Curiosity or Compulsion?

Being an artist in a small town means that I get to chat with people about art almost every day. We as humans have an innate desire to surround ourselves with beauty, and whether we do it consciously or not, we each form our own often strong ideas about what we like and what we don’t like when it comes to the kind of beauty we surround ourselves with.

In my casual discussions with people around town, there are a few themes that come up regularly, but the most pervasive of them is the value of art. Usually, I get a comment that runs along these lines: “I wish I could afford more original art… someday when I win the lottery.” I always leave those moments feeling a little sad, but it took me a while to unpack the emotion to figure out why.

We all assign different values to different things in our lives. I’d happily spend thousands of dollars on a guitar, or $40 on a single tube of paint, but have a harder time justifying a bike purchase. Inversely, someone who is into snow machines justifies thousands of dollars annually for the pleasure of their sport, but balk at spending a few hundred on a painting. It’s all in how we set our priorities, and our priorities tell us what we value, and our values tell us what we believe.

Our language is the fundamental building block of our core values, so listening carefully to the way we speak about our lives reveals a curious habit: when our spare cash gets low, we move the things that are most important to us into the ‘need’ category, and leave the rest in the ‘want’ category. At the end of a long week, I find myself saying things like “I need a cold beer.” Let’s all agree that beer is not like the need to feed the kids or put new brake pads on the car: they are expendable in that we could theoretically live without them, and yet we find a way to spend on the things we value whether they are actual ‘needs’ or simply reclassified ‘wants.’

The problem with classifying art (in the broadest sense of the term) as a luxury-only purchase, is that eliminating it from our lives wears away at the foundation of what makes us human. Acts of art rooted in the creative process saturate every area of our lives. If all our clothing choices were merely practical we’d all be wearing grey coveralls, listening to the news all day as we drove our tan Crown Victoria to our 9-5 job. It would be a drab, boring world out there. At a time when our world is in need of diversity, creative thinking, curiosity, and tolerance, we have to continue to find ways to exercise our art muscles. A recent study conducted by social scientists at the opening of a museum (in an area where there previously wasn’t one) showed that students who were randomly selected to visit ‘...demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of social tolerance, exhibited greater historical empathy’ than students in a control group.

Filling our homes and lives with visual richness is not only good for our mental health, it’s great for our ability to solve difficult problems and empathize with our fellow humans. While art certainly can be expensive, it does not have to be! We can make sure to have plenty of beauty on our house walls without breaking the bank. I’ve compiled a short list of helpful ways you can make sure you grow your own personal art collection:

    1. Buy local! Local artists usually charge less than regional or national artists. Supporting local artists not only feeds our economy (as well as feeding your local artists), it is a great way to get original works for less money.

    2. Buy limited edition prints. The process of printmaking is great because the time a piece of art takes to make is divided by the number of prints that are made. As a result, you can often get a piece of original art for a less than the cost of a restaurant meal.

    3. Save a little every month for one large piece of art at least once in your life. The people who I’ve seen buy the big paintings are not the wealthy people with extra cash; usually, it’s the local couple who save and buy a piece for each other, and savour that purchase for the rest of their lives!

    4. Do it now. If you find a piece you like, don’t wait. You only get one chance with original art. It won’t be there later, and if it is, it will be more expensive. Quality art almost never decreases in commercial value so consider it a pretty safe investment.

    5. Write it off. If you own a small business in Canada, Canadian art is tax-deductible. There is a period you have to hang it in your place of work (or home-office) but it’s a great way to save some tax dollars to offset your art purchases.