Recently, I met a college student at an opening of one of my solo exhibitions and had a fascinating conversation with him. I didn’t find out his name but I hope I get the chance to sometime. He looked closely and carefully. He asked great questions. He stuck with the paintings that interested him for a long time and noticed more and more and more. This is the viewer I paint for.
I asked him about himself and he told me that he was student at the university, studying business but thinking of switching to finance. He had never taken an art history course, he didn’t make art of his own—he was just fascinated. I suggested that he take the opportunity to learn more about art and to see as much art as he could. I told him that the art world needs viewers like him.
Afterwards, of course, I thought of other things that I wish I had said to him. So I’m going to say them here:
Unknown student, one day you are going to be a remarkable art collector. You may not have disposable income yet, but you are going into a field where having disposable income is likely. I hope you spend it on art you love. Because there are two kinds of art collectors. There is the kind that buys for investment. Generally, collectors in this group are not interested in the art as art; they are interest in art as a commodity. They buy what Larry Gogosian or someone like him tells them will increase in value, and then they store it in an offshore freeport where it doesn’t see the light of day until it is sold for a profit.
Then there is the other kind of art collector; the kind you will be. This is the person who collects art to live with. The person who buys the work that speaks to them, and looks at it, and learns from it, and grows as a human being because of it. This is the person who collects based on the artwork itself, not the name of the artist. Sometimes this collector will purchase something by a famous artist (living or dead) and sometimes this collector will purchase something from someone unknown, or almost unknown, because the work speaks to them. This is the kind of collector that artists value because this collector is the person they need to bring about the final completion of the work.
Making art is an act of communication. That means it requires both a sender and a receiver. If an artist makes a painting or a sculpture or a piece of music or a dance, and nobody ever apprehends it, the work is not finished. This kind of collector—the kind you will be one day—is that receiver. Whether you collect that piece or not, whether you encounter it in a gallery or a museum or an artist’s studio or a friend’s home or wherever, when you give it your careful attention, then the piece has the chance to do its work. The act of communication is complete.
I had another interaction that day that left me wishing I had said something different. As my family and I were getting ready to leave the building after the opening, we passed a man who had gone through the gallery on his way to another event that was going on in the same building. He had asked us where to find the room where the event was being held, so we knew he wasn't part of the faculty or staff. When we saw him again, he turned around and angrily asked me what the point was of showing art in the university gallery. “Nobody is going to see it! Who is going to buy it? Students?” he said. It seemed like this question had been on his mind and he was grabbing the opportunity to ask.
I gave him some sort of answer, but not a great one, because I was taken by surprise. I could have explained at length about universities having a cultural mission to the community, and that there is more to looking at art than commerce. I could have said a lot of things.
But his question answered itself: Angry stranger, you saw it.
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I'm Marcia Santore, an artist and a writer. This blog is all about artists and their stories. See my artwork at
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