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.

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