Friday, March 03, 2006

Notes from a philistine

The BBC reported yesterday on a boy in Detroit who stuck a piece of chewing gum onto the corner of an abstract painting estimated to be worth $1.5 million, thus leaving a stain that will now need to be removed. A look at the painting, The Bay by Helen Frankenthaler, suggests to me that the BBC missed out on the real news story here, which is that someone might actually be willing to pay $1.5 million for a piece of “work” which might…I emphasize might…garner praise from a nursery school teacher.

Given the utter absurdity of the art world, I wonder if anyone stopped to think that the gum might have actually addded value.


Blogger James Of England said...

I don't recall disagreeing absolutely with one of your posts before, so I was slightly saddened by this post.

I haven't seen The Bay in person, but most of these kinds of paintings transmit poorly through reproduction. That's not where I disagree with you, though (it's pretty subjective).

Even if the work itself does not impress you, Frankenthaler's prominence remains an important part of the history of the culture of the West in the 50s. More importantly than that, to my mind, she helped to create a field in which artists like Rothko could flourish. In the reasonable estimation of the CIA, the prominence of these artists (I believe including Frankenthaler) helped to reduce communist domination of the arts and contributed to the cultural front of the Cold War.

Analogously, I've no idea how good an exegete Sistani is, but I appreciate that his work in debating Kamenei and his ilk is valuable. If someone were to claim that the rights to one of Sistani's theological works was worth a vast amount, the fact that I might be unmoved and uninterested in the work would not cause me to doubt the value.

An alternative analogy, from a different angle, might be that a nursery school teacher might have a flicker of respect for a child arguing, in so many words "Let no man posture as an advocate of peace if he proposes or supports any social system that initiates the use of force against individual men, in any form." Many children of my step-ish daughter's age are acutely aware of the injustice of the parental monopoly of the use of force, though, so it seems likely that the suggestion, without the genius of Ayn Rand to support it, would not merit more than a split second's thought.

Now I feel petty and humourless. Damnit. I even smiled before I thought about it and got bothered. I don't in any way mean to diminish my gratitude to you for writing such a consistently informative and entertaining blog, or for your efforts to salve the open sore at the BBC TVC.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...


I confess that I don't know the first thing about Frankenthaler or her wider influence, and the wider art world has always, shall we say, baffled me. For example, for all his apparent (to everyone but me, it seems) genius, the appeal of Picasso has always eluded me. It strikes me as rather silly that art seems to be valued not by what it looks like, but rather by who did it. Arguments about whether a newly discovered work is an "original" by this or that legend, or is instead a fraud...and the implications of that on the value of the work... have always indicated to me an lack of substance in the evaluation of art. If it's a work of genius when thought to be painted by Picasso, I don't see why it suddenly becomes worthless when it discovered to be by Joe the gardener. Or, more often, vice-versa when an otherwise unheralded piece of art suddenly skyrockets in value when discovered to be an "early" or "late" or "previously unknown" work by a legend.

But I fully recognize that the problem, of course, might be my own blind spot, a possibility to which I tried to allude in the post-header and my reference to being a philistine.


PS - thanks for the kind words about the blog.

3:50 PM  
Blogger Lokki said...

Modern art is art for other artists. Only those who are in the know as to what classic rules of composition are being broken, twisted, or reversed can get the joke.

Of course, no one wants to admit they don't get a no one will admitthat the emperor has no clothes.

So, art has now become a talking game.... it has no value in representation of reality or in demonstrations of beauty. It's a starting point for babblers to spout arcane knowledge.

Marcel Dschamps predicted the fate of modern art back in 1917 when he used a urinal as art.....

7:26 PM  

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