Last month, a few dozen Junior League of Seattle members, along with several guests, congregated at the Woodside / Braseth Gallery for an evening of art and conversation focused on northwest art and artists. John Braseth, the owner, warmly welcomed visitors and led a tour of the beautiful space. Jessica, Meredith and Katharine, JLS members, left this event feeling inspired and eager to share their thoughts about art.
I would consider myself to be someone who appreciates fine art, but most certainly not an expert or collector. As we walked through the current Jared Rue exhibit, and stopped to learn about the other Northwest artists also on display, John touched upon a topic that had recently crossed my mind: how does one begin an art collection?
I have been fortunate enough to see renowned pieces in museums, galleries, and even private homes. However, the idea of purchasing a piece of “real” art–meaning, a bigger investment than custom framing on a print that I bought from a One Kings Lane sale–has always seemed a bit intimidating. Original artwork can be very expensive, and what do I know about investing in art, anyway? However, John emphasized that collecting can really begin anywhere–and that a personal attachment to the artist’s work is the most important element. Building a collection goes beyond whether or not something matches your home decor. It’s about the emotional ties that a buyer feels about the piece, and patronage of an artist can start small. While this all seems pretty obvious as I type it out, I realized that I’d attributed too much importance to the notion that art collecting needs to be done in a certain way–which inherently made starting a collection seem daunting and prohibitively expensive. While I didn’t walk out of the Woodside / Braseth Gallery with a painting in hand, the evening inspired me to further explore the amazing art of the Pacific Northwest–and made me hopeful about eventually bring an original piece into my home.
For me, Northwest Art is the heart of the Junior League of Seattle. Perhaps, it’s because the Northwest Art committee was my first placement with the League. But I don’t think that is the only reason. I’ve witnessed how a quiet, shy classroom of 6th graders can come alive while discussing a piece of art. I’ve walked around a classroom and listened to students debate “what the artist really meant.” As docents, the Northwest Art volunteers prompt the students with questions similar to the following:
- What do you see?
- What does it make you think about?
- How do you feel when you look at the artwork?
- What do you think the artist was feeling when (s) he made this piece?
Ultimately, the docents are encouraging the classroom to explore and discover the art and the artist. Very rarely, will students state that they love or hate the art work. They manage to be open- minded and very honest about what they see. Part of me wonders if their open mindedness is because they aren’t thinking about the art as something they would or wouldn’t own. They are just seeing it and appreciating the art for exactly what it is: Art.
Spending the evening with NW Art at the Woodside/Braseth Gallery was lovely. And listening to John Braseth talk about the history of the gallery and his experience with art, art patrons, and artists, was fascinating. But I couldn’t help but miss the excitement of the classroom. Maybe we are all ladies now, and a bit too refined to shoot up our hands or shout out what the paintings make us feel. Maybe we are scared that we’ll get it wrong. What if I don’t like the painting but the person next to me loves it? Or we worry about buying the perfect piece of art. I’m realizing that we, as adults, are missing out on what the Northwest Art docents are encouraging classrooms to do: Explore and discover the art and the artist. Very rarely will you walk into a gallery or museum where someone will prompt you with questions about the art. We need to train ourselves to ask the questions and really see the art. We need to be curious and explorative and seek out the art of discovery. Love the piece or don’t love the piece, but still appreciate the art.
As someone who has grown up as a daughter of an artist and has been experiencing life through art for 30+ years, I am always fascinated by learning how other people’s lives have been changed by art. I majored in Art History in college but left school feeling that “art” had a different meaning to everyone. We can analyze a piece to death and know all about the time in which it was created and what the artist was thinking, but none of that really matters if you hate the piece or feel nothing when you see it.
What I appreciated most about the NW Art Training at the Woodside/Braseth Gallery was listening to the owner, John, speak about one piece in particular that made him realize how art can create a physical reaction. This is Morris Graves’ “The Wounded Gull” created in 1943.
Graves created the painting during WW2 to communicate the darkness of war. John said that he first saw “The Wounded Gull” as a very young man, and it was the first time in his life that he realized art didn’t have to be pretty in order to make you feel something. He commented that it is not necessarily the type of piece that everyone wants to have in their living room, but it is something that makes you think or even better, it is something that makes you feel.
I think that many people see art as a way to decorate. That is a completely natural response. But when you first experience having an emotional or visceral reaction to a piece of art, you are forever changed and never look at art the same way. I am so thankful to have been able to see a little bit of what the NW Art program is all about. Spreading the appreciation of original creative works to people who would not normally get to experience it, is a huge task and one that massively impacts a community of growing minds.
John’s call to action is what I left with in my mind. Do not be afraid to look at all types of art. Ask yourself if you have a reaction to a piece. And then, support an artist. An art collection can start with a $25 screen print that you purchased from an artist at a First Thursday art walk. It doesn’t have to be the price of a car. Just get out and experience art.
A cornerstone of Junior League of Seattle is the many diverse training opportunities for its members. The NW Art Evening of Conversation is just one unique example. The League also offers trainings in everything from legislative advocacy, to running effective business meetings, to living a balanced life. If you are interested in joining the Junior League of Seattle, please read more on the JLS website about the upcoming Meet & Greets for prospective members.