Monday, December 19, 2011

Thoughts On Collecting

by Arnie Fenner

I was flipping through Jerry Weist's phonebook-sized third edition of The Comic Art Price Guide the other day—the title isn't entirely accurate since the book also includes a section devoted to f&sf book and magazine art. Jerry, who passed away earlier this year, was a long-time fan and dealer in comics, pulps, and science fiction; he was directly responsible for the first major auctions of genre art that were held at Sotheby's in the 1990s, a significant step in the the mainstream collector's acceptance of illustration in general and fantastic-themed works in particular. Jerry was a good guy (for any number of reasons) and I think his intentions were well-meaning in the creation of his price guide (in all its editions over the years): I'm reasonably sure he believed that his book would be used as a sort of starting point for collectors, one that would continue to evolve and grow through the years rather than serve as the last word. If there omissions or inaccuracies or oversights, well, that's the nature of the beast.

Still, I'm not so sure that hard or "official" prices can readily be assigned to artworks, whether they be comics, illustrations, or paintings. Or that we should expect them to be, necessarily. Andrew "Android" Jones noted in a recent interview that all art, regardless of how it's created, is basically pigment on paper: the monetary value of that art is the result of an agreement between the seller and the buyer. No agreement means no sale; no sale means that whatever pricetag a piece might sport is meaningless.

I would have some friendly disagreements with Jerry every so often through the years about prices. As a collector of Frank R. Paul, Ed Emshwiller, and Reynold Brown (along with various contemporary artists), Jerry would sometimes argue that the "new guys" shouldn't be as "expensive" as the classic artists. My counter argument was always the same: when he bought a Paul or Finlay or Brown original the money he paid benefited a dealer or collector, not the person that created the work. When he bought an original from a "new guy" (meaning someone still above ground), he was being a patron and helping an artist to keep creating more art in the future.

I've also had disagreements with other collectors who actively deride or dismiss artists who choose to create their works digitally. To me it's about the same as saying that illustration isn't "real art" or that photography isn't an art at all: in other words, it's silly. I really don't care what anyone says, Art is Art, no matter what the tool used to create it, no matter what venue the work was originally created for. It boils down to preferences, really: if a collector is thrilled with CGI work their passion for it is just as valid as that of someone who prefers to collect traditionally created works. And vice versa.

Above: Russ Cochran's Graphic Gallery back in 1973 was probably the first series of sales catalogs that featured comics and fantasy art. Way back when, you could buy a Frazetta oil painting for an astronomical $800 to $1200. Now days Jane Frank's Worlds of Wonder catalogs are covering much the same ground Graphic Gallery once did, though without quite the same market impact (and the works offered generally aren't as rare.)

I don't know that Cathy and I are traditional collectors, per se: we don't specialize, we aren't completists, we don't sell or trade (except in the rarest of circumstances) what we have, and truthfully, when compared to the legendary collections of Doug Ellis or Gregg & Yvette Spatz or Robert Weinberg, ours is relatively modest. We buy what we love (and 98% of the time are works by artists we feel a personal connection with) and what we can afford. We have originals and we have prints of both traditionally and computer-generated works—and all are important to us. If what we have appreciates in value, that's fine; if it doesn't, that's fine, too. It still brings us pleasure.

I guess what I'm saying (in my admittedly naive way) is that I hope people will collect art for the intrinsic value, not just because it's "collectible" and not just because something might escalate in price at some future date. Art isn't a Beany Baby, it's not a baseball card or piece of furniture. It's an expression of...thought. Of intellect. Of imagination. Buy what you love and love what you buy. Support the artists and take joy in the art: anything else that might come along with owning it down the road—be it drawing, painting, sculpture, or print—is just gravy.


  1. That's pretty much what every artist wants to hear - to know something is bought because of love and not for investment. Although all sales are nice . . .

  2. Arnie
    Thanks for the awesome compliment!
    I also agree 100% with what jane says. We usually only buy what we have an emotional attachment with, but do sometimes buy something that we know will appreciate in value through the years. That being said, I tend to end my attachment with some pieces through the years and sell them to make room for other pieces. Art tends to be my personal drug of choice and for myself,it gives me immense pleasure to view it on a regular basis. Yvette and I have also met some great people through the years and have developed lots of friendships from this hobby.

  3. Well said. Nice to know that pieces have a great home.

  4. The value of a piece of art is in part created by its uniqueness. This has always been true for anything collectable from Roman coins to stamps. A Rembrandt etching isn't as valuable as a Rembrandt painting because dealers were still pulling prints from plates into the next couple of centuries.
    Digital artists will have to create a paradigm shift in collectors minds to overcome that stigma.
    It is not about the quality of the work.

  5. Very well said sir. May your sentiment spread far and wide.

  6. great to see such appreciation. thank you

  7. Jane--
    Oh, absolutely. Sales ARE nice, particularly when times are tough.

    I know what you mean: some love affairs last a life-time, others are crushes that pass. That said, knowing you and Yvette, I think it's safe to say that you feel a genuine passion for ALL the art you buy, even those pieces that you consider investments and those that you might sell at some point.

    Folks can see some of Gregg's and Yvette's collection here:

    Increasingly, your pieces are finding their way into LOTS of great homes, so we feel pretty damn lucky to have added one of yours to our modest collection! Your show at the Anamazing Gallery in October was...uh...amazing.

    I think you're right: uniqueness adds to the perception of value and prompts (or can prompt) interest. Of course, multiple copies or printed works don't preclude something from being unique, collectible, or valuable. A Helmut Newton gelatin print of one of his photos can fetch a mid-five figures, a Mucha lithograph goes for big bucks, and, shoot, look at the recent sale of a copy of Action #1 for over $2million. Digital art is still in its infancy, really. It's been less than 30 years since Rick Berry did the first CGI cover for William Gibson's Neuromancer (if I remember the story, Rick talked his way into Tufts after hours and used their Cray computer): I think, with time, any stigma that may be attached to digital art will disappear, much as it did with photography (which many thought was the death nell for painting: obviously, it wasn't).

    And, naturally, there will always be artists who work in traditional mediums, with more appearing every year. There will always be people who paint on canvas and draw on paper so there will never be a shortage for collectors. There definitely are shifts going on in publishing and, as with movie posters, there are fewer traditionally-created works than in year's past for collectors...which can lead to an entirely different conversation about collecting or another about being a patron or another about...

    Jonathan and Williams--
    Thank you!

  8. I don't understand how art can be considered a commodity for investment, unless one has no love or appreciation for art.
    While I have been blessed with several talents, artistry is not among them. Perhaps because of that, I am awed by the ability of skilled artists. More importantly, art captures things that can't be expressed in words: A feeling, an emotion, a favorite memory.
    I collect art so that I can keep some of the magic of creation near me. It's a privilege to trade mere money for something that brings me joy, and which I could never hope to create myself. I'm surrounded by pieces which speak to me emotionally, and fill my home with beauty and color. If the day ever comes when I am compelled to sell a piece, my first concern will be finding someone who will love it as I have, not getting the highest possible price!


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