Collector Scoop is a series of interviews and features on emerging and established art collectors. Today, we had a conversation with Vermont Center for Photography gallery director Joshua Farr about how he got into collecting art.
Can you share your background with us and how you got into collecting art? Do you remember the first piece of art that you bought?
I feel almost as though I've sort of stumbled into collecting photographs. You could say it's a side-effect of my job!
Backing up a little bit... I attended the NH Institute of Art for my BFA in Photography, graduating in 2011. My time there certainly helped build a foundation of understanding of both the technical aspects of photography as well as my exposure to many historic and contemporary artists. Since 2011, I have been working as the Gallery Director at the Vermont Center for Photography in Brattleboro, VT. The last 5 years of working at VCP has really exposed me to a whole new world of arts management and curatorial endeavors. The process of jurying exhibitions and seeking new work for our gallery walls each month inevitably exposes me to a diverse array of work.
I can't recall which was the first piece I actually bought, but perhaps the one piece which most inspired me to start actively collecting work is a large portrait given to me by photographer Siri Kaur of a young female wrestler titled "Kristie". (*Photo attached*) This piece holds both a stunning glow of color, creating such a technically beautiful print, as well as a beautiful capture of her subject. The combination of the color, the subjects stark expression, and the simplicity of composition triggered an emotional response in me.
How do you think that collecting contributes to the artistic community?
Collecting artwork seems to me to be a win-win scenario on many levels. When an individual walks into a gallery and decides to purchase a piece they want to take home with them, they are not only supporting the artist financially, they are also supporting the gallery or institution that is hosting the exhibition (which, one would hope, would then support said gallery's ongoing efforts of sharing additional fine works in the future) - and of course, the buyer is also benefiting via a beautiful new piece to add to their home or place of business.
I happen to live in a town with boundless enthusiasm for the arts - which is crucial - but I often see artists struggle because I feel like there is not enough of a buyer-population. I often find myself grappling with the general principles of how many artists price their work simply because I see the time, energy, materials and thought put into the creation of ones work, which can give merit to some of the prices you see work listed at today - however, I feel like it is important for artwork to be accessible by individuals of all financial abilities and for the arts market to not become an elitist or exclusive community.
Do you feel that the notion of collecting art can be intimidating or inaccessible to the general public? If so, how do you think that barrier can be lowered?
As I mentioned in my previous response, I do feel like collecting artwork frequently comes across as intimidating or inaccessible to the general public! Particularly for younger individuals who many not have the means to walk into a gallery and buy a piece off the wall. I'm not sure I have any immediate suggestions or thoughts as to how to actively seek to lower that barrier, but I will say that the majority of folks I have chatted with or spent time with who consider themselves to be collectors have simply decided to make collecting a priority for themselves. I feel like many things as far as our day to day lifestyle and financial abilities come down to priorities. Would you rather purchase a $5 latte every morning for a year, or that that nearly $2000/yr and invest it in artwork? With that said, I do realize that no matter what your priorities are, there are still going to be financial limitations for some of us, myself included. I feel like this is where creative trade & bartering skills can come into play! I've done numerous print swaps with professors, friends, and other artists whose work I admire and I feel like this can be a very non-intimidating approach to getting the ball rolling. You don't (and shouldn't) need to be wealthy to be a collector.
What are your favorite resources for discovering new artists?
I would have to say that one of my largest sources of exposure to new artists has been the juried exhibitions we have hosted at the Vermont Center for Photography. Often times, these calls for entry bring together hundreds of photographers from around the globe, each submitting a sampling of their work for consideration for the exhibit - and even if their work is not selected overall for the show, I do keep a running list of photographers whose work I've come across who I would like to follow up with at some point in the future or at least make mental note to keep tabs on their work. I have been known to find myself tumbling through artists websites after seeing a sampling of their work as a submission for a juried show and wanting to see more. Invariably, their sites have links to other friends sites, and I very quickly get sucked deep into the corners of the world-wide web!
In addition to juried shows, there's always social media (Facebook & Instagram primarily). We are living in an increasingly digital era and it's nearly impossible for me to scroll 3'' through my Facebook or Instagram feed without stumbling upon either a new artist who I wasn't previously familiar with, or new work by someone whom I was already familiar with.
Do you have any advice for emerging or aspiring art collectors?
I would simply encourage any aspiring collectors to collect what they love. Collect work that moves you emotionally. I can't always explain what it is about every single piece that I own that keeps me coming back to it, but I know that every single piece that I own has triggered some level of raw emotional response from me. Personally, I never acquire or hold onto work because of it's monetary value (or potential future value) - doing so would feel too removed for me - removed from the beauty of the image as simply that...an image - or idea, rather than as an object or possession.
Are you an emerging or established art collector and interested in being featured? Email Rachael at firstname.lastname@example.org