November 30, 2020
The year is 2020. Can you still take anything for granted? Despite so much uncertainty, why not forge ahead? Perhaps, start a new enterprise—something good for the soul. Why not consider acquiring original works art? Perhaps someday in the future, gradually, without even noticing, you become an art collector, a patron of the artists you love, a custodian of culture.
You might be wondering why I’m suggesting such a counter-intuitive venture during such uncertain times. Pickling vegetables would seem more sensible. Both are possible, but why consider buying original works of art? To me it feels essential, especially now. Let me explain.
New York City used to be my ‘living room’ so to speak. A studio apartment, in a building that was a hotel 100 years ago, was just a place to sleep. It was cheap rent, ideal for a newspaper feature writer on a penny-tight budget. My kitchen table doubled as my desk, but it didn’t matter because most of the day, I was either out and about interviewing people, going to events, or writing in a newsroom, a library, or in some cafe (preferably a quiet one). The studio was on the top floor, but I could still hear the downstairs neighbors arguing. Its polygon shape, reminiscent of a yurt, gave it some charm. The main window faced a fire-escape and a brick wall, with a sliver view of the sky and clouds.
I hung a bird feeder on the fire escape. While sitting at my table by the window, I watched sparrows, feed, mate, and fly about. Sometimes, they would hop right up to the windowpane, and poke at it, as if to give thanks. These adopted wild pets gave me solace, reminding me of nature’s resilience, of a world outside the confines of my insular thoughts.
After several months into the Covid-19 (a.k.a. CCP virus) lockdown, staying all day, every day in that old hotel room became unbearable. I decided to check out.
I moved into a spacious apartment in the historic neighborhood of Jersey City. No fire escape outside my window. Instead I see treetops and birds’ nests, ample views of the sky and clouds. I feel as though I’m in a luxurious treehouse hotel* where everything gets delivered to me, like Howard Hughes. Strangely, we have been duped into to the facsimile of a billionaire’s, reclusive lifestyle. It feels extravagant to have everything delivered. Best of all, I have been graced with plenty of wall space under my command!
While I was getting settled in my new place, New York City was turning into a ghost town. Like so many people, I abandoned the city as my ‘living room.’ My living room turned inward: private, personal, and literal. Since I could not visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Frick Collection, The Morgan Library & Museum, and the galleries uptown, midtown, and downtown, I decided I would create my own modest-mini-private-gallery, carefully and lovingly curated. I would pick each piece, one at a time, as a bird builds its nest, one twig at a time. I would write in this blog, “Treehouse Art Talk” one word at a time, inviting you along into this new venture of collecting drawings and paintings by emerging artists.
Please note, this art collecting venture is not about status, it’s about connection. It is not about being materialistic, it’s about being a particular kind of culture custodian. If some disaster would destroy my possessions, I would eventually accept any inevitable circumstances. Catastrophizing thinking aside, surrounding myself with beautiful things is a matter of nurturing wholesomeness, breadth of mind, and an overall appreciation for life. It is also an encouragement to be true to myself and to others.
I recently discovered this perspective echoed by a group of mid-19 century English art lovers. A delightful short book, “What is Culture For?” by The School of Life (founded by the philosopher, Alain de Botton) mentions their core beliefs:
“…beautiful objects and environments were not, in the eyes of aestheticists, merely meaninglessly pretty. They were goads to virtue. The aestheticists believed—as the Ancient Greeks had done before them—that beauty was synonymous with goodness, while ugliness was an incarnation of corruption.”
Is it naive to think that beautiful, original works of art can hold me accountable in my conviction to cultivate goodness? Can such mere things encourage me to be true to myself and to others? Maybe ‘accountable’ is too strong of a word. At the very least they are, what I like to call, agents of reminding—through the beauty they emanate.
You see, every fiber of an artist’s soul is infused in the works they create.
Inviting a work of art into your space is, in a sense, like living with the state of mind of the artist who created it at the time that they created it. This is why it is important to be very discerning about what works to hang on your walls. If you choose original works whereby the artist was sincere in their creation, maybe those works are more likely to inspire you to be more sincere.
Especially during this trying year of social distancing, I regard the original drawings and paintings that I live with like companions—intellectually stimulating and heartwarming company. They take me into another world, triggering my memories and imagination.
Equally important, this is also how I can steward a community of artists I love, artists who make new art in the traditional way. I will elaborate on this more in a future post. Until then, be well and stay true.
*I still feel like I’m living in a hotel but with more stars; more on that later.