How to build a great art collection on the cheap…

Garage or estate sales:

I purchased this lovely abstract painting at a garage sale 20 years ago; it was my first original art purchase. It was lying face down on the floor, and the seller was thrilled when I offered $100. She would have taken far less. I still have no idea who the artist was…from the look of the painting I would guess it’s a study by a student artist – but that never really mattered. It’s pretty and well composed, it’s original, and I still like looking at it.


My grandfather, after he retired, spent every weekend hitting the yard sales and picking up old frames for as little as $2 so he could refurbish them and use them for collages. This striking numbered lithograph by Israeli artist Tumarkin was hiding in an ancient dusty frame he brought home. It now hangs in my kitchen.



I have traded art for spa services, chiropractic appointments, and even a week-long vacation home rental. Do you provide a service or sell something? Ask an artist about barter! (Especially if you’re an Orthodontist…my kids need braces).

Unexpected Places:

If you keep your eyes open, you can find good art in totally unexpected places. The basements of elderly relatives, for example, can be a goldmine if you can look past dust and old framing.DSC_0020

Last month I found this hand-printed serigraph dated 1973 lying by the side of the road. The frame was ancient and cobwebby, and so brittle I had to break through it with a sledgehammer … but the print inside, signed by Canadian artist Margaret Peter, was pristine. I can’t wait to treat it to a new mat and a crisp white frame.

So the next time you’re complaining about your empty walls, remember two things: 1. If you must have new art, see if you can barter with a working artist. Some artists won’t do it, but some will. What have you got to lose?  2. If you’re not particular about where your art comes from, there is a lot of good art out there that will get tossed in the trash if a hero like you doesn’t rescue it and give it a good home. So use your magic eagle eyes today and go find some art to save from languishing in your great-great aunt’s mouldy basement.

Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it. (Roald Dahl)

Why so many people think they can’t do art…

One thing I find bizarre about telling people I’m an artist is that they sometimes get all wistful and say, “Oh…I could never do that”.


My brother is a surgeon with a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Pathobiology. He takes out cancers and saves lives several times a day. And yet it’s ME to whom they say oooohhh…I could never do that.

What people say to my brother is more along the lines of, “Sigh…I should have gone into medicine.”

So…just to recap: intelligent, educated, cultured, hardworking people think they can’t be artists, even though it’s one of the last remaining skills you can learn well without higher education or a lot of money.

And lazy dumbasses think they could have been surgeons if they had only decided to go to medical school.

Why do so many people think they can’t do art? You made art when you were a kid, and you liked it – you know you did. So what happened to you? Don’t say a teacher gave you a bad grade on an art project because that’s not an excuse. My brother failed scissors in preschool. You think he gave up and said ‘I’ll never cut again’? The problem is we live in a world where we tell our kids they can be anything they want to be, so everyone believes they could have been a doctor.

In med school if you get a wrong diagnosis they make you try again until you get it right. In art school if you produce a bad piece of work they tell you to stick to your day job.

But not every working artist started out with innate abilities, and art is something that we already know can be learned. Yes, talent is innate. And shining art stars have talent, but so do shining medical stars. And just as in medicine, where an inherent ability and sensitivity can’t be taught but good technique can be learned, art technique and theory can also be learned.

And by the way, just like in every other field, plenty of successful working artists have no talent.

Art is something everyone is entitled to do. It’s fun and relaxing, and if you’re not good at it, you can take any number of classes offered at affordable rates within minutes of wherever you live. Don’t ever say you can’t do art because you’re not gifted or creative. You don’t have to be either- just go take a class and the instructor will tell you what to do. You’ll experience the rush of creating something from scratch with your own two hands and I promise you’ll feel like a kid again.

To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.

(Kurt Vonnegut)

The Absurdity of Art Jargon

There’s an epidemic going around among artists. It has been a problem for centuries but is worse than ever today due to the fact that it feeds on itself and grows exponentially over time.

This disease is deadly but not (unfortunately) fatal. It infects the part of the brain that is able to put rational thought onto paper (although in some sad cases it carries over into the spoken word as well). This pervasive illness causes otherwise capable, intelligent people, who speak clearly and plainly in their daily lives, to babble unintelligibly when writing about their art.
Here is a typical example:
My work explores the boundaries between subsistence and extinction in critical practice. With influences as diverse as the pre-raphaelite brotherhood and Frank Gehry, new combinations are generated from both constructed and discovered forms.
What starts out as yearning soon becomes manipulated into a dominion of ineffectuality, leaving only a sense of dissolution and the hybridizing possibilities of a new reality. As temporal derivatives become frozen through emergent and diverse practice, the viewer is left with a glimpse of the synthetic landscape of our era.
Ok I made that one up.  But I guarantee every artist with a website or a blog will have some kind of silly statement like this on it. I have one – and it’s pretty darn impressive if I do say so myself…
But here’s the thing: I know artists. Many artists. Most of them are just regular people who speak plainly and can discuss their work in clear, straightforward, honest language. Why then, when we write about our work, do we spew out nonsensical bullshit?  Do people think this sounds cool? Because let’s be honest, most of these people have no idea what they’re saying.
Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE discussing art.  I can talk about it in depth for hours. I can get philosophical: is it subjective or objective? I can wax poetic on historical references and influences in an artist’s work. But even I have my limits, and there is a level of pretentiousness that I just can’t tolerate when I’m sober.  If a representational artist paints fruit, I tend to think his paintings are probably about fruit. Do we really need to say that they explore the divorce of the cruel scrutiny of the modern world from the romantic sensibilities that pervade the hierarchies of the past? It’s a freakin apple and two pears.
Abstract painters are some of the worst perpetrators and I, sadly, am not blameless. I have to admit I have written some crazy shit in applications for art shows and painting competitions. Though I have tried to block it out, I can’t deny a recent application I submitted that included some primo mumblings about line, form, and the expression of tension through the metaphor of invisibility. The truth is more like this:
I take paint, put it on some wood, and then take some more paint and put it on top of the paint that is already on the wood. I use colours I happen to like that day, and I build up layers with stuff I find interesting. I have design ideas, deep feelings and songs in my heart -and I use paint to express them.
What do you think?
Sounds stupid.
So I guess I will have to continue to keep the illusion alive…the holier than thou artist persona I’m supposed to maintain on paper so I can officially call myself an artiste. (I prefer to refer to myself as a painter but then people ask me how much to paint their kitchen…)
Oops!  Gotta go…my beret just fell off, but first I will leave you with a selection from the excellent artist bio of my good friend and fellow painter Marc Cooper.
I was born on a pirate ship.   I’m a husband, daddy, son, brother and friend.  My parents never met.  And I was brought up by a litter of Goldendoodles. I’m man’s best friend. The only formal training I’ve had is crate training. I love to ruin a painting only to create something better, I hope you enjoy my art as much as I enjoy creating it.
What a delightful thing is the conversation of specialists!
One understands absolutely nothing and it’s charming. 
(Edgar Degas)