According to recent data released by the National Endowment for the arts, general participation in art-related events has been severely reduced.
During 2008, most art forms saw a decline in the number of patrons supporting performances or exhibits. The general population that actually took part in such events also appeared to be ageing, a trend that has shown an apparent streak of apathy about the arts in younger generations.
Most surprisingly, well-educated Americans are shying away from the art scene these days and collectors, both young and old, have also shown restraint in their purchasing habits. Evidently, the survey was performed during the worst economic crisis endured by Americans since the 1930s and this factor unequivocally tainted the results. Nevertheless, the amount of disposable income in the average American household has shrunk dramatically and for most people, buying art has tumbled to a very low position in the list of priorities.
So who is buying artwork these days? What does the average collector look like under these conditions?
Well, since collecting is more about who you are rather than what you actually collect, it all depends on what your reaction to the crisis has been. The drive to collect does not disappear so easily and for many collectors, this has been a process of adaptation rather than an abrupt extinction.
Now more than ever, it is easy to distinguish certain traits that all collectors have in common. They are what propels them to collect no matter what their interest or the economic environment.
Collectors relish ownership of the object itself. A close connection with the item is extremely gratifying, as is the sense of communion with the time and place where the object came from.
Collectors also like to make their own rules. The number of items, quality, time period or medium, for example, are all personally determined by the individual. The limits, if any, are always established solely by the personal taste and preferences of the collector himself.
Another important trait present in building up a collection is the sheer enjoyment of the chase. Finding a piece, even when it turns out to be a fortuitous discovery, brings a sense of achievement to the collector.
A need for personal expression is also manifested through the objects that make up the collection. The collector defines himself by choosing certain objects and rejecting others. The bigger picture, so to speak, is the tale of why the collection came to be. The story is not in the objects, but rather inside the collector. Inevitably, it always is a very particular narrative exclusive to that individual. As a result, no two collections are ever alike.
Finally, the most curious effect is that of transference. The collector is the self-appointed caretaker of the objects. There is continuous feedback between the collection and its owner. The beauty, eccentricity and uniqueness of the objects are nurtured by him. In turn, these qualities are assumed by the collector and accordingly passed on to subsequent owners.
If you possess any of these traits you are a collector at heart. Whether you start collecting comic books or fine art you will derive the same kind of satisfaction from your pursuit. It is a passion like no other.
By Cristina Clarimon-Alinder