Porches are like portals. Spending time on a porch can be recovery time, relaxing time, thinking/pondering time, and time to take our thoughts to other places.
Time here on this porch in Austin, which overlooks distant hills of grass, gnarly scrub oak trees, and faraway cattle, is always a special time, and it’s good to be back after a couple of weeks away in France and Scotland.
In the summer I write to you from an old screened-in octagonal porch overlooking the lake that has hosted conversations for over 120 years. Each porch brings out something special in its visitors, and each inspires thought.
A Grand Experience
This past week I stood briefly on the porch of a grand estate, Gosford House, that makes Downton Abbey feel small. The old stone porch of this house, finished about 120 years ago, overlooks 5,000 acres of Scottish countryside and the sea. We stood there in the freezing cold as a troop of bagpipers marched before us, playing pipes, drums, and flutes in harmony as we said farewell to Scotland and our annual Fine Art Trip. Tears welled up in my eyes with the beauty of this old tradition and the experience of being in this special place.
When we walked into the home as a bagpiper played to welcome us, I saw the grand foyer and a marble staircase with monumental marble walls unlike anything I’ve seen before. It truly took my breath away. I could hear the gasps of my guests as they entered.
A Table for Royalty
Once inside the house and after a brief tour, we held our closing dinner at a single 60-foot-long dining room table via candlelight, in the same seats used by royalty and dignitaries of Scotland’s history. Here, I toasted my guests as we enjoyed an unparalleled experience, a dinner like no other, and a lifetime memory.
The Largest Private Art Collection in Northern Europe
Making things even more special, the house held more art than many major museums. I’m guessing 3,000 or more paintings and sculptures, including names like Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Sargent, the studio of DaVinci, and hundreds of others, collected for hundreds of years by the family before this house was built. I’m guessing the house was 30,000 square feet per floor, with a three-story marble foyer area that is larger than most homes. This is the largest private home I’ve ever visited, and the largest and most tasteful private collection of art I’ve seen.
Thankful for Survival
It’s a rarity that a grand house of this magnitude survives today, with deep taxation and the costs of upkeep. Most have ended up turned over to the government for taxes, or to the Scottish National Trust, an important nonprofit that restores and maintains such houses. But many such grand houses crumble and rot in disrepair as family members try to cling to their aging homes. Thankfully, Gosford House remains in its original family, a long line of Scottish earls who have managed the delicate dance of keeping income flowing through tours, golf, and outings like ours.
Reacting to Opulence
One could have a lot of different responses to a home of this magnitude. Instead of wondering about what could have been done with all the money to help others, I choose to be grateful that its creators had such grand vision and that it’s now being shared for the world to see. It reminds me of the importance of the finest architects, the best garden designers, and taste-seeking art connoisseurs.
As we toured private homes, private collections, grand palaces, castles, and museums, I remain grateful that we can tour such places, that they have been created and are now preserved as living museums.
What Billionaires Need to Do
I remember commenting to Peter Trippi, editor-in-chief of my magazine Fine Art Connoisseur, that I wish more of today’s billionaires would exhibit such taste and vision, creating future palaces for the world to tour, or building vast art collections for the world to view. One of the ultimate gifts to the world is to build and use a grand home or palace for a lifetime, or for a few generations, then make it available for the world to see.
Great Wealth Requires Great Responsibility
Though grand houses, estates, and palaces can become monuments to the taste of their owners, clearly we need those individuals to do great things with their wealth to change the world as well, first and foremost. Yet great wealth can do both, as proven by Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Vanderbilt. They not only helped others with foundations and institutions that continue to this day, most of them built grand estates that are now museums. If not for the vision and taste of wealthy people of the past, we would have no castles, estates, or even museums to visit.
Rarely are such great estates built today, and rarely do we see billionaires employing the best artisans of our time to create something special that no one else could possibly afford. Thankfully, there are still some great minds building new institutions, such as the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, thanks to the vision and leadership of Alice Walton. But there are more museums that need to be built than there are billionaires. Museums that reflect our style and times are important for future generations.
Grand Vision Isn’t Always About Money
People with grand vision and great taste don’t always have money, yet can still leave a huge impact. Before this trip to Scotland I had never heard the name Phoebe Anna Traquair, yet seeing the murals she painted for the interior of the Song School at St. Mary’s Cathedral left a huge impression, particularly because she contributed four years of her life for the murals she donated. She found a way to leave behind grand beauty without big money. The Song School is now a must-see for every art lover visiting Scotland.
There is an important collection of modern art created by a couple of modest means who bought one or two pieces a year from young artists they believed in, using their small schoolteacher salaries.
Great craftspeople, artists, muralists, sculptors, writers, poets need a way to leave their mark so the world can experience and enjoy it. Sadly, most will never be exposed to a wide audience. But people with great wealth can ensure that people creating great art have their work heard and seen by future generations. Patrons have built the world of beauty we see, whether through their purchase of artwork and making their homes into museums — such as that created by Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston — or by donating to help build a monument, a museum, a building. Even those with very little can participate or contribute in some way.
Putting Beauty Where It Belongs
What concerns me is that beauty has become secondary in many societies, including our own. Though I’m not anti-profit, there tends to be too much emphasis on profit without design. Thankfully companies like Apple prove that great design can help make the biggest company in the world. Wouldn’t it be nice if Apple funded an amazing museum of today’s design with top artists so they will be remembered and thanked 200 years from now?
For those with great wealth, beauty can be offered on a grand scale, as at Gosford House, or by turning your passion and love for collecting into a museum. For instance, the Minnesota Marine Art Museum was founded by two passionate collectors, Mary Burrichter and Bob Kierlin (the founder of Fastenal), to the benefit of their community in Winona, Minnesota. On a grander scale, heiress Maja Hoffman hired Frank Geary to build an incredible destination museum to put the town of Arles in France on the map.
The Role of Artists
Those who make art can’t just sit on it and hope to be discovered. They need to play a role in self-promotion to make sure their gift is seen by others. Too many great artists have died unknown. It’s why I devote much of my life to training artists to promote themselves.
It’s also important for those with means to do what they can to support artists, not just with art purchases, but patronage, commissions, introductions, and finding ways to leverage those artworks into large institutions and collections where they can be seen and enjoyed by all.
Beauty to the Masses
Many of today’s wealthy have failed to recognize the value of bringing beauty to the lives of others. Charles Rennie Macintosh, William Morris, and Elbert Hubbard made it their goal to bring beauty to the masses, not just the wealthy, and the homes they built for themselves and others have become museums filled with beauty for all to see.
I can remember my first visit to an art museum in New York as a child, and the lifelong impact of that one-hour visit. It would not have happened if Henry Clay Frick had not donated his mansion and his collection. Impacting one little boy has helped impact the world. Therefore we cannot overestimate the importance of exposing others to beauty, to design and architecture, to grand homes that help people see what can be possible, to amazing art collections that open hearts.
Creating and preserving beauty for all to see is critical for all societies, but especially our screen-obsessed societies who need to see how life was and how life can be. Soon they will ask what more there is to life, and the answer they need to find is beauty.
We can each play a role.
In what way will you use your personal platform, your voice, your influence to create or promote beauty?
A Difficult but Clear Choice
I had to make a choice. Spend my life becoming a great artist, or spend my life promoting and helping artists. The choice was very clear. Though I paint for passion and love, and I produce and sell a few choice pieces a year, my life is best used serving artists, exposing art, using my platform for art education, helping artists learn to promote themselves, training artists through events, books, and videos, and helping create beauty. I’ve been given a gift of vision, and it’s where I intend to spend my time.
What choices will you make? In what ways can you play a role in the creation and promotion of beauty?
Small things matter as much as big things. In what small way can you touch others and expose them to true beauty?
Maybe it starts with your own kids or grandkids. Maybe it’s about dragging someone to a museum or a grand house or castle. Maybe it’s collecting artists’ works. Maybe it’s using your platform, your talent, your voice to play a role.
If you’ve been silent up till now, maybe it is time to make your voice heard and share the beauty you see or create. Our world would be pretty boring without beauty. Together you and I can make the world more civilized and less polarized by bringing back beauty.
PS: What if you knew nothing about art but decided you wanted to learn, or at least experience being around artists? What if you could have been seated in the cafes in Paris with Monet and friends? What if you could have experienced the artists of the great Paris Salon, a hundred years ago? This beauty is possible for you. In the interest of beauty, the interest of furthering the contemporary realism art movement, and the interest of helping all artists gain more knowledge and understanding, I am gathering the finest artists in the world for a few days in November. You can come and experience this firsthand, and sit in the cafes of Williamsburg with artists who will become or already are famous. You can watch them paint, hear their philosophies, discover how to do it yourself, and even be hands on in our studio with live models and instructors. It’s called the Figurative Art Convention & Expo, and you are invited. You can learn more here.
PS2: The beauty of life is at its fullest when you can share experiences with others you love. For the past 18 days I’ve been in France painting with friends, then leading an art tour of about 50 guests through the South of France, the French Riviera, and Edinburgh, Scotland. We had life-changing experiences, visited homes, studios, castles, and museums, and even had some unheard of private experiences like the one I described above. Though the education and stimulation and art are wonderful, the truly amazing part is the friendships that develop among us all. Even the new people made deep new friendships. I feel honored to have led this group for 10 years and hope to continue it for 10 more. I want to acknowledge and thank everyone who was on the trip for honoring me with your presence. We will continue to see the world, and the next adventure will be announced soon.
PS3: In just a couple of weeks I’ll be in New York at our annual Radio Forecast conference at the Harvard Club. Then the following day I’ve been invited by the commissioners at the Federal Communications Commission to share my thoughts on how they should handle regulation of the radio industry. After 50 years in radio, this is probably the highest honor I’ve received — to be asked for my opinion by those who make the decisions that impact America. I’m truly humbled and excited. Though I have undying passion for art, I’ve never let go of my first love and passion, my career in radio broadcasting.