Burton Silverman, are you dead yet?

Burton Silverman Study for Arch-Deluxe

Dear Burton Silverman,

I just googled you to see if you were still alive. I guess in the back of my head there’s always this myth that an artist’s paintings go up in value if they are dead . Do you think that’s true?

So other than my sincere wish to see if you, my favorite painter, were still alive, I wanted to know if anything had changed which might affect the value of your paintings. But I googled and not only do I see you are alive and well (congratulations on this) but I see that you have your email address on your website so I figured I’d write.

I own your “Study for Arch-Deluxe” :

STudy arch deluxe by burton silverman

I paid $20,000 for it in 1999 at Gallery Henoch. I know they ripped me off but I hope you got your cut and at the time I didn’t care anyway. It was a drop in the bucket. Three years later that would’ve been an overflowing bucket for me.  I would’ve drowned in that bucket.

One time in 2002 I was going broke. I had maybe four months of life left. I called them to see if they could buy it back from me for $20,000. They told me they’d call me back but they never did. That would’ve bought me an extra 10 days before going broke but even ten days was a long time for me back then.

I would look at the people in your painting and I would feel so much worse than them. They had happy lives, it seemed to me at that time – drinking their coffee before going onto work. They had a mission. I had no mission. I had an empty hole in my brain that whistled when the wind blew through it.

I’m glad the gallery never called me back, though. Now the painting is hanging up directly to my right. I look at it every day as I work.

It’s so beautiful.  So many times I’ve felt like the people in that painting. A Tuesday morning, rainy, a little bit of coffee before work, crowded in together at the ledge at the deli trying to read the latest gossip on page six of the New York Post. Everybody in each other’s personal space.  The definition of personal space becomes infinitely narrow, touching without real touching, talking without real talking. Everyone staring into empty spaces inside of themselves, all in different directions.

Nobody really wants to be there. Who wants to work? Who wants to be outside in the rain? Who wants to be making love to each other so intimately in that disgusting deli with their burnt coffee, their yellow jackets, their green jackets, their silent reveries.  I want the woman in the yellow jacket to have moments of happiness because maybe then there is hope for all of us. Do you know if she does? Can you tell me?

I like how we’re watching the people through the glass. We’re not in there with them. The viewer is on his or her way to work. The glass separates us from our comrades. Maybe we’ll join them. But its already too crowded for us. Maybe the next deli will have some room. But, for the moment, we’re being rained on. We’re cold. We need coffee to wake up. We’re even worse off than the people in the painting. We left the playfulness of our childhoods such a long time ago.

Your painting I have is titled “Study for Arch-Deluxe”. I used to be able to find the actual  “Arch-Deluxe” on the Internet but now I can’t anymore. I guess things even disappear in the massive archaeological dig of the internet.

A friend of mine is a painter that’s greatly inspired by you. She couldn’t believe I had a “Burton Silverman painting”. She did a painting of one of my daughters:

My daughter, Mollie, doesn’t like it because she’s not smiling. But heck, her parents had just gotten a divorce, she was switching schools, she was unsure of a lot of things at that time. Sometimes it’s hard to smile. Her hands are wrapped around her body as if she can’t let herself go or everything will spill out. I wish now I had been the one holding her instead of her feeling she had to hold herself.

In any case, I hope you live a very long life.

– James Altucher


Self-portrait of Burton Silverman:

burton silverman

Related Posts:
Burton Silverman quote:

Very early on in my life, I fell in love with the landscape of the human face, where all the emotional states of life are to be found, and the love affair has not faltered.

– Burton Silverman

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  • Buzz McCool

    How did you know it was right to pay $20,000 for that painting instead of $200,000 or $2,000? I’d like to buy a piece of art I like (as opposed to having an investment as one reason) but I don’t understand the pricing.

    • I was an idiot in 1999 on a lot of things. Maybe I paid a good price on this. Maybe I didn’t. But I loved the painting and would’ve probably paid any price. I didn’t negotiate at all.

      • Brian

         I’ve bought a number of paintings over the years.  I don’t consider myself rich, but I’ve spent between $1,500 and $11,000 for each.  An original Peter Max painting is probably my best “investment” even though I don’t consider my paintings investments.  I think that they all give me pleasure that far exceeds what I paid for them.  I strongly encourage anyone interested to buy at least one original art work that they can afford.  You will not regret it.

        • MCB

          Hi Brian,

          My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed reading your comment regarding art and its intengible gift. Thanks for sharing!

  • Beautiful. I hope to someday own a Mark Tansey painting. I’m sure it won’t be cheap.

    • Dddiiu

      Hey, I’m one of the 45million on food stamps.Can I use my food stamps to buy a nice painting. I don’t mind not eating for a few months.Lovely post James, keep up the great work.

  • Arthi

    The painting of your daughter is just too beautiful :-)

    • Thank you very much. I will tell her she said that.

    • plus 1.

      not every moment in life requires a smile.

  • Graphitus

    Yes, buying art can be an unpredictable thing just like the stocks you follow. Prices are based on past sales and show history…Galleries will provide a price list at the front desk…The more people you ask about art the better informed you will be. For instance this guy above did not pay $20,000 for his Silverman… it just sounded better in the blog…he actually paid $12,000 – a very fair price. Then there is timing. Money managers and hedge funds found it difficult to unload a single Security for at least a year or two after the 2008 crash.  6 months after 9/11 the art market was at rock bottom.  Is it possible he tried to sell at the worst time in recent history.  It is no wonder it was not bought back it is just pure math. 

    • Well, not sure where you get your info but i can guarantee you I paid $20,000.

    • Benoit Ledouche

      How exactly do you know what he paid?  If you’re going to toss snarky condescending BS out there like that you need to substantiate it.

      • Benoit, its funny because at least once per post someone thinks I’m not telling the truth about something but I have zero reason to lie about any of these things. But this happens every post. Some “Guest” makes a comment.

  • Sooz

    His home page says he still teaches at his studio right there in NYC, 324 W, 71 St.. You should drop by and sit in on a session, J.A..
    How fun would that be?

    • Sooz, thats a great idea! I’m going to do that. I really had no idea he was right there. I should’ve checked that.

      • Sooz

        you may have to send a “pretty please request”. It appears he is a popular teacher and all his summer shops are filled. I’d bet he would make an exception(fax him a photo of his painting along with what it means to you and include request..:))  

        • Sooz

          I’m sure he would be humbly honored by your request.

  • “Her hands are wrapped around her body as if she can’t let herself go or everything will spill out.”


    • Thanks Daniel. It always makes me wonder what tensions or stresses she’s holding in. Although maybe I’m just projecting.

  • CMS

    His Wikipedia could use a little help. Whatta mess.


  • I bought a David Gerrold first edition “The Man Who Folded Himself” from a bookseller online years ago for $30.  It arrives and I open the cover, and it was signed by the writer himself!  Too cool.  I wonder if the seller even noticed?

    • Sooz

      …to the real ‘Mad Scientist’ I am  grateful to recognize here on these pages, that’s beyond sci~fi cool!!!

      • Indeed!

        • Just downloaded it for kindle. Looks like a fun book. Thanks GYSC.

          • One of my favorites, let me if you like it.

  • I actually like the description of the painting better than the what I can see. I am betting it lost a bit in the reproduction.
           I am going to be closing my gallery soon.  Not many hedge fund guys running around these parts.
                  But the experience helped me enjoy your post all the more.

    • Jim, what kind of stuff in your gallery?

      • James,
            an eclectic mix. My pottery, about 40 local artists. I showed your post to one of artists, Hal Moore, who knew Burton from when he was in New York.  Hal Paints everything, Cows, Palm trees, Nudes. I bought a great painting from Hal of a boat on a misty lake. I think It is about 30 years old.I think  Hal cleaned out his house, and found it in the back of a closet.Serge is from the Ukraine. He makes large bugs.Steve the Greek, excellent black and white photography. Sad to say, Steve did die this year, far too young. 


        • Sooz

          this is by far the best answered question,ever, on Confidential!! A big pounding heart goes out to you J.K..

          • Sooz,
                           Thank you.

  • perfect timing on this post for me.

    I just got a comment on my blog from a friend I haven’t seen in years.  a painting of hers hangs on my wall and I stll smile everytime I see it.   It is captivating, reminds me of her and the time I bought it from her.

    • Its amazing how a good painting grows on you with time.

      • very true.  but one thing I’ve noticed with this one, and the others I like best, is that I loved them from the moment I saw them.

        I remember looking thru her stuff and liking it all.  but none spoke to me like this one.

        other art that I just kinda liked when I bought it I still just kinda like.

        Also, price doesn’t matter.  one of my favorites I bought on the street in East Africa directly from the artist.  $5.

  • Kurt

    No, not dead, yet. But, give it time. Nobody gets out of life alive.

  • Anonymous

    It’s great you have a painting you love. I didn’t buy the one my wife and I saw in a Paris art gallery and now really regret it. No other painting is as good as that one.

    • I had a similar experience in, of all places, Des Moines. Just recently. Now I want to go back and buy the painting. I tried to remember the name of the gallery but can’t.

  • M.A.

    Truly enjoyed this post. They have become a habit. Your writing style is very Vonnegut. And by the way, your friend is a very good painter.

  • Restless Insomniac

    Hey James,
    Your blog is great, thank you for it!!! You inspired me to start writing again during my sleepless nights…
    and funny story on Sarah Palin and her bus… please read, and SUPPORT
    by clicking at least once on one of the ads on the website… http://fullawareness.blogspot.com/2011/06/on-sarah-palin-and-her-bus-press-and.html

    • Restless, I hope you sleep. Creativity during sleepless nights is, of course, great. But creativity on a full night of rest is good also.

  • Sundar

    My mother painted a portrait of me when I was 4 and the look on my face is not all that different from your daughter’s.  I used to think it’s a shame, but now I use it to remind me to appreciate my mother and her gifts.  I see you’re doing something similar with the Silverman.  Maybe it already is worth more than 20k

    • Sunday. post a link to your portrait. Thats great she painted you.

  • Todd_Andelin

    great post today as always…

    …could post your future predictions regarding tech and society etc….?
    even if you make all of it up i’d love to read your thoughts…
    tell us what James Altucher the futurist is thinking!

    • I like that idea. I’m going to do that.

      • HD

        im looking forward for that , best regards from el salvador young lawyer(23) entrepeneur thanks for all the advice james! http://www.hermandi.com 

  • Tell your (beautiful) daughter that sometimes real is more beatiful than smiles. I really like the painting of her. I like it more, I think, than I would like one of her smiling. Especially when you talk about what was really happening in her life. A smile would have been forced. 

    • I will. Thank you, Brooke. Sometimes kids are fooled into thinking the stereotype of “what should be” is the only choice they have. But the other choices are so much more interesting and filled with charisma and excitement.

  • Dddiiu

    Hey, I’m one of the 45million on food stamps.

    Can I use my food stamps to buy a nice painting. I don’t mind not eating for a few months.

    Lovely post James, keep up the great work.

  • Anonymous

    Anytime I hear of anyone spending a ton of cash on a painting, I think they’re crazy.  After reading this post, maybe I think they’re less crazy.  You have a true attachment to it and it does something valuable for you.  Wouldn’t you get the same effect from a $50 reproduction though?  I just don’t understand why art (for someone who isn’t buying it as an investment) has to be like buying the original masters of an album.  The CD or MP3 is just as good for everyone and you get just as much out of it.

    • MCB

      You raise an interesting question. An original piece of fine art will allow the observer to see the hand of the artist within the artwork. A reproduction will always lose this distinct quality. Even more important is the energy and the spiritality one gets when confronted with the artist’s original. The actual mark from the artist’s hand is a portal into the artist’s mind, emotion, and inner being. All of that is lost in a reproduction.

  • Marie

    Here is why it’s easy for people to believe in signs or fate or destiny or other superstitious stuff:

    My daughter, who is an artist/writer/naturalist (at the tender age of 18), spoke recently to my mother-in-law, who is an artist, about goals and studying and whatnot, and my m-i-l said she had studied with Burton Silverman and how much she got out of it. Before then, I had never heard of him and here you are, just a few days after I looked him up. I was surprised he was alive too.

    I’m sure you can’t post links here but just in case, this is one of my mil’s works called “Survivor,” which is very vivid, so you may not like it but I thought about how you’re a survivor. The picture doesn’t really do it justice because it’s a 6′ H by 4′ W canvas. Still, she was very influenced by Silverman.


  • Anna

    I love the portrait of your daughter…does your friend have a link to more of her work?

    • Yes, she does. One sec, let me find it….hmm, i cant find but on facebook she is:
      Katie O hagan. She has a ton of great stuff and is good to work with. If I findthe link I’ll post her or hopefully she will post here. i saw this one link:
      but just seems to have bio. but maybe that will link to her other work.

  • “Study for Arch-Deluxe” and your comments on it remind me of Edward Hopper’s “Tables for Ladies” http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/31.62.  

  • Index1000

    Art dealers are bigger fucking liars than real estate agents. I didn’t think that was possible but they are.

  • Siddhartha Herdegen

    I really like the picture of your daughter. Who’s the artist?

  • You say you’re going broke when you have four months to go! You, sir, have not made it to the Edge.

    Nice little reverie you made for us there.

  • Andrew

    You might be interested in this interview with the artist: http://www.asllinea.org/burton-silverman-in-search-of-the-humane/

  • JFK

    Hi James, Indeed Silverman’s work bears a neo-realism that is truthful and affirms our existence in the present. I enjoy his watercolors very much and have a number of pieces on my website: http://www.feolifineart.net