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Two large reproductions dominate my doctor's waiting room. Their triple mats and four-inch gold frames exclaim: "Look at this expensive art!" Yet, none of the patients even glance at the reproductions of a cityscape and a still life. There's nothing wrong with buying a poster of art that touch­es you. Who can afford a Van Gogh? My gripe is with "art by the yard" that publishing com­panies offer in pastels or earth tones and in pseudo cubist, impressionist, or old master styles. You'll see such elaborately framed, emotionally empty reproductions selling from between $500 to $1,000 in upscale fur­niture stores.

I've asked myself why such decorative reproductions are the rule and original art the exception in homes and businesses? Do buyers trust the taste of publishing compa­nies over their own? It's not just a question of price. Last month, at a Chico Art Center benefit, 40 large paintings by local artists were auctioned off at an average of $550 each. Hundreds of talented north state artists, unless famous, sell their work at exceedingly modest prices. If my doctor were to hang paintings by local artists in his waiting room, their originality might entrance the captive patient audience and even calm their anxieties.

It takes time-but not nearly as much money as you might think-to become an art patron. The rewards to yourself, your family, and your community are manifold. Here are five reasons to start collecting.

Original art nourishes our souls. Products of mass production and visual manipulation surround us. To dis­play unique visions of the world reminds us of our deeper humanity. Many a commercial artist yearns to "follow his/her bliss" rather than to please a client, such as a publisher of reproductions. A freely creating artist is a seeker, always striving to express elusive personal visions. Such artists enlarge our hearts and minds by letting us try on their viewpoints.

The difference between a "ho-hum" decorative reproduction and an original painting is like the difference between the taste of fast food and a home cooked meal, or the sound of supermarket Musak compared to a live "jam session" in a coffee house. While mass culture images exert pressure on us to con­form and consume, fine art serves as an anti­dote by reminding us of the quirky, unpredictable, exploratory, and magically inventive qualities of the human imagination.

Good art in our environment gives our right brain hemisphere a stimulating workout. Western culture emphasizes left brainpower that is analytical, objective and logical. That's only half of who we are. The visual arts exercise the right hemisphere that deals in patterns and intuitive and subjective experiences. Just as a home benefits from having collections of books and music, hanging original art on the walls enriches it. Art quickens sensibilities by introducing unexpected views of life. I remember leaving an exhibition of impressionist landscapes and noticing with newly sensitized eyes, the glory of sun shining through leaves.

Collecting expresses personal taste. Let's re-consider a commonly sneered at saying: "I'm looking for a painting to match my couch." An environment where paintings, furniture and architecture mutually reinforce themes, colors and shapes is a thrill to experience. If you take pleasure in selecting the color palette of a room and pat­terns and textures of furniture, collecting paintings can be your next step in self-expression. For those who are remodeling or have moved into a new home, I'd recommend starting with a painting that you love, and selecting the couch, other furnishings and wall and floor colors to enhance it.

Collecting motivates us to participate in art events. Collecting provides an entree into a stimulating, creative circle. No sitting at home watching TV when there are art openings, lectures and studio tours to attend. Ask artists about their motivations and give them feedback on your responses to their work. Make new friends among other art lovers as you share insights-while sipping a glass of wine!

Collectors support the vitality of an art community.

When you purchase a painting by a local artist, you validate her/his creative vision. Artists stay where they experience recogni­tion. It's generally understood that a community thrives when people support local businesses and athletic events-supporting the arts is every bit as beneficial to an area's quality of life.

Chico artists have enlivened our downtown by renting empty second story spaces for studios. Many offer classes that encourage adults and children to become more creative. They have beautified the city through murals, art benches and public sculptures, helping to give a sense of identity to our community.

A Chico collector of art, David Ruiz, sums up what I've tried to convey. "Art satisfies a hunger for experiencing the best that humans have to offer. Disposable products, such as electronic gadgets that are built to become obsolete, inundate our culture. By contrast, good art has an enduring quality. I need to own some things that are meant to last. In collecting art, you have to trust your gut reaction, and when you see something you really love, you should buy it."

Dolores Mitchell is an artist and partner in Avenue 9 Gallery, Chico.
Send comments on this article to: avenue9gallery@sbcglobal.net. Reprinted with permission.

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