Art is Mute When Money Talks

Is this art? A painting at the 2009 Pier Show in New York
Is this art? A painting at the 2009 Pier Show

I was engaged in a lively conversation on a LinkedIn group on another topic when a statement was made something to the effect of serious art collectors don’t shop at antique shows and you won’t find serious art there. As you can probably anticipate, my reply contained the word “nonsense.”

First, let me say here that I regularly attend antique (and art and antique) shows across the spectrum from urban flea markets to the best shows in New York. You may or may not be surprised, but they all contain art. That’s true even if your definition of art is limited to paintings.

At the Brooklyn Flea Market, for instance, I personally know artists whose work is regularly sold there. This art doesn’t fall into the antique category, but none-the-less it is very much art.

The name of Renoir came up in the exchange, and while I can’t think of seeing a specific Renoir at a show (I imagine over the years there have been a few in the same booth with me), I can think of a William Bouguereau, Gilbert Stuart, Honoré Dumier, Frederick Edwin Church, Jasper Cropsey and others. This is said without exploring the fact that furniture making, carving and silversmith (ing) is widely considered an art.

This started to raise the ire of my friend as I briefed him over the phone on the conversation that had transpired. Are only wealthy people looking for paintings in the five or six figure range serious collectors? “I like my paintings,” he said “and I consider them art as they were certainly painted by artists.”

I think William H. Gerdts, author of a number of books on American painting, may have something to say about being a serious collector on a limited budget.  Or we could ask the modernist civil servant collectors Herb and Dorothy Vogel, who managed to assemble a collection worthy of the National Gallery on a shoestring budget. Watch Trailer

Yes folks, there is art (and are paintings) to be found at antique shows, in antique malls, in galleries and at flea markets. The seriousness of a collector is inside you—not in the paintings you can or can’t afford. Don’t for a minute think that because you don’t have a big budget you can’t collect art. You can. You can also rub elbows with the big time collectors looking in the same places along the way.

About Eric Miller

Eric Miller is co-founder and contributor to Urban Art & Antiques. His website is


Amen! I like your statement “the seriousness of a collector is inside you—not in the paintings you can or can’t afford”. I’m an auctioneer, so I go to a lot of auctions and antique shows. I also seriously collect art. Everything in my collection has come from such shows. My budget runs more to paintings by local artist and signed prints, but I enjoy what I buy. I suspect that your nemesis may have meant “investment quality art” when he said “serious art”. I don’t buy art for investment, I buy it because I like to look at it. If I want investment art, I’ll frame my stock certificates.

Would you care to attempt a definition of “investment quality art?” The best I could do is “well-listed,” although even that wouldn’t be accurate. There’s lots of “well-listed” art out there at antique shows anyway.

“Well listed art” and other collectable art is definately where you find it. I have been collecting art for the majority of my adult life. At 64, I purchase art at upscale galleries in Santa Fe or on occassion at yard sales, re-sale shops, or estate sales. More than once, I’ve found $5-$10K “listed” art at yard sales. Looking for art can be a “treasure hunt” for me, or I’ll buy art because I just happen to like the piece (non-investment).

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