Blog: Heirlooms

Christine Alfery

Posted on April 12 2020

Blog: Heirlooms

The Art Playground Is Changing

I recently read a Wall Street Journal article about the changing art market.  It got me thinking about how our perception of art has changed.  Art used to be something that endured from generation to generation, like the way engagement diamonds used to be passed down from generation to generation. I thought about the tradition of a woman receiving a diamond ring, wearing that diamond for the rest of her life, and then passing it down as a treasured heirloom.

I thought about how my grandmother passed her diamond ring to my mother. Both women treasured and wore that ring for their entire lives.  I have that ring now, and my mother imagined one day it would be passed on, and on, and on. But things of changed, and not everyone sees a diamond engagement ring the same way anymore. Diamonds get traded in for something bigger or better, something more in style or something more to the taste of the current generation. For some, the emphasis no longer remains on the family stories or the history of an heirloom. For many family heirlooms, they simply become a commodity that can be bought and sold.

The same can be said for art today. It is not often you see a treasured oil painting of Great Uncle Henry hanging above the mantle. Rather there is more likely some sort of wall decor that matches the room decor that can be used and tossed away like a happy meal when it is no longer to the taste of the room.

Personally I have always cherished and fought for the idea of an heirloom. At the same time, I recognize that these are rapidly changing times – as illustrated by the Wall Street Journal article.  According to the article the “art world is on the precipice of changing into something beyond recognition, where salability outpaces creativity in the name of gallery survival, and high prices and inaccessibility turn off young collectors who might have become lasting patrons. How ironic it would be, then, if a system that gained traction to help galleries ends up undoing them.” 

The part of that quote that hit me in the gut was “salability outpaces creativity”.  Businesses want to stay alive (who wouldn’t) but that doesn’t always support the ultimate uniqueness and enduring quality of art, like the heirloom diamond.

Artists, galleries, collectors, and those playing in the art sandbox feel the change.  Some cheer it on, others feel the loss of something precious.  For me, I love playing in the art sandbox, and I am doing my best to move with the flow of the change. At the same time I am saddened by the loss of something precious.  Just like my grandmother’s diamond, there is a story that needs to be passed on. 

Collectors are an important part of that story.  Choose art in the way my grandfather chose that diamond – thinking of unique beauty and why you love something.  Choose it for the stories it tells of today, and imagining those stories passed on for generations to come. 

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