D.H. sends what appears to be a basket, produced in the 1990’s in Australia, a great example of “studio craft art.” Objects like this are typically innovative, ambiguous, true to ancient craft techniques, and resemble objects from both the future and the ancient past. Is D.H.’s basket ritualistic, ancient tribal art; is it made of wicker (as most baskets are), is it cast metal, is it bone, is it leather, is it ceramic, is it wood? Actually, it is all of the above. This ambiguity makes good studio craft hard to identify and difficult to sell if you are not selling it from the original gallery. There is a lack of pigeonhole-ability; such pieces are neither industrial design, nor architectural design, nor fine art design. When craft art is NOT well done, it loses a quality called ‘integrity’. The artist may have taken a shortcut that is felt in the heart; something about the artwork seems to be “wrong.” A good example of this might be Tribal Art that is “mass-produced” by non-natives.
D.H. may sell her basket. She writes me that the artists are a married couple, Tanija and Graham Carr, with an international yet niche reputation, perhaps better known today than when D.H. purchased the piece in the 90’s because of the couple’s show at “Sculpture, Objects and Fine Arts” in Chicago (a great town for studio craft). A piece like D.H.’s might be priced between $6,000-8,000. Of course, few people would reorganize D.H.’s piece for that value out of context. My suggestion to D.H. is that she get in touch with William Zimmer Gallery in Chicago to try to consign her piece, as nowhere else will she achieve its true worth.
Gallerists who represent such craft artists do not want their artist’s works to sell outside of their gallery. This is because the artist’s sales record can be easily skewed to the detriment by a rogue sale to an uninformed buyer. For example, Zimmer sells 3-pieces of Carrs’ works for $8,000 each. Then another piece appears on Craigslist because the owner has no idea how much it is worth at retail, let alone what it is or what era it is from, or even what material it is made of, or by whom. Thus, it sells for $50. The artist’s portfolio of values achieved is therefore tarnished. For such artists, a marketplace is created by force, not by chance.
D.H., however, has excellent taste; we have met and talked in my office here in SB about her life-project, which is a catalogue raisonné of the artist F.S. Church: a chronicle of his letters vis-a-vie his paintings and illustrations. Church fascinates her because, back in the late 19th to early 20th C., Church was fascinated by D.H.’s grandmother and painted and drew her often. D.H. has traced her grandmother’s beloved artist friend to a very wealthy local family who established a homestead ranch in our Central Coast hills back at the last turn of the century.
When someone has studied an artist for over 20 years, has written books about their art, this aficionado has taught herself to LOOK. D.H. has “developed an eye.” What that means is she forms her own appreciation of beauty. Exceptional shapes, unique materials, repetition of lines, and signature colors intrigue. Just one artist studied for a long period has helped her to learn how to see art.
The benefits of being able to “see” may lead to idiosyncratic purchases like this craft vessel. D.H’s “eye” is leading her heart, not the idea of what other people might think is fine art. This ability to “see” is born in a person, and then learned; the quality of “a good eye” is honed over a lifetime. Thus, when an aficionado has both the core ability to SEE and the learned ability to LOOK, that aficionado becomes a connoisseur. She has entered into a mutual contract with a beloved work of art. That contract is a willing, mutual “state of creativity.”
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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