Learning by Observing and Blogging

A cool and rainy Labour Day weekend sends the inevitable message that summer is over. To complete my summer of art, I’ll review what I learned from posting 14 blogs about works in my collection.


For every work, the first thing I looked at was composition: balance among elements in different sections of the work, the use of perspective and location of the vanishing point, the choice of colour, and the medium. How did the artist combine these elements to make the work appeal to me (at least when I bought it)? This is where the art appreciation course I didn’t take would have helped. Nonetheless, I looked carefully at the works and asked questions about their elements and learned something by answering my questions.


I learned about every artist, sometimes from their websites, sometimes from Wikipedia, and sometimes from other references. It was fascinating to read biographies of major artists like John Piper and Charles Pachter. I found the website MutualArt to be the best of the sites devoted to the art market, as it presents and analyzes sales data (such as asking and realized prices at auction) for vast selections of works by thousands of artists, including most of the ones whose pieces I’ve collected.

Reaching out to the Artists

Wherever possible, I notified the artists of my post, and I received replies from Wayne Mondok (Patricia Lake), Mary-Ellen McQuay, Charles Pachter (Noblesse Oblige), Peter Shostak (What is the Name of this Town?), and Bev Abramson (On a Mission). I particularly like what they told me about their creative process. Charles Pachter has a life-long fascination with the monarchy and used it to satirize what as long ago as the early Seventies he could sense was its increasingly problematic relationship with its Canadian subjects. Wayne Mondok took numerous photographs of the rapidly changing mountain weather over Patricia Lake and then chose the scene he would paint. Bev Abramson found an alleyway with amazing light one morning in Jerusalem and sat there waiting for something to happen. Margaret Ludwig returned to an inspirational place — Burleigh Falls — over and over again to capture its essence. As a literary creative, I found these experiences of their creative processes fascinating.

Some of my conversations went farther. Bev Abramson and I discussed the metaphors that could be drawn from On a Mission as well as her larger photographic mission to Israel. Mary-Ellen McQuay showed me the evolution of her photography to a more abstract vision. Charles Pachter invited me and other friends to his home gallery where he showed us a variety of his works, including illustrations of Margaret Atwood’s early poetry. This was followed by a dim sum lunch and Jewish geography, such as exploring the many connections between the extended Borins and Pachter families.

Mementos on my Journey

When I began to think about when and why I acquired them, many of the paintings turned out to be mementos on my journey. The Schawinsky print reflected my life-long interest in architecture ignited by a landmark exhibit about the Bauhaus that I was lucky enough to see when it stopped in Toronto. The Shostak print recalls my near-obsessive interest in prairie settlement when completing graduate school and starting to write academic papers. I bought the Duke Ketye painting Sleeping in the Third-Class Carriage to recall the injustices of apartheid that, unlike my white South African hosts, I couldn’t ignore or explain away. Other works were acquired serendipitously. Hideaki Kato’s prints that were on sale at the Kyoto Handicraft Center captured the quintessence of that noble and historic city, and I bought three. I passed the Beijing street corner where An Ji was selling his paintings, rolled up and easy to carry, so I bought two. John Piper’s print was left with the intellectual detritus in an office that I moved into.

Looking Backward and Forward

I’ve now completed my self-taught summer art course, having learned a bit about composition, the art market, the creative process, and having thought about where how art collecting has fit into my life.

Doing this inevitably leads to me look forward and think about acquiring some new pieces. The problem, of course, is that all our wall space is already taken up with the existing collection. In fact, there are some worthy pieces – which I’ve not discussed in my summer posts – that I’m trying to deaccession. Perhaps if I can’t deaccession them through commercial channels, I’ll write about them in the future. Though some collectors do it, I find the idea of cramming every inch of wall space with paintings claustrophobic. And I don’t like the idea of storing and rotating art because I don’t even have the storage space. But I’ll never say never, which is a good principle with which to conclude.

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