Can you follow your passion? Can you live a life full of only what you hold dear? Is this possible? Well sure. Sort of. Let's talk about artists. Creators who produce work that is wholly about their passion. Artists who break barriers and cause us to stop and think. Artists who challenge the old guard and what has always been to create what will be. Often times, these artists are not fully appreciated in their own time. So, I ask you - Can you follow your passion or do you have to follow the money?
The idealistic me says that of course you can live a life following your passion. Staying true to what you believe. I do this everyday. The business of antiques and art is my passion. But I am not the creator, I am the dealer. In order for me to be in business there had to have been artists. And they are to whom we owe a great debt. The designers, artists and creators who dared to be themselves. To create for the love of passion.
Brazil in the early 20th Century, I am speaking of the larger more metropolitan cities, was largely influenced by the European and Portuguese tastes. The Colonial style, as it was often referred to, was the dominant taste. Furniture manufacturers employed artisans and craftsman with European training. They created beautiful examples of Louis style furniture in Jacaranda, with caning and other subtle changes that made the furniture perfect for the tropical Brazilian market. And Joaquim Tenreiro was part of this furniture style.
He was employed by one of the largest and most well respected manufacturers of the time. He was using his finely honed European skills to create gorgeous furniture in the European taste. But he was not satisfied. He was earning a living, yes. He was creating furniture, yes. He was following his passion, no. So he struck out and opened his own business. He dared to create a style of furniture that was light, full of grace, simplicity, line, form and function. It beckoned you to sit, to admire, to wonder.
His furniture designs all made use of the indigenous Brazilian woods that are known for not only their beauty, but their strength. And this was also the design behind Joaquim Tenreiro's creations. He met with great success. Opening shops, collaborating with well known architects of the day for their projects - Joaquim Tenreiro was following his passion and earning great respect and admiration. He was pioneering a movement. He was the trailblazer. He was not satisfied.
Sometime in the late 1960's, Tenreiro closed up his shops - retail and manufacturing. He no longer accepted commissions. He would not be making any more furniture. The man who had set a movement in motion and would come to be called the Father of the Brazilian Modernist Design Movement had given it all up. He gave himself over to his art, his painting.
Years pass by. The next wave of designers give Tenreiro much credit and accolades. His designs are touted as the inspiration for a generation of designers. Yet, he remains steadfast to his painting. He created his art, his paintings. But this was done without the same recognition and accolades and purchases that his furniture designs received. He was close to penniless in his later years.
In the end of his life, Tenreiro, the Father of a design movement, was creating birdhouses to pay for his daily living expenses. He died knowing that his furniture designs were important and appreciated, yet he never turned back to them. He stayed with his painting.
Now, maybe the jaded among us will scoff at his loyalty to his passion. But if there is no passion, there can be no art. There can be no design. There can be no creation. Only Joaquim Tenreiro knows the motivation for his choice and surely it is one that only an artist can understand. But, let us look at it another way. Had Mr. Tenreiro continued with his furniture design could he have painted? Could he follow the money and his passion?
Perhaps, yes. Had he continued to produce his furniture, he would have had the income to support his painting. But would his designs have been as inspired? I think the real answer is no. Mr. Tenreiro had no choice. He was an artist and had to follow his passion. And he did find a way to support himself and to continue to follow his passion. Maybe we, because of the nature of the antiques and art business, put too much emphasis on money. Should it be said that we follow the money and artists follow their passion?
And now to further complicate the issue, can there be art without money? If artists' work never reached the secondary market, how could they continue to produce. Surely there must be those willing to purchase the work? How else can art continue? Such a tangled web.
Mr. Tenreiro's furniture now sells for tens of thousands of dollars at both auction and for even more in retail galleries. Because he only produced for a relatively short period of time, his furniture pieces are more difficult to find. And this same rarity can be said of his paintings, but for another reason. Because they were not as much in demand, they did not come to the secondary market as frequently. Perhaps now too his art will receive the same attention from buyers as he had given it all those many years ago. Maybe the money will learn to follow the passion.