I’m often asked why the Highwaymen became so popular so fast. It’s not hard to understand the reason but it is hard to accept it as fact.
Supreme Court Justice Kennedy, although not speaking directly about art , put it this way. The (artist) has intangible qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness (or success.) What makes it difficult to answer the question “why” is the intangible part. Even though art history has well documented and illustrated the value of intangibles to an artists career the concept has not been accepted or promoted even by people who have an art involvement. Fact is, they don’t have to in order to enjoy art, that’s why I call art A Swiss army knife, it can be what you want it to be.
Some people are content to simply smell the flowers. Others want to know why the flowers smell. - Anon.
To understand the WHY of the Highwaymen, their successes and acceptance in the art market, requires an understanding of the difference between tangible and intangible. An artists paintings are not intangible because they have a physical form, you can touch them. The emotions or feelings the art produces in you personally are intangible. Intangibles come in many colors, shapes and sizes. I consider the most important to be the times in which an artist lived which is totally out of the artists control but it does furnish grist for their artistic mill, or should.
I speak of the economics of art with some hesitancy because it may seem I’m downplaying other legitimate aspects of art or the role it plays to the benefit of many. Definitely not. I am trying to open a new playbook for collectors or potential collectors of contemporary Florida art and add another dimension to their strategies.
I’ve borrowed the following quote by Wm. Grampp, author of the very insightful book Pricing the Priceless, many times. Grampp offers good advice.
An economic view of art does not replace aesthetics, criticism or art history. Rather, it compliments them. It looks at the activity of art in a way that can be much different, hence it sees different things and if used properly can be informative.
If you’re asking what all this has to do with the Highwaymen the answer is, everything. It’s not romantic or mystical and therein lies the problem , it‘s too practical and we have not been taught to think of art in that way.. I could have said about the Highwayman’s route to fame, Well, the planets were aligned ,and that would be true. It would also be of little use for a serious investigator. The use of “planets” might be useful as a metaphor for intangibles so I’ll try it.
My list of intangibles that, acting in sync, provided priceless benefits to the Highwaymen phenomenon are these. The list is not complete.
The civil rights movements of the 60‘s provided, though slowly, a smoother more tolerant path to prospective buyers, mostly white. Call it ease of access to the marketplace.
Environmental awareness issues, ca.1960 forward. The idea being to recapture Eden, if only with art. The Highwaymen offered a pristine Florida. Their marketing techniques were basic, tried and proven. They went directly to the consumer . One of the many factors that benefited the Highwaymen, was the lack of affordable Florida landscape paintings at a time when the state was beginning to recognize that it had a unique art and culture to be proud of. The artists, unknowingly I’m sure , adopted the historic advice given to aspiring merchants, “Find a need and fill it.” They did.
Planet # 3
A.E. “Bean” Backus, white, alive at the time and known as the Father of Florida landscape painting, was willing to act as mentor and sounding board for the soon to be “Highwaymen” artists. He provided much moral support and artistic instruction.
Planet # 4
Then there was another guy who needed a job, that’s me. After my first try at retirement I convinced a group of investors to underwrite, financially, a collection of contemporary Florida art. Later my job description included the task of finding where “contemporary” began. It was Ms. Serendipity that led me to the soon to be Highwayman artists at which time I cried, rather loudly, “Eureka, I’ve found it.”
Jeff Klinkenberg, a St. Pete Times roving reporter specializing in things Floridian smelled a story and wrote two, back to back, full page articles about the artists now known as the Highwaymen. The cat was out of the bag.
Dealers of all kinds smelled an opportunity. They carried the ball to the finish line. The public took it in. Dealers are very knowledgeable about selling “sizzle” and there was plenty of it in the Highwayman story.