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Art Collectors – Who are They and What do They Want?

collectors are all different

Art collectors are hard to categorise. Their tastes, selections, motivations and budgets are as varied as those of any other random group of people. The only connection between one art collector and another is the bald fact that they collect art. To define them, identify and satisfy them is of interest to three other groups...

Artists, art dealers and gallery owners have a vital interest in collectors of Art but face difficulties in  finding them.

As with any prey, the hunters must study the characteristics and behaviour patterns of the object of desire. We can examine the possible clues, one by one.

'Taste' is a perception so subjective and so personal to the indivual as to be futile as a topic for open debate or even discussion. Let's leave it well alone.

In the field of Visual Art alone, the choice is mind-bending. Try making a mental catalog of genre and medium in each of the categories of Drawings, Paintings, Prints and Sculpture. Soon enough, you'll be feeling on the dizzy edge of the abyss.

Some benefit can be derived from the grouping together of those people who prefer one Period or Movement above all others. As a result, dealers would not approach a well-known collector of 19th century landscapes with an offering of a Rothko or Pollock. Neither would a gallery owner invite a regular buyer of watercolour botanicals to the opening night of an 'performance' exhibition.

Asking why people do the things they do is as dependant on circumstances as the old query about 'How long is a piece of string?' Possible answers will include as many variables as are implied by the question.

Pure benevolence, public spiritedness, business promotion, self-agrandisement, compensation for a deprived childhood, status-seeking, simple vanity or greed, the desire to help people with talents the collector admires, all or none of the above.

The pockets of a collector may be deep enough to engage a 'spotter' on a full-time basis, or retain a dealer or auction house agent as and when needed. A collector's purse may run to meeting all living costs of a favoured artist in return for first pick of the output. None of these methods is new. The treasures of antiquity, held in common with all humanity, were created by artists surviving only by one form or another of patronage.
Prince Frederik Hendrik ruled the court of The Hague during the 'Dutch Golden Age' of painting. A major collector of Dutch painting, the prince support many artists. Among the beneficiaries of  the Prince's generosity was Rembrandt. Many of the treasures of sculpture, painting, architecture and poetry created by Michaelangelo would not exist had they not been commissioned by Julius and his papal court. Most of Leonardo's masterpieces were created for his patrons in the city-states of Rome, Florence and Milan, and for Louis of France. 

In every era to the present day, master artists and the merely fashionable alike, enjoy support from collectors. Paroahs and Popes, advertising moguls, financial 'angels' and agents of local or global social propoganda comprise the collector's club of renown.

On the other end of the scale, anyone who enjoys looking at artwork in the privacy of home can build a collection of art prints. These range from the one-off monoprint or certified Limited Edition to the mass produced poster print.  

We can see three certainties about Art collectors.

1.Everyone owes a debt of gratitude to those who donate their collections to public art museums. 

2.Whoever they are, whatever their preferences in Art, collectors deserve the gratitude of artists. It's  not only because, by buying what we create they extend the most sincere compliment our work can receive. It's the only 'applause' painters – unlike stage or screen performers -  ever hear.

3.Collectors, by supporting the Masters of past ages, preserve examples of great art from which we current artists can learn and even aspire to advance. ©Dorothy Gauvin  


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