What’s on your wall? Try to name an artist who doesn’t have original art in his or her home. It’s nearly impossible. But the reasons artists collect and the ways they collect vary. 

Painters love to find deep-pocketed collectors who will buy several of their pieces over the course of years. Artists will set up at festivals and plein air events, build websites, network with charities and land trusts, and advertise in high-end magazines to connect with people who connect with their art. Those are smart strategies. But there’s one group that dependably collects art, arguably more than any other significant pool of consumers: fellow artists.

The reasons why artists collect art vary. Similar to non-painting collectors, artists buy art because it moves them, whether through beauty or through poignancy. Artists likely don’t buy art thinking that it will be an investment, although more than a few painters buy pieces from burgeoning stars while they can still afford pieces by them. 

This Andrew Loomis painting is in Carl Bretzke’s collection.

It’s safe to say that artists are art lovers, so there’s justification enough to collect art. Painters also like to support their peers. “I love to support my fellow artists, so I buy art whenever I can afford to. To me, there’s nothing more flattering than to have another artist buy my work, so I like to pass along that amazing feeling,” says Cheryl St. John, a Colorado painter. “Of course, I buy what inspires me as well.”

Bretzke owns this piece by Ben Fenske. “I don’t have a [Marc] Dalessio yet, but I will someday,” says Bretzke.

Inspiration comes up as a reason to collect for many artists. A painter may admire the way another artist handles a technique or subject matter that gives him or her problems. The collected piece can serve as a learning tool. 

The wall in Carl Bretzke’s home with many of the paintings he has collected

“I have a few pieces that I’m intrigued with because of the way they are painted,” says Carl Bretzke, a Minneapolis artist. “In one, I admire the way the artist left space between his brushstrokes. I have several pieces in my studio, and I look at them for inspiration.” Bretzke’s collection includes a number of pieces that are in a different style from his own art, including a portrait by Andrew Loomis and a figure by Ben Fenske.

Ted Matz bought this piece by Barbara Roehl that depicts Matz painting en plein air.

Ted Matz understands this compulsion. “Most of the time the pieces are not like how I paint,” says the Florida artist. “Everybody wants to be what they are not. It’s like how people who have curly hair want straight hair, and vice versa. Maybe it’s that people think they should be painting differently than they are. I do a lot of teaching, and I see that mostly people don’t believe in themselves enough. But overall, I collect art from people who really inspire me.”

“Boatyard Beauties,” by Katie Dobson Cundiff, 2013, oil. Collection of Lynn Wilson

Many artists buy pieces from mentors, or from artists who taught a workshop they attended. It allows them to keep an example on hand to reinforce the lessons learned. It’s no surprise that Bretzke has a painting by Joe Paquet, his friend and mentor going back 10 years. Florida artist, collector, and gallery owner Lynn Wilson follows a similar sequence. “I like to buy a piece from someone I have experienced painting with,” she says. “I might study with them or take a workshop, then we become comrades and friends, then I collect them, and maybe I sell on their behalf.” Many artists trade a piece of their own art for that of another. “I pay for it, and it becomes a piece in my collection,” counters Wilson. But she’s intrigued by the idea.

“Shores of St. Joe,” by Donald Demers, 2014, oil on panel, 8 x 10 in. Collection of Lynn Wilson

Wilson has made a point of collecting some of the better-known names in plein air painting, including Albert Handell, Alvaro Castagnet, and Richard McKinley, but she also has a passion for Florida painters such as Morgan Samuel Price, Katie Dobson Cundiff, and Bill Farnsworth. 

Bretzke owns this piece by Joe Paquet, his mentor and friend.

On the other end of the spectrum is Cynthia Rosen, a gregarious painter with many friends in both Arizona and Vermont — her two stomping grounds. One would expect her to have a large art collection, but she doesn’t. Rosen says she does have smaller pieces that charmed her along the way, and, rather than building up a collection for herself, she has started to buy pieces for her grandchildren. “As they grow I will continue to buy small works that I think will be meaningful,” she says.

Andrew Dickson traded one of his pieces to get this demo painting from Erin Raedeke, who served as a visiting instructor for a workshop Dickson organized through California State University.

In California, painter Andrew Dickson is just dipping his toes in the art-collecting pool. He is excited to own a piece by Erin Raedeke, an instructor he brought to his area to teach a workshop at the college where he teaches. “She is a fabulous artist from Washington, D.C., and I consider myself so fortunate to have one of her beautiful, sparkling still life paintings in my living room,” says Dickson. “I was able to watch her demo, her process and use of materials, and also to get to know her a bit as an individual. This was truly an eye-opening experience, as she takes a completely different approach to painting than I do, and the result is also quite different. I have never used a process remotely like hers, even though we share a similarity as observationally based painters, and neither of us works from photos. So her painting on my wall is much more than a beautiful image. It’s a reminder of an enlightening experience of the process of painting–an experience that I would never have come to on my own.”

Ted Matz obtained this piece by Chicago artist Brandon Howe — a piece that does not mirror Matz’s own work.


Many artists do as Matz does and mostly show other people’s work in their homes, with a constantly rotating selection of their own art appearing as well. Matz says he generally has his “orphans” hanging in his home — the pieces that aren’t bought. “My favorites usually sell –unfortunately, I don’t get to keep my kids around very long,” he says. There’s a place for works in progress, and pieces that are waiting for adjustments, or for shipment to a gallery. The pieces he buys from other artists constitute the bulk of his permanent collection. “I can paint my own painting if I want a piece the way I paint. Why would I collect more of mine?”

 

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