Make Friends, Collect Art: An Interview with Christy Tennant Krispin

August 5, 2015

We sat down with Christy Tennant Krispin, curator of Close To Home. In her literature for Close to Home, she writes, “The business involves galleries and artist reps and estimates and appraisals. People buy art for all sorts of reasons, including 'investment' and prestige. The art of collecting art is different. The art of collecting art is relational, generative, and rehumanizing. True art begets true art, and the art of collecting art is no different. Investing not in the art alone, but in the artist. Investing not based on a single bottom line, which is vulnerable, but on a triple bottom line, which is a very safe investment. Encouraging, bolstering, cheering, call it what you will—true patronage of the arts is about way more than purchasing a painting.My hope is to live out the art of art patronage. Even as I continue to make my own art as a writer, songwriter, and actor, I have become deeply enthralled by the joy of investing in others.” See the entire Close To Home document here.

Brehm: The idea of buying art is great, but it can get expensive. Specifically, people fear spending money during times of economic crisis. How do you think buying art should fit into lean economic times?

Christy Tennant Krispin: I think it’s times like this that you should be more inclined to spend money on something like [art].

I’m thinking of a particular story:At the end of WWII, the Allied soldiers liberated the [concentration] camps, and here they had all these starving and freezing survivors.  No food to give them.  No clothes or anything like that. Then one day, this shipment arrived.  The soldiers thought it might be food or medicine or something. They opened it and it was boxes of lipsticks.

The [soldier who told this story] was completely incensed that they would be so insensitive to send lipstick to concentration camp survivors. But then he said, the next day, he noticed women [in the camps] walking around with brightly painted lips. No clothes. Nothing on. They were completely emaciated, about to die. But, they had these bright red lips. The soldier remembers one woman being brought into the morgue, and she was clutching her lipstick in her had. It was something that reminded her that she’s a woman. There was something about this adornment that reminded her of her femininity, reminded her of her beauty.

Anything you can do to help yourself feel beautiful again is rehumanizing. So, I think times of lean finances, the extravagance of [consuming art] is the recognition that we’re human beings. We’re not animals. We need beauty.

Now, would I tell someone who is starving to spend $1,000 on a painting?  No.  I wouldn’t tell them to do that.  That’d be insensitive.  But, I would say, “Scrape together $50 and go to t  he starving artist’s exhibit.”  Or whatever, it’s not about the amount.  You could even do a trade.

Brehm: Walk us through what a trade might look like? How would one go about negotiating that with an artist?

CTK: I’ve done lots of trading. I’ve taught piano lessons for photography. I’m also on an installment plan with a friend.  In the gallery, [her art piece] was $10,000, and there’s no way we could do that.  But, we borrowed the painting for a little while and fell in love with it and decided we wanted to keep the painting.  She’s giving us the “friend price”, and we are paying $200/month.  When I told my friend it would be a while before we would own it, she said, “That’s fine, I’m not going anywhere.”

Ultimately, It boils down to where the artist is at in their career. If they’re someone who is genuinely struggling financially, and they’re not selling work at a very expensive rate, I think you should whatever you can to buy their work because they need money.

I knew an artist who needed some extra money.  So, I said, “Can you send me X amount of money’s worth of your art?”  I didn’t see the work ahead of time.  He sent me five prints and we called it even.  It was fun because he picked out pieces from his collection.  I got art.  He got some money.

This is getting at the heart of what I’m about, which is having a relationship with artists. When you have a relationship with someone, you work it out.  Yes, there’s the very awkward moment of not wanting to suggest something that is less valuable then their work. But, if you’re trying to outdo one another in kindness and generosity, then you’re both going to come out ahead. It’s when you start to be protective of what’s yours that you start to have some problems. But when your goal is to be the most generous one in the relationship, and you’re both doing that, that’s a good thing.

Brehm: How has collecting via relationship impacted you?

CTK: My friendships with artists—the time they’ve taken to teach me and tell me about their work—has helped me see the world better.  I am not a visual person.  I am a words person, a music person.  What I’m getting at is that I, by nature, need help seeing things, and seeinghow to see things.  The time I spend with artists has helped me to see better the world I have the power to shape (for example, my home).  It’s created a sense of aesthetic beauty and wonder that I don’t come by naturally.

Also, I’ve learned about just taking a little more time.  I’ve learned from my artist friends that art cannot happen quickly.  The type of art that I’ve fallen in love with requires layer upon layer [of paint] and those layers have to dry first.

Years ago when I was a part of International Arts Movement, I said, "I want to paint." I went to an art store in Manhattan, bought a couple of canvases, bought some paints, and went home.  I didn’t have patience for it.  What ended up happening was I tried to paint what was in my head, and I couldn’t let the paint dry. I had to move on to the next thing. It ended up being a canvas of mud because I didn’t have the patience to wait on it. That’s what I learned from artists. Their work, to happen, takes time.

In turn, I hope I’ve given to my artist friends. Everyone needs a cheerleader.  For artists, the cheerleading happens only when the art is seen—the finished product.  That finished product represents months of work and who cheers them along while they work.  I could be wrong – maybe they would say something else – but I think one of the things they get is that somebody cares about what they’re doing when there is no art to show. When it’s just about, “Are you in the studio everyday?”

That’s part of it. That’s one of the biggest things that people can offer that costs nobody anything. And that’s just simply cheerleading. Supporting. Asking artists what they’re doing.

Brehm: How does it all start with these different artist relationships? Is it impulsive, you like something you’ve seen? Or do you meet someone at a party and they say they are a visual artist? How does that work?

CTK: The short answer is it happens all of these ways and the relationship does not always go as deep with everybody.  Some of them – Some of the folks in the show Close to Home, two of them, I’ve never met in person. So, they wouldn’t consider me a cheerleader for them.  They know who I am because I asked to feature their work. In those cases it’s less about the artist and more about my relationship with the art itself.  I think that’s important because you don’t have to have a relationship with the artist in order to have a relationship with the art.

There are sometimes that it’s just spontaneous. My husband and I had lunch with a couple, and there was a photography exhibition in the restaurant. There was this photo that really touched me. So I bought it that day very spur of the moment. But, other times, especially with more expensive work, I take more consideration. And my husband and I have an agreement before I buy work because I could definitely go overboard.

It does get addicting when you fall in love with this process of collecting art and developing relationship with artists and supporting their work and talking about their work. You find yourself just loving to do it so much.

CHRISTY TENNANT KRISPIN is director of Cohesion, a nomadic commercial art gallery in Seattle representing eight emerging contemporary artists and based on a vision of art patronage rooted in fostering a passion for art and a relationship between art makers and art lovers. She is also the owner of Algumwood Consulting, which exists to foster meaningful human engagement through public relations, social media, and leadership development. She has worked with International Arts Movement, Christianity Today (This Is Our City), Fuller Seminary (the Brehm Center, the De Pree Center), and a number of other organizations and individuals. Christy is also the host of IAM Conversations, a podcast featuring interviews with artists and creative catalysts from around the globe.

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