January 14, 2009

Money Fades Art Endures

"People first, Money next, Things last," the financial guru, Suze Orman used to say. As a creator of art things, this widely touted advice was just the thing that I didn’t want to hear. I generally doubted the soundness of such simplistic advice, though, and in light of the recent economic downturn, realize that it may indeed have been all wrong.
I first suspected that the wisdom of Orman and others was built on shaky ground when a number of truisms she posited didn’t seem to pan out. One particularly amusing one was her admonition to people to embark on the road to financial freedom by getting together all the loose cash hanging around the house and start by investing that - it almost always amounted to $30.00 she confidently pronounced. I decided to put that to the test and began a search around the house for the hidden money. I came up with thirty cents. Right amount, wrong decimal point. So if Orman was wrong about the ubiquitous hidden cash might her other assumptions also be suspect? Perhaps so - especially with the pecking order of Money then Things.
A case in point: Throughout the last decade I saw a measly IRA fund go up and down with market fluctuations creating a net gain of about 0 %. This last week I took a second look, however, at some of the art "things" I purchased a long time ago and how their value has increased over the years. One was a drawing by an art professor from my graduate school days.
My professor at Parsons School of Design had a review of his work printed in a Chinese magazine. He asked me to translate it for him and offered me a hundred dollars or a drawing. I chose the drawing. It is now valued at about $2000 - a twenty fold increase.
Back when I was a translator in China, I set aside a small portion of a meager salary to purchase antique embroideries, which sold for the pittance of about $5.00 a piece. They now sell in the U.S. for between $80 and $300. I regret now selling these for $30.00 in the years following my return to the U.S.
Understandably, it would be a challenge under the present circumstances, to sell and get full market value for anything. Turning value into actual cash is harder than it seems. But it is a buyer’s market. So for those who can invest in art objects, it might not be a bad idea to do so and hold on to them for a while. Given my limited experience with appreciation of art, I wonder at what could have been if I had invested in "things" and then cashed them in at the right time. I wonder, too, at what could have been for many folks who had disposable income but chose to invest it in the stock market rather than pay off a mortgage. Would it not have been better for them to have owned that house thing free and clear?
My recent still life paintings and paintings of homes both lived in and abandoned are a testimony to the allure of ownership of things. The small oil on board is a painting of a small rose medallion vase that I found recently. It is probably a bit more valuable than what I spent on it but probably not by much. In doing the research on the vase, however, it was fun to find out about the iconography - some of which appeared only with magnification. One such symbol is the depiction of a paintbrush across an ink stone along with chrysanthemums. Chrysanthemums are a symbol of persistence for their continued blossoming during winter. I like to think that the juxtaposition of those flowers here with a paintbrush indicates the persistence of art - and the desire of artists to create things whether a market will bear them or not.

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