"Reddish Egret"
4-plate hand-colored etching
Image size: 24" x 34"


Art As Commodity

By: Jim Fitch

Second in a series of articles written to present contemporary Florida art as a proven investment vehicle and valuable part of any estate, large or small. Article #1 is archived at www.aarf.com. In addition, each issue will profile a Florida artist who, by virtue of their dedication to their careers as Regionalists will, in time, be considered an "Old Master". Their work will become a visual record of Florida in transition and be highly sought after.

In the Winter-Spring 2006 issue of this publication I pointed out two well entrenched but misleading ideas that I believe often deter potential collectors from beginning an involvement with fine art. In this issue, as promised and for those of you considering serious art purchases, I want to suggest you start to think about art in a way you may not have before. Think about art as a commodity. The dictionary defines a commodity as "an article of commerce". Please be aware that it is not my intention to reduce art to the level of sowbellies or soybeans. Art is much more enjoyable and much less risky. By considering art as an article of commerce I hope to provide a less confusing foundation on which to build criteria for purchasing art with investment potential. Diamonds are valued by carat, cut, color, and clarity, gold by the ounce, paintings donít enjoy that kind of market security or stability. There is however, in my opinion, a common denominator for determining the present and future value of paintings. Iíll get to that.

SoÖ, what does it mean to view art as a commodity?

"Glossy Ibis"
5-plate hand-colored etching
Image size: 24" x 34"

"Snail Kite"
4-plate hand-colored etching
Image size: 24" x 34"


It means you have to develop a plan for acquiring art that transcends emotion, nostalgia, or the size of your sofa. It means you must adopt a budget within your means for annual art purchases in order to put a check on impulse buying. In todayís market you can be a serious player at the thousand dollars a year level and a major player at ten thousand a year. In the art world at large those are very low dollar amounts. I use them because contemporary Florida regional art is way undervalued given the historic precedent for the increased value of this work. In order to keep things simple and not overwhelm you with doís and doníts two other things constitute a good beginning. Know who the players are (thatís the artists) and how much time and energy they have invested in their careers as Regionalists. Add to that what they have contributed to the genre of regional art if that is what you choose to acquire.

It doesnít mean you should buy something you donít like. There are way too many styles, methods and mediums in the world of fine art for that. If you donít like abstract or non-representational work donít buy Jackson Pollock even if he is blue chip. If you prefer landscape or history paintings focus on those. In other words, identify the area you want to invest in and what you want your collection to do or be.

Finally, you may be curious about a standard for evaluating the future value of paintings I mentioned earlier in this article. Simply put and after you determine what kind of art you want to acquire, know this. In every art movement or historic art period there are artists who, like cream, rise to the top. They become identified with that particular period for several reasons and consequently their work becomes the museum pieces of the future.



Those reasons, and in no particular order are, 1) they were pioneers in an art movement that reflected the historic period in which they lived, 2) they were innovative, leaders not followers, and in some cases but not all, 3) they possessed artistic skills and talent with which they gained recognition but always in combination with 1 and 2 above. If you will identify the artists who meet those standards and are working in your chosen field you will have identified the winners whose work will stand the test of time and appreciate accordingly.

Know this also. If you have the resources buy blue chip historic artists who by virtue of time are already identified. If you love the thrill of the chase, search out contemporary artists who are committed to their careers and Regionalism.

What do I mean by an art movement that reflects a historic period? What is an historic period? In Florida consider these milestones, the transition from a backwoods frontier to statehood, racial integration (actually more national), environmental concerns, influx of various other cultures.

In the next issue, going back no farther than the American Revolution and using history as a crystal ball, I hope to convince you of the potential for art as investment. The philosopher Karl Popper is credited with coining the term "historicism". He defines it as "the laws of historical development". Popper says that if known, these laws can be used to predict the course of events. Predicting the course of events is a handy investment tool.

"Roseate Spoonbill"
4-plate hand-colored etching
Image size: 13" x 18"

3-plate hand-colored etching
Image size: 24" x 34"


John Costin

John Costin maintains a gallery and studio in historic Ybor City. His primary medium of expression is the traditional and demanding art form of etching. Etching is a complex process requiring the skills of an engineer, artist, sculptor, and printmaker. Add ornithologist to the list because Johnís forte is Florida birds. He pushes the envelope even further by working in a large format, usually life-size with hand coloring.

Early in his career John determined to publish what he refers to as a "book" but is really a folio of etchings of life-size Florida birds meticulously hand colored and sold as a limited subscription of 150. When he made the initial offering public there were only 3 images complete and he was asking subscribers to commit to a total of 20 that would be completed in the future. It wasnít an easy sell at $6,000.00 for all 20 and most didnít exist. Today, and after purchases by major institutions like the State Library of Tallahassee, University of Miami, and the Museum of Florida Art and Culture, if you want to subscribe it will cost you $15,500.00 for the very few books left for sale. Sixteen images are complete with four to go. The larger images (24x34) that accompany this article are all part of the book and printed on Arches 100% rag paper.

Smaller individual etchings are available and priced at $300.00 as are original watercolors averaging $4,500.00. John Costinís work is investment quality for all the reasons put forth in this article. His dedication to the work, combined with skill and talent assures him a place in Floridaís art tradition.

For more about John Costin, his art, and the etching method visit his website at www.costingraphics.com or call him at 813-248-5088


About the author:
Jim Fitch is the acquisition agent for the Florida Masters Collection, founder and past Curator of the Museum of Florida Art and Culture, (MOFAC). E-mail him at jim.fitch@gmail.com

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