Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We were an eclectic group with one thing in common: we collect art. As we shared a meal around a circular table, I posed the question: “Is one of the reasons you collect art to create a legacy?” All responded, “Yes!”
“I have to be honest, I love seeing my name under a work of art I’ve donated to a museum,” one collector candidly confessed. Another agreed.
“Like you guys, I like seeing my name,” I said, “but that doesn’t feel like legacy to me. I believe the collector makes a statement not by an individual work of art, but by the collection.”
“If that’s true, how can a collector create a legacy?” a woman asked.
“She could give her entire collection to a museum,” a gallery owner and collector suggested.
“Even so, the work won’t be seen all together, unless there’s an exhibit,” I replied, “and that feels fleeting.”
“If the museum puts on an exhibition and prints a catalog, then doesn’t that create a more permanent legacy?” the gallery owner countered.
“Not a lasting one,” I returned.
My dinner companions were unconvinced. “I disagree. The catalog will live on,” a woman said.
Later that night, I continued to think about our conversation. Perhaps amassing an art collection is like Tibetan mandala sand painting where monks painstakingly create elaborate paintings using colored grains of sand. Once the masterpieces are completed, they destroy them as a metaphor for the impermanence of life.
An art collector builds a collection, enjoys it for a time, and then lets it go. I have often looked at an exhibition catalog and discovered a piece of art that was once in my collection. It’s strange to see your piece with someone else’s name under it.
I remind myself, art is never truly owned by the collector. Rather, collectors are only temporary custodians. Maybe collecting art is an exercise in non-attachment. It’s an opportunity to allow things to flow through our lives.
As I thought about it further, I concluded that legacy cannot be created by physical things such as collections. Lasting legacy is not built on “what” but “how.” We won’t be remembered for building the fire, but for keeping people warm, I read once.
When I take a 50,000-foot view of legacy, I see that my collection is only a small piece of the legacy that I hope one day to leave. Maybe it’s enough to continue to use it as a teaching collection.
My collection is figurative; almost every piece is a portrait. When people view it, I often challenge them to select the piece that speaks to them and tell me why. Art, like most everything and everyone in life, is a mirror when we ask ourselves why we respond either positively or negatively to a particular piece.
My passion has always been self-discovery. Maybe my true legacy is helping people (starting with myself) remember our true selves, because when we get to know, understand, and accept our true selves, we stand in our power. We become the full expression of all we are.
Then again, maybe I need to heed that lesson of the Tibetan mandala sand painters and realize that nothing is meant to last. Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.
I’m not sure.