Robert Setters: The Art of Collecting
Own What You Love
Collecting art is a form of self-expression. It is an artistic talent by itself, and reflects one's personality. To qualify this assertion is to admit that outside influences are critical. If you search out experienced help choosing artworks, chances are your collection will develop more tastefully. An artist needs a great master to become great, so does a collector. What are the drawbacks of having someone else meddle in something that might be regarded as "personal taste"? Not many! It all depends who you befriend as your mentor. Developing an eye, understanding the underpinnings of what you collect, graduating as a discerning collector - these can all be helped along by those already experienced in the field.
A word of caution. If one uses a self-interested party for advice, there is a risk of being misled. The novice will be paying close attention to market price with little hope of benefiting from the discovery of the proverbial hidden treasure. Alas, experienced people know what is best, which of course can be expensive. It is better to keep your collection within budget by keeping the size of it - rather than the quality - at a minimum! Collectibles can range in character from the most modest Beanie Baby to the most ostentatious Louis 14th ormolu-embellished furniture. High culture is always the safer bet (for example, art nouveau glassware versus kerosene lanterns). Keep away from damaged or heavily worn items.
It took years to understand what spoke to me at a deeper level, and what truly had "value." My tastes evolved as I learned, and after thirty years they are still evolving. What is value anyway? Altruistically, it can relate to historic and/or cultural importance; or on a mundane level, it might be little more than financial worth. A combination of the two seems often to be a comfortable balance. There are those who blindly count their nickels and dimes as they estimate and re-estimate their baseball-card collection. Don't let this be you! If beautiful and interesting things speak to you, you cannot help but succeed. The following list will help to fine-tune your acquisitive ambitions.
General points to consider when choosing a treasure
Psychological Market Forces
Desperation and greed are the dark sides of collecting. One must be vigilant not to fall into this abyss or be taken advantage of by others who have done so. Trickery and skulduggery can take many forms. Be wary of people who appear too anxious to sell something to you or buy something from you. A mistake can make someone else unjustly jubilant. Mercifully, you may never realize your mistake. Some of my mistakes haunt me to this day.
In due course, try to specialize. No one will ever learn everything about what has been produced by every culture of the world. It would be nice, but there is just not enough time. After a broadened understanding of the art and antique world, one must become more selective. Don't be a pack rat. Part with those things you have outgrown. Like a child with a new toy, curiosity and discovery might be the greatest treasures you win while becoming a discerning collector.
Robert Setters is a Penticton writer and art and antiques collector, and the former owner of an antiques sales and valuation business.