia Child:

Non-cooks think it’s silly to invest two hours’ work into two minutes’ enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, well, so is the ballet.

Julia built her career on the notion that life is nothing without great moments, fleeting as they may be. Enjoying visual art can be much the same. The Mona Lisa charms over 6 million visitors per year, many of whom travel long distances just to catch a glimpse of that “uncatchable smile.”

Of course, said visitors could buy a copy of the Mona Lisa from artposters.com and try to catch that smile every day from the comfort of their couches. It’s not the same as casting your eyes on the original, is it?

So, what about owning an original, to enjoy as long as you desire? While you can’t seize a modern dance company to keep holed up in your living room, you can hang original art. You can hang it; you can share it with friends; you can just stand in front of it and look at it whenever you’re moved to. Chances are if it’s a piece that you love, you will find something new there each time.

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No. 6 (Violet, Green, and Red), Mark Rothko

The truth is, original pieces of art are among the most expensive items in the world; perceived value of owning originals is high. Are there any Mad Men fans out there? Remember the Mark Rothko painting that Cooper had purchased for $10,000? Everyone in the office was both impressed and perplexed. Just to put that in perspective, a similar Rothko piece, No 6 (Violet, Green, and Red) sold for $186 million in 2014.

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Interchange, Willem de Kooning

The most money ever spent on a painting is much more than that, however. The current winner is Interchange by Willem de Kooning. This piece changed hands in a private sale for $300 million. It was sold by the David Geffen Foundation to Kenneth C Griffin, founder and CEO of Citadel.

So, if invited to two parties on the same night, one at Griffin’s house and the other at Shkreli’s, which would you choose?


Harrison Gallery, Harrison Center for the Arts

I promise you will find lower prices at the Harrison Center. No matter what your budget, you will find original art you can afford. But you will also find great art; art that will fill your soul. You will find art that you’ll love to look at again and again. You will find art that will make that room in your home; you know the one, come to new life. You could discover art that would become a conversation piece at gatherings. You could find art that would remind you of a special place, or person, or time in your life. If it would be an attractive idea to you, you could also meet and talk with the artist.

My husband and I own a giclée print of a contemporary artist from California whose work we love. It’s a limited edition print that the artist himself adorned with actual paint strokes. We were excited to buy it. But, if I had it to do over, I would instead purchase a true original piece. With the test of time, we have enjoyed each of our original pieces of art much more than that print. We own works by eight (and counting) artists associated with the Harrison Center. We look forward to owning that next piece that captures us.

Experience art; all kinds of art. Go to concerts, plays, gallery shows. But, own an original piece of art, a one-of-a-kind original. It’s a way to bring beauty into your life and into your home for years to come.

Pastel paintings of Kristin Divers will be exhibited in a mother-daughter show alongside oil paintings of her daughter, Autumn Ghubril. The exhibit will be in the Harrison Gallery in October.