THE BLOG
02/14/2017 02:00 pm ET Updated Feb 15, 2018

What Impresses a Collector?

There are ways in which meeting a new collector is similar to applying for a job: An artist wants to show expertise and an agreeable personality; presumably, the artwork itself would reflect competence and achievement, but it is not uncommon to indicate that, like a job reference, others have regarded the artist's work highly as well. This is the reason that clippings of past reviews or feature articles are put out for visitors to an exhibition to peruse. It may not even matter whether or not the write-up is favorable, just that the artist's work has drawn the attention of a publication that saw some previous exhibit as important enough to publish a review, although as a practical matter most reviews in all but a tiny number of periodicals are quite positive.
Beyond reviews, artists may wonder what else a visitor wants to know, what might add to their prestige. Perhaps, having received an art degree (Bachelor's of Fine Arts, Masters of Fine Arts) from some noted art school or university art program might seem significant, although it is not clear how important this information is to prospective collectors (potential employers might be interested in whether someone graduated from college) and, besides, so many other artists have the same degrees. Having studied with a particularly renowned artist may have greater standing with collectors.
Signature Letters?
An artist's prestige may also be suggested through the use of "signature letters" at the end of the artist's name. A form of nonacademic credentialing, these letters that follow artists' names refer to the membership society to which they belong. Both the American Watercolor Society and National Watercolor Society divide their members into two levels. The National Watercolor Society has both associates and signature members--the first group may join without jurying, the second requiring acceptance into the society's annual exhibition and then an additional jurying of three more paintings--while the American Watercolor Society has sustaining associates and active members. At the highest levels, members are permitted to include AWS or NWS after their names for professional purposes. The National Academy of Design also has two levels of membership, both of which include signature privileges: The first is an associate member (ANA), who is proposed by a current associate and approved in an election by at least 60 percent of the entire associate membership; the second is an academician (NA), who is chosen from the associates and elected by 60 percent of the academicians. Unlike the national watercolor societies, no jurying of individual works of art or acceptance into past or current annual exhibitions is part of the entry process.
Signature letters have no specific value. To be a signature member of the Florida Watercolor Society, allowed to use the society's initials (FWS) after his or her name, for example, one must have been accepted into three of the society's juried exhibits. There are two other levels of membership to the Florida Watercolor Society that do not permit the use of signature letters: The first is associate membership, which can be anyone who is a Florida resident and pays the membership fee, and the second is participating membership, enabling one to vote for officers, policies, and venues for the society's annual juried exhibition, and these artists must have had one painting in a juried show. Other societies, on the other hand, allow anyone who pays the annual dues become a member and use the group's signature letters.
Prizes and Awards?
In another quest for professional standing, some artists choose to list on the biographical pages they offer visitors to their exhibitions or studios the prizes and awards they have won. All of these visual arts awards and prizes have far less value to the artist than an Oscar or Tony. It is not uncommon that someone is described as an "award-winning artist" without ever noting which award(s) the artist has won. That may be just as well, as few people would have heard of the particular award anyway. Receiving a Grumbacher medal does not assure a visual artist that a line of patrons will appear at his or her door the next day, or that the artist will appear on the cover of People magazine or be ranked among the top artists of one's time. In fact, the most lionized and successful artists, whose works are featured in museum retrospectives or whose faces adorn the covers of ARTnews or Art in America are unlikely to ever enter the competitions that offer prizes and awards. It was not even much of an event, for instance, when a Jasper Johns won the top prize at the 1988 Venice Biennial, as his standing in the art world was already greater than that of the award.
Still, thousands of artists compete annually for awards and, for many, the awards and prizes area on their resumes is quite expansive. However, there is a wide range of opinion concerning to whom these prizes actually matter. On one end of the spectrum, there is a belief that prizes and awards do not matter at all. "Winning an award is nice when it happens for the artist," Janelle Reiring, director of New York's Metro Pictures gallery, stated. "It makes the artist feel good, I guess. It doesn't make any difference to me or to the collectors I deal with. Our collectors are certainly concerned with what critics and museum curators think, but not at all with what prizes or awards the artist may have won."