My palms were sweating. Should I go in, should I not? Do I belong here? “Maybe this is only for special people,” I was thinking.
The sounds of noisy Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale were silenced as the glass doors slowly closed behind me. Immediately I was overwhelmed, seeing walls and walls of shimmering gold-framed paintings that matched any in a museum. This art was different from any I had found in a gallery before, and though I had an untrained eye, I could tell it was somehow better, higher quality than anything I had seen.
The Silver-Haired Dealer
Suddenly an elegant woman in her 60s approached me. Her long silver hair shimmered in the light streaming through the window. “I’m Pauline,” she said, “and I want to tell you you’re welcome here and can take as much time as you want. A lot of people are not used to art and have a lot of questions, and I want you to know there is no such thing as a silly question. Please ask at any time.”
Immediately my shoulders relaxed. She was right, I was totally intimidated in this environment because I knew nothing about art. I felt out of place in any art gallery, but especially this one, which had a lot of older art.
I wandered freely and soon was staring for long periods of time at the amazing paintings in her collection. I found myself in a trance.
The Passing of Time
I’m not sure how much time had passed, but I’ll bet I walked around gazing at the museum-quality pieces in the gallery for more than an hour. Every time I was about to leave, something else caught my eye and I’d stay longer.
Just as I was about to go, even after saying, “Thank you and goodbye,” this long-experienced art dealer thanked me for coming in and said, “Was there anything in particular that caught your eye?”
“As a matter of fact, there are two things that I fell in love with, but I don’t know anything about buying or collecting art and I’d be totally intimidated to buy anything this good.”
She walked me over to the paintings and told me the stories of the artists and the artwork, and, because I was looking for a special anniversary gift, I ended up walking out having committed to purchase both paintings, planning to pick them up a couple of days later. Both were small — one was an English countryside painting of a cottage, the other a couple of costumed figures in Venice.
Pondering My Purchases
Over the next two days, I could not stop thinking about those paintings, I loved them both very much, yet, as silly as this sounds, I could not stop worrying about the responsibility of owning such fine historic pieces of art.
Was I ready to become a collector?
Was I capable of properly caring for paintings that were well over 100 years old?
Was I willing, and responsible enough, to be the caretaker of these fine works of art, knowing that they needed to live on for generations?
I even worried about them because of the neighborhood I lived in, which was OK, but had seen some break-ins. Would these paintings get stolen?
Upon showing up at the gallery to collect them, I told Pauline that I was backing out. I simply was too nervous about the responsibility, and though she was very gracious and let me out of the sale, she also tried to address my concerns.
Stuck in My Brain
A few more days went by, and I could not get those paintings out of my head. Though I was afraid to set foot in that gallery again for fear I might not be welcome, I went back, and ended up paying cash for the landscape painting.
Today, 28 years later, I regret not having bought both, and I no longer own the one due to a change in my family situation.
That art dealer, Pauline Pocock, has since passed on (her son carries her legacy forward), and I’ve always regretted not listening to her. Though I had been intimidated by the responsibility of ownership, I should have listened to her about the joys of ownership as well as the potential increase in value. Both of those paintings would be worth a lot today, and living with the one I had was wonderful.
Galleries Create Barriers
Like it or not, there has always been a barrier between consumers and art galleries. Though not all people are intimidated by galleries, many still are, and that is often rooted in feeling insignificant because they know nothing about art. I have a billionaire friend — who has a significant collection — who once told me, “I won’t go into any art gallery. They intimidate the heck out of me.” Yet this is a man who managed thousands of employees and did amazing business deals galore.
Another Life Goal
Though I’ve told you of my goal of teaching 1 million people to paint, one of my other life missions is to help people feel more comfortable around art, to help them consider the idea of entering a museum or an art gallery. To help them feel at ease, and to know there is no special secret code you have to know to be around art.
Dragging a Friend to a Museum
Recently I was in New York on some non-art-related business and I took a colleague of mine to a museum to kill some time between meetings. He wasn’t really happy about it, but knew I loved art and went along with it. I showed him some of my favorite things, told him some stories about the art or the artists, and he was fascinated. This man told me, “Eric, I haven’t been in a museum since I was in grade school. I’ve never even considered going into a museum. It’s not on my radar. But since I’m in town this weekend, I’m going to go back. I had no idea what I was missing.”
A single visit can open someone’s eyes to the world of art, and some will become interested at a deeper level and may become collectors.
Though my kids often would whine when I dragged them to museums, the outcome was usually positive and they didn’t want to leave at the end of the day. Almost every podcast interview I do with artists reveals a family member or friend who took them to a museum or bought them an art lesson, leading to a lifetime in the art world.
What about you?
When was the last time you dragged someone into a museum kicking and screaming?
Though I hate to admit it, art isn’t on the radar of most people, yet that discovery can be life-changing.
What if each of you (about 40,000 now) dragged four people to a museum in 2018? 160,000 lives would be touched, and you could help them get comfortable by educating them.
Museums are dying for fresh faces. If we don’t do this for them, who will?
PS: I don’t ever want to see a world without art galleries. Though more things are moving to digital, the paintings I recently saw in the galleries as I visited Santa Fe would not have spoken to me, would not have stood out, would not have given me the same impact or desire had I just looked at them online. Galleries play a critically important role of showing art, introducing us to new artists, and helping others find great art. So, take someone to a gallery, too.