“It’s All In How You See It” by Pamela Beck

I often think about how the origin and destinations of a work of art affect the viewer’s perception of its worth. Recently I was given an abstract painting as a gift.

ARTdart: There are as many ways to think about art as there are to create it. Join Pamela Beck in her column, ARTdart, as she explores and considers the different perspectives that define the art world.

I often think about how the origin and destinations of a work of art affect the viewer’s perception of its worth. Recently I was given an abstract painting as a gift. It was purchased at a flea market for one hundred dollars, where it was found leaning against a junky chair on the sidewalk. I don’t know who the artist is, the signature is illegible—but it’s a strong painting. It probably had a much finer life before it wound up on the streets of the city, a victim of one or more of life’s inevitable 4 D’s: Death, Divorce, Dinero or Disaster.


People who see this work hanging in my home have a strong reaction to it: “Masterful,” says one. “Strong,” says another. “New York School,” says a third. “Latin American,” say others.

“Where did you get it?” they ask and name a local gallery or two or wonder if I bought it in New York.

If I answer that I bought my flea market painting from a prestigious New York gallery, the painting might suddenly appear to be more important and the artist more talented. If I say that the artist’s work can be found in a respected museum’s permanent collection, then my painting might seem more serious and the artist more vetted.

When I reply that, judging from the other things for sale at this flea market, my painting was one step away from death by dumpster, I notice that people become confused. Perhaps they wonder if they should like something that others thought worthless. Perhaps the painting suddenly looks like the work of a dilettante. One way or another, all find it sad to imagine someone’s creative efforts treated so disrespectfully. Nobody thinks that the painting deserved to be tossed on the street looking as forlorn and miserable as Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables.

And then there’s the issue of the well-made frame. It’s simple but expensive. Even if you don’t know about frames, you can tell by its skillful construction. There’s an assumption that a well-framed painting must be valuable. People don’t often put an expensive frame on a cheap painting. It influences people in their first impressions of the painting because the work is presented so well.

I’m not sure what fate awaits my painting. If I’m lucky, it’ll stay in my sunny Sarasota living room for years to come. After that, will my daughter want it? Will it stay with her throughout her life and be passed along to her children? Or will she sell it so that it moves along to live with a new owner?

Maybe somebody will be able to identify the artist one day. Maybe someone will kick a hole in the painting and that’ll be that. Or could be, as the saying goes, the more things change the more they stay the same. Maybe many years from now, the whole process will start all over again and the painting will wind up like it started with me: someone will be scrounging around a flea market and gleefully discover the painting on a dirty city street, leaning against something once known as a desktop computer.

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6 thoughts on ““It’s All In How You See It” by Pamela Beck”

  1. What a phenomenal piece (referring to the article/blog by Pamela; not yet decided about the painting)! For the casual art observer who has never been able to discern between a van Gogh and a please-make-it-go, Ms. Beck encapsulates the mind set of people like myself: We enjoy art, we just can’t understand what makes one piece a garage relic and another a masterpiece worthy of the Louvre. Brava, Pamela!

  2. Street art or gallery art, the essential value lies in the honest emotional and intellectual appreciation of it by the buyer. For the collector, of course, various different standards can apply. Still, the thrill of visiting a flea market and finding something that moves you is just plain fun. Here’s thanks to the people who run these art fairs for the benefit of ALL.

  3. From an artist’s perspective, when I “birth” a new artwork, I am looking forward to the day when it is purchased and sent off into the universe. Some artists have difficulty letting go, especially if the image hits a deep personal cord within. These paintings are usually the first to sell because of that very reason… it resonated with another viewer. Like any child sent out of the house, it lives and breathes in unpredictable places and an artwork does so too. Whether it is valued to last for the short or long haul is the nature of my profession. Whatever “valued” style and content I create in today’s world, that fad will certainly change and affect its future value. I believe the real question is, would I recognize an artwork I created 20 or 40 years earlier? How would I feel knowing that someone still displays it? I suppose it would like asking a Buddhist about the mandala that he created over a month’s time as he sweeps it away.

    1. Such interesting questions you pose!

      Would you recognize something you created 20-40 years ago? What if you looked in the mirror today and your reflection was of the Joanna Coke from 1976? Just imagine the slippery, stunned connection until memories and familiarity stepped in.

  4. Yes, I can relate to your perspective — some of my most favorite paintings were acquired in off beat ways (how about the treasures I found in the incinerator room?) That old cliche is still true, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Equally true, value is clearly added by fame and buzz.

  5. THe piece really reached to me also in both its abstraction coming from realism. The article captures the essence of who might have done it in the same way the painting captures the essence of wine. I thought it was a great buy!

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