I’ve been an advocate of fine art for over 25 years, from the time I managed the national Martin Lawrence Galleries, selling the works of Warhol, Rosenquist, Rauschenberg, Oldenburg and Keith Haring. While art has been my business all these years, it has also been my passion—adding a dimension of happiness, fulfillment and personal enrichment that has made me an unabashed cheerleader. I caught the bug and I’m happy to say that I will never recover.
The impulse to share art is contagious. In my life, I was lucky that it began at home with my mother who has been a life-long painter, and now at 72, is still a talented and active artist. The spark I inherited from her I have relished in passing along to my daughters, their friends, and through my business at Artexpo New York, to thousands of others around the world. Time and time again, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege to witness the spark of discovery ignited in new eyes. How many CEOs in the world get to enjoy that kind of visceral high on a regular basis?
In these precarious financial times, the art world, as everywhere else, has taken a hard hit. In the past few years galleries large and small have struggled with sales, and far too many have been forced to close their doors forever. At the same time, auction houses have seen record highs, including Picasso’s 1932 “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust,” which sold last May for $106.5 million, eclipsing the sale of Alberto Giacommeti’s “Walking Man I” a few months earlier for $104.2 million at Sotheby’s in London. Pundits at Businessweek and CNBC recently have lauded fine art as an excellent investment that’s particularly suited to times of economic instability. Art holds its value on many levels.
When my daughters were young, parents were invited to school for “Career Day” to tell the kids what we did for a living. When I stood in front of the class, I realized the best way to tell my story was by teaching them to draw a picture. In a few minutes at the chalk board, I showed the kids how to combine a few simple circles and strokes to create the portrait of a “Goofy” dog—just like the one my mother taught me to draw when I was 7. At the end, I got a big round of applause.
But then came the most heartening and unexpected denouement. A week later, I received a package containing 24 thank you notes that read, “Dear Mr. Smith, Thank you sooo much for teaching us about art and for teaching us to draw the dog.” The beauty was that each note was accompanied by an individual drawing of the dog. I still have those pictures—now around 250 of them collected from many repeat visits to the school!—stored in a box with other important keepsakes. They remind me of how easy it is to ignite the spark of curiosity, creativity and individuality in receptive hearts and minds.
Why do people collect art? For those of us who are not artists, it’s a way to marvel at the creative process and in some very real way to participate in it. Fundamentally, human nature revels in the creative side of life. Art chronicles the history of humans and some of the very finest individual accomplishments of the human race. Unlike museums of natural history, art museums document and enshrine human creativity. Without creativity, without innovation, there’s nothing new in our future.
Something I learned when I first started working with museums and art galleries was that if children don’t visit a museum before the end of high school (possibly earlier), they probably never will.
With this caveat, I made it a priority to take my daughters and a few of their friends regularly to the Cleveland Art Museum, one of the best in the country. We’d enter a gallery and I’d count backwards from 10, and they had to pick their favorite work of art. While they rolled their eyes at the word “museum,” they loved running from room to room finding the work that impressed them the most and then explain why it was so special. For a transcendent moment, it wasn’t about what everyone else liked. In 10 seconds, there’s no time to compare notes. There’s only enough time to know what speaks to you, and that’s perhaps the greatest gift of art.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder—it’s all about you! Art provides the opportunity to discover your personal preferences and tastes and to gain confidence in your powers of perception. Whether as a collector or an artist, art brings two spirits together to appreciate the same thing. It’s the epitome of self-expression and individuality for both creator and appreciator.
March is the month for great art in New York City with six shows taking place back-to-back at Pier 94, NYC’s famed “Art and Design Pier.” After the exclusive Armory Show comes Armory Modern, then Pier Antiques, Architectural Digest Home Design, The Artist Project, and lastly, our show, Artexpo New York, which is the largest, oldest, and most inclusive. I encourage you to attend any of these shows because you and your family will not be disappointed. I guarantee that you will come away enriched, inspired and uplifted, because that’s what art does. And wherever you are, make a point of visiting your local galleries and art museums. They are filled with untold treasures that you can enjoy, often for free. I challenge you to count backwards from 10 and find your favorite work in every room. You’ll find something you love.
Eric Smith is CEO of Artexpo New York (March 25-27), the world’s largest fine art trade show for 32 years, providing trade buyers and weekend shoppers with access to thousands of innovative works from artists and publishers in a single venue. Over the decades, Artexpo has hosted many of the world’s most renowned artists, including Andy Warhol, Peter Max, Robert Rauschenberg, Keith Haring, Robert Indiana and Leroy Neiman. With over 25 years of experience, Mr. Smith is a leading expert on the art market and the latest trends and forecasts. He is frequently asked to lecture at industry trade shows and conferences and is regularly quoted by the media.