Michael Battalio

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Serious conversations (part 11)

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. We began with religion and have now moved onto many other things. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The eleventh entry is a continuation of part ten about art:

        My friend continued:
        Most great masterpieces were painted on commission.  An artist didn’t sit in his studio and paint because he wanted to or had something he needed to express. He painted because a wealthy person wanted him to paint something for him, either as decoration, or to simply display their wealth and power for all to see. But now, those paintings are in museums so the masses can view them just to say they have seen them. So originally, the subject matter of the painting did matter; it was full of political or religious or social symbolism. However, they existed not for the sake of art as we consider it today, but for something else.
        My reply was:
        I suppose the greatness of those commissioned artists of before has to do with the ability of those who commissioned the works to purvey them to the general populace.  In effect, the church and government becomes the art critic.  This portrait of me as king or this depiction of the last supper is important because I say so.  Marvel at its awesomeness you peasants.  Okay, not that dramatically, but I think my point remains.  My question being: does greatness only come from commission, only from an imposed purpose so others will find and "know" the purpose as well instead of some abstract, relative thought?
        Perhaps considering how artists of our time have become renowned would help us in contemplating how art becomes great.  How did Andy Warhol or Norman Rockwell become famous?  I think it might be that they had a sense of the every day man.  That's cliché.  Rockwell painted scenes that a random American would recognize and say, "Hey, that could be me."  Or, "I might actually live that."  Warhol started with some work of icons of Americana, the Campbell soup labels or Coke bottles.  (He stayed famous for eliciting controversy, but became famous for his art.)  Their main draw was appealing to the everyman. You have to appeal to the masses to be remembered.

To sum up what I think:
        I would be of the line of thought that art will always be created; whether or not an artist can support themselves doesn't matter.  People will always be inspired to create, regardless of any financial implications.  I would say the individual needs art that expresses outside the political, economic, and social power of the owner, but that art doesn't need to be financed by an outside power. Again, people will create what comes to them naturally along with what they are paid to create.
        I guess to finish: Art is a work that expresses a thought, feeling or idea through various media.  An artist is anyone who creates that work. That's a broad definition, but I’m not a philosopher.

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