Connoisseur:- a specialist of a given field whose opinion is valued; especially in one of the fine arts, or in matters of taste
So you’re thinking of collecting art. You want to see what the cognoscente have been talking about. You’re so eager that you are already seeing sculptures in the garden and water lilies over every hearth. The only problem is you don’t know nearly enough about art. What to do, what to do? Is there time for a quick course at your community college? Can you run out an buy a few books? What if I told you that your nearest museum was the best place to start? What if (and its often told to me) Art is the best part of your life, the best activity you ever pursued, and your legacy, all in one? Like any investment, collecting art is going to take some planning but is going to prove worthwhile. What if it altogether changes your life?!
A connoisseur (from the French connaisseur, derived from Middle-French connoistre, then later connaître meaning “to be acquainted with” or “to know someone/something”) is a person who has a great deal of knowledge on art, or is an expert where good taste is concerned. Internationally the term connoisseur is also used in the context of gastronomy, i.e. in connection with fine food, beer, wine (and other alcoholic beverages such as brandy and port), tea and many other products whose consumption is said to be pleasing to the senses. Think of it as a very pretty word to describe what you are about to become — and what you are about to become is a lifelong learner.
Modern connoisseurship finds its home in museums and art galleries, which is ironic considering such public and accessible places are the seat of what many see as pretentious and pertaining only to the wealthy. What makes connoisseurship so inaccessible to so many is merely the time that it takes to reach this status by objectively training the eye to not only look, but also see. Malcolm Gladwell is accurate in his theory that it takes ten years of regular work and study to gain expertise in any given field can take ten years. Connoisseur, curator and my personal hero Philippe de Montebello also talks in detail about exposing the eye and brain to a critical mass of carefully curated images, and if you have never heard him speak, I strongly recommend some of his past talks, now thankfully posted on Youtube.
The National Gallery of Canada, the Montreal Museum of Fine Art and Art Gallery of Ontario are perfect places to start your quest for knowledge and insight, especially symposia on art and collecting. Becoming a member of any of the above institutions will immediately put you in front of trends, putting you in the loop with newsletters and getting you to new exhibitions ahead of the public. Better, yet become a volunteer as well. The museum to me is a magical place; the experiential learning, the constant and regular exposure to great works of art, the colour of the light and smell of the air have a broadening effect on the mind. Make these places a frequent stop in the future because they will prove among your best investments of time. It gets your neurons wired together in tantric ways and gives you insight into what to invest in.
I recently heard someone say “At my age, maybe it’s not a good idea to collect so much any more,” which shocked to me to hear as by appearances didn’t look much older than fifty. People I asked about when writing for this topic tell me that it’s just at that stage when we should start worrying about synapses firing and preserving the mind. Collecting art is the ultimate in intellectual exercise. By being involved with the arts you are investing in not just your own health but that of the community as well. You also get to meet this community and its most creative members.
My last piece of advice is to find a good mentor. Choose someone whose walls, home or office you enjoy looking at and whose company and collection you enjoy being amongst. Someone who has already bought his or her fair share of art and design will make the maze a good deal more navigable for you. We’re also loads of fun when it comes to travelling to art and design fairs!