My husband and I watched PBS’s Antiques Roadshow last night. It is one of our favorite programs, and as I was watching, this woman showed up with a picture of a canoe in the water. She didn’t like it, and neither did any of her family. It was inherited and it simply wasn’t her style. She thought it might have value however, so before she sold it she wanted to have an appraisal. It was a nice paintings, as paintings of canoes go, in my humble opinion.
The appraiser, as I suspect a lot of them do, went to his colleagues, and probably the Internet. The artist wasn’t famous, but he had a following- and produced work that had its niche. It was a mid-20th century American work. He was well known enough for a couple of pieces to have gone to auction in the past. This canoe number, wasn’t his best or his most creative, but the AR appraiser estimated, at auction would go for about $125,000. I think the family decided to like it just a little bit more after that experience!
I have no delusions about the value of my aunt’s artistic oeuvre. First of all, I don’t own any pieces, and secondly, there was one teeny tiny mention of her on the Internet before this blog got started. My aunt may be relatively unknown, but not unappreciated!
And that is my point. Someday, 50 years from now, if Antiques Roadshow or anything like it is beaming through someone’s information/entertainment portal, what would they say about one of her paintings? About Sister Mary James Ann?
Some of her work I feel is brilliant. Art appreciation is subjective of course. Naturally, I am biased. But I will be honest and say some of it doesn’t move me, but I do have what I think is a good aesthetic eye. In the vernacular of the common man, some of this is very good stuff!
What is called art, what people pay to hang on their wall, what appraisers see as worthy or not, is largely about personal taste. But worthiness in the art appraisal world also rests on an artist’s auction history, or what academia has written, or what museums choose to value or exhibit.
I don’t know the first thing about art markets- but I do think markets can be cultivated, and not necessarily in a monetary sense, but rather, from an aesthetic perspective. Can one sense exist without the other? I don’t know. The value of an object is the price it will bring. I am not vain enough to think that this little blog is going to create a sensation in the art world, or that my finished thesis, as a published paper, book or documentary, could ever establish my aunt as a famous artist. That is not my objective.
What I want is for her to have a searchable history. She has a clear, established reputation at Clarke University. There may be other pockets of aficionados out there that I do not know about. My aunt’s oeuvre may always remain somewhat obscure. (I’d love to own an original some day and wouldn’t that be ironic if I ended up pricing myself out of a market I helped create!?) Ha! In my best Yiddish accent, “such a problem I should have! Oy!”
Seriously, what I would like to see, perhaps in my lifetime, is that occasion in the future when some man or woman gets in line at the Antiques Roadshow taping, or takes their mysterious painting into their local appraiser and asks, “I inherited this crazy, wild explosion of color-and I’d like to know more about it or the artist who painted it.”
I would like those questioning faces to receive an informed answer. I worry that some day, someone will tote said painting to that AR appraiser, and he or she will scratch their heads and say, “I have no idea.” I worry my aunt’s work would be passed aside as an unknown entity. Dismissed. Dismissal appears to be linked directly to knowledge. Knowledge is good. How unfair it would be to have one of her paintings evaluated – unrecognized in the context of her entire output. That it might be assessed without consult or without the proper information? That would be sad. Maybe it wouldn’t bring anything in an auction, but I would want that appraiser to be able, at the very least, to educate its owner on the background and biography of the artist.
So it is my wish that this humble contribution, and the research yet to come, will lay a foundation of information for any appraiser to tap into and use as a means to assess an aesthetic, if not monetary value. I’ve made my aunt “Google-able.” That’s an important first step. I hope to attach further knowledge, opinion, research and high quality images to those searches and keywords. To be able to go to the Internet, maybe someday my published thesis- a book, and be able to share, “Oh, yes, that is a SMJA piece. She was a Roman Catholic nun who studied, taught and painted in Iowa and who…..”
That kind of appraisal would be beyond value!