In a world of fast-moving images—from TikTok videos to big-screen movie special effects in the latest blockbuster—a freeze-frame moment still has the capacity to rivet our attention, settle our hearts and inspire our lives.
That’s the enduring power of art that Diane Dinkins-Carr celebrates, cultivates and champions both personally, as an art lover and collector, and professionally, as one of only a few accredited Black art appraisers in the country.
“Have something on your wall,” she urges everyone, noting how a painting or a photograph can not only help enhance a room but also set the mood for the people in it. “You can look at it and sit back and be at peace . . . art can be therapy, because certain colors will make you relax. Others will make you angry.”
And while a painting doesn’t change, your experience or understanding of it may do so over time, Dinkins-Carr points out. She tells of a painting of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. hanging in the Chicago home she shares with husband and WayMaker founder Louis Carr and how, over a period, she became aware of another aspects to it, a historical element, that has added additional meaning to the painting. “It takes on different aspects and looks as you sit there and look at it.”
As your collection expands, you can shift artwork to change the feel of a room (one important tip she passes on: don’t hang original work in a bathroom, as the dampness will damage it). Choose a new piece carefully “because you’re going to have to look at it every day.”
And bear in mind that art can be enriching materially as well as aesthetically. Rather than put their money in stocks and bonds, some people like to invest in art and be able to appreciate it hanging on the wall as it appreciates in value.
You don’t need to have a lot of money to start collecting art, Dinkins-Carr says, just as you don’t need a fortune to open a 401(k). Just as you would if you turned to the stock market, start small but start young, she advises, giving the investment time to mature. “I tell young people in their 20s and 30s, ‘I know you guys just graduated from college. I know you have debt. I know you want to move out of your parents’ house. But buy a print, a limited-edition print, an edition of maybe no larger than 100.’”
Find a niche, she adds, whether that’s a painting or photograph—something that appeals to you. Learn about the artists just as you would if investing money—read art books and use the internet. Visit galleries, art fairs and artist’s studios. Get to meet the artists directly, Dinkins-Carr says. “Many of them have home shows where you can buy a piece of art and get on a payment plan.”
Remember, too, that art appreciation is uniquely personal and what may be commonplace now could one day be a collectible for some. By way of example, she recalls the small plastic trolls she used to enjoy having when she was a kid: those popular figures that sold for less than a dollar can now go for upward of $50.
Dinkins-Carr’s own art purchases are made for three reasons: because she likes something, because she wants to support an emerging artist and because she sees the piece as a good investment.
Art has always been part of the tapestry of Dinkins-Carr’s life. Her parents, who were both artists, were introduced to each other by prominent artist Dr. Margaret Taylor-Burroughs, co-founder of the South Side Community Art Center and founder of the Ebony Museum (now the DuSable Museum of African American History). The couple were hugely influential figures in Chicago’s Black art scene; Fitzhugh Dinkins’ recorded memories are part of the Archives of American Art Oral History Program at the Smithsonian.
Dinkins-Carr’s parents collected art themselves and also took pieces as collateral when they made loans to struggling artists to help keep them afloat. As a result, the family’s two-bedroom apartment was chockfull of paintings by the likes of artists William McBride and William Carter (including a nude torso hanging in the living room) and others. Dinkins-Carr even had original works by emerging artists on the wall in her room because there was no space elsewhere.
“Art was on the walls, in the closets, under the bed . . . I thought that’s how everyone lived,” Dinkins-Carr recalls. “When I went to someone’s house and they didn’t have any artwork on the wall, I was like, ‘What’s wrong?’”
Though she grew up in a home that was almost like a live-in gallery, when she first went out on her own she did not get to take any of those pieces with her. “My parents made it clear the art on their walls was their art,” she says smilingly. “So, I used to take pictures out of a magazine and frame them and put them on the wall.”
That approach encapsulates her approach to art—it’s good to know something about art but not having money doesn’t have to exclude you from being able to enjoy it. The Carrs’ collection has developed since those early days, however. They have a couple of hundred original pieces between their homes in Chicago and south Florida.
One of them is that early nude Dinkins-Carr recalls. As a work that she appreciates but saw more of than she wanted to when she was young, it’s now in the Carrs’ piano room, off from the foyer. “So, it’s not like I have to look at it every day. I go in that room if I want to see it.”
While Dinkins-Carr believes it’s good to know the history of art, she doesn’t have much time for the snobbery that she sees in some art circles. Or the way some collectors exclude artists they don’t consider to be legitimate because they may not have the right qualifications. “I get upset sometimes because there are talented artists out there that don’t get a chance to show their work to collectors,” she says.
Dinkins-Carr didn’t only inherit her parents’ love for art, she has also continued their support of Chicago’s vibrant Black artist community. Over the years, she has served in a variety of leadership positions at Chicago’s renowned South Side Community Art Center, where her father and mother were heavily involved. The last surviving center of its kind founded in 1940 as part of the government’s Work Projects Administration program, it has long been a well-known incubator for Black artists.
Her immersion in art from an early age primed Dinkins-Carr to earn a degree in design with a minor in fine art, before pursuing graduate studies in urban planning and policy. Her turn to art appraisal came about almost accidentally when the time came to have her late parents’ collection evaluated.
Learning of a dearth of valuation expertise in the world of Black art, she trained to become an appraiser. Now, through her DDC Consulting Group, she authenticates and values work for insurance claims and estates, collectors and museums. It’s a bit like being an art detective, combining hours of documentary research with knowledge of the field, and she sees it as an extension of her longstanding interest in supporting artists.
Many artists aren’t especially business savvy, she observes. “They just want to create . . . so I try to protect them.” For example, she recommends “if your art is going to be in a museum, a gallery, on a TV show, draft up a contract.”
Acknowledging the long tradition of social commentary in Black art—in contrast to the neutral portraits and still lives of much classic European art—Dinkins-Carr notes the explosion of street art in the wake of George Floyd’s death. “Today, the younger artists, they are sending a message,” she says. “They are telling the viewer how they feel in their painting.”
She believes street art is a welcome trend, bringing art from the slightly highbrow venues where some people might feel excluded to a wider audience. “Many young people don’t feel comfortable in museums or exclusive art galleries.” But “I think they are becoming more interested in public art.”