gooollysandra

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Tag Archives: art history

“A Museum for Everyone”

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The Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) recently got a new director and she has a spot in the Williams College Magazine to introduce herself to the college and alumni. Reading about her art journey was interesting to me because one might assume that the director of an art museum would have art flowing through her veins since before she was born while still in the womb. But not so for Pamela Franks, which is actually inspiring because it means that one can find an interest in and a passion for art at any age and stage of one’s life. Franks discovered art in college by taking an art history class on a whim.

“The joy of prolonged observation, of seeing ever more detail over time and becoming fluent in the visual language of art, was transformative. Knowing that someone, somewhere, made these remarkable objects felt like a direct connection across time and place.”

I have grown up around art ever since I can remember because both of my parents are art historians, and while I love art now, this was not always true. Growing up around something doesn’t necessarily constitute an affinity for it. I definitely went through a period of time when I was so sick of being dragged to art museums as a kid. But now I greatly appreciate the exposure my parents facilitated towards art appreciation.

Franks is setting forth to make her new museum a place for learning and engagement not only for Williams students, but for anyone who walks through the door that might have a similar eye-opening experience she had in college when she took that art history class on a whim. We never know what we might discover that could change the course of our lives.

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“To sustain ardor, one must be in love not only with the thing itself, but also with the idea of the thing itself.”

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“Moral: To sustain ardor, one must be in love not only with the thing itself, but also with the idea of the thing itself.”

I recently read this quote by Stephen Dankner in a newspaper article in The Advocate, which is based in New England, and I read it at just the perfect moment as I am trying to decide what I want to do with my future; more precisely, what I want to pursue graduate studies in and this quote sums it all up. So what do I love in essence and in thought? At the moment I am trying to make up my mind between Art History and Film. Submitting applications for both is a bit confusing and it’s hard to imagine which I would enjoy more. But reading this quote brought up a very basic, fundamental notion that I hadn’t thought of but makes all the sense in the world. Do most people have the luxury of loving what they do as well as the idea of it? Probably not. I think it’s a hard to achieve because it’s hard to even figure out what you love in essence AND in thought.

What makes art valuable?

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“Unlike art, Newsom said, ‘design is not inherently valuable.'”- Designing Men by Paul Goldberger, Vanity Fair 

This quote brought me back to a Philosophy of Art class I took in college. So if design is not inherently valuable, then art is? And what is it that makes art inherently valuable if that is the case? It’s a difficult question with no clear answer, but it is very interesting. How does art gain its value? Does it depend on the artist? And how does that artist gain enough notoriety or credibility to create ‘valuable’ artwork? Or does it depend on its reception and how many people see it? But how does an emerging artist break into the art world and gain exposure? All these questions lead to a very complicated structure that exists in the art world, whether the art is mainstream or unrecognized, and it can be difficult to know where and how to start answering these questions.

What really strikes me is how artists gain notoriety. How do they get discovered? Does it require money to pay someone to show your art in a fancy gallery regardless of talent? Or can regular people submit their art to galleries and be accepted based on merit and talent? That would certainly be the hope, but it seems increasingly harder to do that in this day and age.

Here are two works by a famous artist, Egon Schiele. I like them, but someone else who may not like his style may not like them at all. Either way, he is an established, well-known artist. I not only like them aesthetically, but I also like them knowing the historical and cultural context they come from – early 20th century Vienna. It helps that he had a famous artist as a mentor, Gustav Klimt, which undoubtedly propelled his career forward. So perhaps this is the way to do it…seek out a mentor who has relative notoriety and learn what you can from him/her in the hopes of it leading somewhere.

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So what makes these two works valuable? The fact that they were done by a famous artist? Or would they be valuable in their own right because of their aesthetic quality even if you didn’t know who they were done by? Which brings up another question – when you look at a piece of art, can you tell whether or not it was made by a famous artist? I think we instinctively want to know who the artist behind the work is when we look at art, or at least I do, and if you are the least bit educated in art history you will know whether or not they are well-known. Therefore, I don’t know if it is possible to look at a serious work of art and separate it from the artist. And if we can’t separate the work from the artist, how do we know we like the work for the sake of the work itself or because of the artist who made it? For me the two go hand in hand. It is very hard to separate the two. But often there are works by artists that I don’t like even though I may like the artist as a whole. For example, Egon Shciele – I like him as an artist and I like many of his works, but not all of them. So in these cases, when I like the artist on the whole but not a particular work by that artist, I judge the work for the work itself and not for the artist. If one liked every work by a particular artist, one would be judging the work by the artist and not by the individual works. I don’t think there is one approach to evaluating art that is better than the other, they are just different.

But still, regardless of how one evaluates art, how does art become valuable? It seems strange to place a price tag on a work of art because it is hard to assign a value to it in terms of weighing how much the materials cost, how much the labor is worth, and what the desired profit is. It’s not like an object made in a factory that can be priced in this way. There is something about art that is transcendental by which it acquires value. And it is precisely for this reason that the price of art is typically very high – because its value is so hard to define so it is just easier if we give it a high price tag. It is a shame though because this means that it is really only available (to own at least) for the rich. Those who can’t afford to own a nice work of art can still appreciate it in a museum or gallery, but the ownership of art is a luxury for the wealthy. I tend to think that even if you own a work of art, you don’t really own it, but are rather just taking care of it and keeping it safe for the artist who created it, who I believe still ‘owns’ it. It is one thing to buy a work of art and own it in that sense, but I don’t think that means you really own because you didn’t create it. I believe the ownership lies in the creator, even if it is no longer in the creator’s physical possession.

In an attempt to help my artist boyfriend gain exposure, I am going to present some of his art here. How do you think it compares to Egon Schiele? If you didn’t know that it wasn’t made by Egon Schiele, would you think that it possibly could be? Or Van Gogh maybe?

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The way that artists draw inspiration from other artists and tend to imitate their style is quite common,  you can still tell that they are done by different artists. Artists can draw upon inspiration from other artists while still creating their own style.

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 It’s a shame that some artists, or perhaps even most artists, only gain notoriety after their death because they don’t get the chance to revel in it  or reap the financial rewards of being a well-known artist. Why is it that many artists  only become famous after their death? Is there something about the fact  that they’re no longer living that their work becomes almost sacred  because you know they can’t make any more of it? It’s a strange thing and  there is something that just doesn’t seem quite right about it.  Artists should  be able to experience their own notoriety and know that their art is appreciated by people.

More about Egon Schiele and his work on Artsy.