Finding Art for Yourself

By Wade Carey on November 25, 2013
The life-sized watercolors of Valerie Watson.  Photo by Phil Hutinet for East City Art.
The life-sized watercolors of Valerie Watson. Photo by Phil Hutinet for East City Art.

Editor’s Note: this piece was originally published in the East City Art Fall 2013 Quarterly Guide to the Visual Arts.  The next print publication comes out December 7.  For more information, visit the quarterly guide page here.

Just to start by making a minor point: you already collect art. You could be far along in the process of developing your personal curating skills—or maybe not so much. Consider the original artwork from someone on the refrigerator door. What about the museum posters acquired when you were barely old enough to count your change and can’t bring yourself to throw away? You love them though they may look a little worn out because they reflect aspects of your identity. East City Art would like to encourage you to think about looking close-by—within the hemisphere of the people and places covered on the East City Art Web site—for original work from local artists to add to your collection. Doing so will add a dimension of value that you may not have anticipated. First, it’s useful to ask a little about what art is. We’ve got lots of room to work with..

In his recently published book, What Art Is, Arthur C. Danto, Columbia University professor emeritus of philosophy and former art critic for The Nation, writes, “Today art can be made of anything, put together with anything, in the service of presenting any ideas whatsoever. Such a development puts great interpretative pressures on viewers to grasp the way the spirit of the artist undertook to present the ideas that concerned her or him. The embodiment of ideas, or, I would say, of meaning is perhaps all we require as a philosophical theory of what art is.”[1] You can sense the freedom that we have to embrace what art surrounds us and to seek out artists with whom we can expand our collections. What Art Is makes wonderful reading book for anybody who wants to think about the meaning of art..

East City Art hopes you already know how large and growing your prospects are for local collecting. Collectors, artists and art students all congregate at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop.[2] Events take place throughout the year, and there are opportunities to buy fine, original works of art for less than $100. The Brentwood Arts Exchange[3] at the Gateway Arts Center in Brentwood, Maryland, includes a contemporary art gallery, a craft shop with the work of local artisans, and a learning classroom/workshop. During a visit to the Arts Center you will discover that it also houses a dozen artists’ studios, the Gateway Community Development Corporation’s 39th Street Gallery, and the Prince George’s African American Museum & Cultural Center Gallery 110. Within these venues, you will find regionally and nationally recognized work at prices that fit your budget plan, high or low. One of the East City’s most internationally buzz-worthy galleries, ConnerSmith[4], owned by Leigh Conner and Jamie Smith, started out as Conner Contemporary Art in 1999 a block north of Dupont Circle in a second-floor townhouse space and is now in a 12,000-square-foot space on Florida Avenue NE along the H Street corridor. The gallery runs multiple cycles of shows per year, each with up to four solo shows. As with all galleries listed in this guide, it’s best to call ahead to be sure of current shows and opening hours before you stop by, but a stroll along a gallery-rich row like H Street NE might provide a number of galleries open for a visit on a whim. Artists also often sponsor open-studio events where work may be viewed and purchased directly. East City Art strives to post every available announcement for its community and encourages contact development through social media for artists, collectors, gallerists and event promoters to get the word out to everyone..

Conner and Smith are also well-known as co-founders of (e)merge[5], the Washington art fair held each year in October at the Capitol Skyline Hotel. The fair brings unrepresented artists to greater prominence, including projects, performances and video, and engaging curators, collectors, artists and others in panel discussions throughout the event. (e)merge is just one prominent example of art fairs sponsored in or near the East City: H Street NE, Eighth Street SE, the Gateway Arts District in Hyattsville, North Brentwood, Brentwood, and Mount Rainier MD, and the Monroe Street Market Artist Studios at Metro Red Line Brentwood/CUA station and the Anacostia Arts Center on Good Hope Road SE, all bring artists and budding collectors together on a regular basis..

What kind of homework goes into building a skill like collecting art? There is actually a Web site out there called Offering tips like “10 things to remember when you’re just starting out”, it’s not an unreasonable place to start. Some book-reading homework would help, too. There are lots of books aimed at varying classes of collectors. New York-based arts journalist Lisa Hunter’s The Intrepid Art Collector,[6] published in 2006 and available in paperback, shows up at the top of many searches. Hunter provides a comprehensive introduction to collecting and preserving a personal art collection. She first offers readers the opportunity to consider the broad range of media and time periods available on the market and then she breaks down how buying art actually takes place. Although it isn’t emphasized in her approach, Hunter shows great respect for the concept of community and for local and regional art and artists in a collector’s aesthetics.  .

A richly illustrated and diverting artifact of design in its own right, Ethan and Thea Westreich Wagner’s Collecting Art for Love, Money and More[7] is fun to read whether you’re going to start collecting seriously or not. Seriously, if you read this book, it could inspire you! Since the publication of their book in April, the husband and wife team have been speaking out about their mission to get young people to start collecting. Their book has the sophisticated Phaidon Press look-and-feel that design junkies crave, and its written content is emotionally seductive. The Wagners believe in collecting art with all their hearts, and their enthusiasm is contagious. Their experience is extremely valuable, and they share it in a way that reads like both a primer and a memoir. The book‘s sections make a reader’s concerns easy to track and allow those of us who want to skip around to flip back and forth as we see fit..

Above all, you shouldn’t assume that discovering a work of art is original means that you can’t afford it. A vital point that these authors make—and with which East City Art vigorously concurs—is that terms like “the market for art” and “the value of art” have many levels that apply to all people. Your heart and your wallet always can and should find a way to agree when you buy works of original art.

[1] Arthur C. Danto, What Art Is (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 128.

[2] The Capitol Hill Arts Workshop is located at 545 7th Street, S.E., Washington DC, 20003, at the corner of 7th and G St, SE. The telephone number is 202-547-6839. The fax number is 202-543-1723. CHAW’s normal hours of operation are: Monday: 9:30 am – 9:00 pm; Tuesday: 9:30 am – 9:00 pm; Wednesday: 9:30 am – 9:00 pm; Thursday: 9:30 am – 9:00 pm; Friday: 9:30 am – 6:00 pm; Saturday: 9:00 am – 2:00 pm; Sunday: Closed. For more information go the CHAW’s website at

[3] The Brentwood Arts Exchange is located on the first floor of the Gateway Arts Center at 3901 Rhode Island Ave., Brentwood, MD 20722. Telephone 301-277-2863 or fax 301-277-2865 ahead for details. The e-mail address is The BAE hours are Monday through Friday: 10 am – 7pm; Saturday: 10 am – 4pm; Sunday: Closed. For more information go to the Web site at:

[4] ConnerSmith Gallery is located at 1358 Florida Ave., NE, Washington DC 20002. Telephone 202-588-8750; E-mail: Please contact the gallery for current information on shows and hours. Visit their Web site at:

[5] (e)merge Art Fair.  Takes place the first week of October. Contact information: GENERAL INQUIRIES:; PRESS INQUIRIES: Danielle Grant: A&O public,; MAIL: (e)merge art fair, 1358 Florida Avenue NE, Washington, D.C. 20002. Visit the Web site at

[6] Lisa Hunter, The Intrepid Art Collector, The Beginner’s Guide to Finding, Buying, and Appreciating Art on a Budget (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006)

[7] Ethan Wagner and Thea Westreich Wagner, Collecting Art for Love, Money and More, (London, Phaidon Press, 2013)