ART FOR ART’S SAKE
It’s possible that many have never heard of Herb & Dorothy Vogel. Herb was a Postal Worker in Manhatten (he passed away seven years ago), and Dorothy a reference librarian in Brooklyn. They were a quiet, cute couple (as described by friends) she was “bookish” and he “cuddly”. They lived for 50 years in a 450-square-foot apartment in NYC, Herb never made any more than $23k-a-year. And they never used any of his income to live off of…just hers, which was less…minimal. They lived simply, ate TV Dinners, didn’t indulge in much except for some pets and one other hobby, which they were passionate about…art.
Herb had some training in Art History/Appreciation, as a young man, and introduced Dorothy to the art world (she was a theatre-music gal) on their honeymoon in Washington, DC (1962). Through the years they slowly, carefully bought art they loved. They were not investors nor art dealers, they simply found pieces they both enjoyed and made sure that they purchased them at a “good price”. Along the way they made friends with several of the artists from whom they purchased: twentieth century painters in need of money…for the most part…thus, the “good deals”. They only purchased things that they would want up on their walls, and could transport on the subway. They also went about their hobby with a plan, they educated themselves along the way, they enjoyed their friendships with the artists…and continued to live quiet, frugal, unassuming lives.
It was in the ‘80’s that they realized their lifelong passion of collecting could not be housed in their apartment…so they decided to donate. Herb had already retired, and when Dorothy retired in 1990 they gave their collection to the National Gallery (strikingly, where Herb had first introduced Dorothy to art appreciation) because the gallery was free to the public and has a policy against “deaccessioning”, meaning their art would never be sold.
Workers from the National Gallery came to NYC and unloaded an unbelievable 2400 works from the Vogel apartment in 5 40-foot trucks. When the gallery realized that the Vogels had not invested, they paid the Vogels an annuity as a “thank you” for their donation…which the Vogels promptly used to purchase more art…they couldn’t help it, it was their passion.
“If we wanted to make money, we would have invested in the stock market.” said Dorothy.
Their collection is now considered to be the most important collection of 20-century art in the United States…and what the curator of the National Gallery calls, irreplaceable and priceless.
I found this story incredible on many levels, as an artist and a Believer.
The VOGELS followed their God-given passion. Although I know nothing of their spiritual lives except that they were/are by ethnicity, Jewish. Their story shows that God gave them a passion that they followed…against the odds. They were not the “type” of people others in the world might view as “art collectors”…they didn’t care. They did what they believed in and let others think what they would.
The VOGELS made a plan and worked the plan. They didn’t just jump in “willy-nilly”. They educated themselves in their passion. They methodically, economically and prudently enjoyed the fruit of their love of art. So many Believers/Followers seem to think that God does NOT work hand-in-hand with our minds and heart…that once a passion (a sermon idea, a song, a project) is planted by Him in our hearts that we then just sit back and listen to His instructions and become robots to His suggestions…which is not evident in ANY place in the scripture or ANY life illustration we see today. God implants a vision/passion and asks us to partner with Him, to hone our skills, to learn and use our brains to polish and construct what He has given us.
The VOGELS left a legacy of beauty…even though THAT was not necessarily a part of THEIR plan. In the end were they shocked to hear that their small apartment housed the greatest gift of 20th-Century art anywhere in the United States…that will be enjoyed by millions for years to come? Did they understand that their belief in artists who were NOT getting the attention of critics at the time, inspired those artists to more greatness? Did they write that down as part of their methodical plan…no. But God-given passion* (*and love of things beautiful, good and true ALWAYS comes from God, to the Believer and the Non-Believer alike…God does NOT discriminate)is like all energy, power that does not dissipate.
The Kingdom Principle of a seed becoming a tree is evident in this story as well.
What does this mean for me? It reminds me to: Follow my God-Given passion, use my God-given mind to carve and polish, and know that love of what is good, beautiful and true is never wasted once I’m gone.
Then I heard a voice from heaven saying,
“Write: The dead who die in the Lord from now on are blessed.”
“Yes,” says the Spirit, “let them rest from their labors, for their works follow them!”