Figuring out why we collect art is a challenge. In Renaissance Italy, where the practice took the form we know it as now, we find patrons engrossed by art that communicated their particular social values. While the art that is created today differs dramatically from that of the eighteenth century, this idea – that art is a social experience – persists.
Sometimes, art is conceptualized as a solitary encounter; we imagine the artist alone in her studio and the admirer alone in the gallery. From a less literal perspective however, it’s far more collaborative.
Art can, for example, be about an encounter with history and legacy. In the work of Raphael, we catch glimpses of a culture concerned with religion and antiquity, while in Andy Warhol, we witness 1960s and 70s New York.
Simultaneously art invites us to critique these histories. Via a trip to the gallery or over a nude hung in a living room, friends can gather to discuss art, ideas, beauty and history. As we express our interest in art, we not only access history but open ourselves to like-minded individuals, discovering, through the lens of art, how they see the world.
Just as art can provide insight into others, it can also be a vehicle for self-expression. With the building of an art collection comes the formation of an identity. History, politics and beauty converge, communicating something that words cannot.
So, why do we collect art? The late art historian Kenneth Clark once remarked;
“It’s like asking why we fall in love, the reasons are so various”.
And he’s right. The reasons we collect are vast, intimate and often, surprising. Collecting art can tell us about who we were and who we are. It can help us connect with other people and communicate our own story. Nevertheless, surrounded by artists and art-lovers, collectors can always find themselves in good company.