It's HOW MUCH??
By maxdennison, Feb 20 2014 09:50AM
Someone said to me the other day when asked about my work - "Well, it doesn't look like you spent much time on it...". As you can imagine, after my initial feelings of shattered confidence and shaken self belief, it got me thinking about how people attach arbitrary 'values' to art.
This is, of course, something every one of us does every day. We are continuously being bombarded by creatives' artwork all the time, trying to sell us something, tell us things, entertain us, or just merely to try to grab our attention. Whether it be a magazine, a TV advert, a film, or a gallery, 'Art' is at the source of it all. It is one of the primary mechanisms by which we translate the world around us into something which is meaningful and personal. I mean, how many of us do not have a piece of artwork of some description on our wall at home? Not many, I'm sure. But most people aren't artists. They wouldn't necessarily by aware of the intricacies of why or how a particular piece was created. Nor should they. So why, then, do they feel confident, and indeed capable, of appraising it as 'good' or 'bad' art? Why do we make the assumption that simply because it's either very expensive, or that it we like it, or that we are 'told' by someone notable that we 'should' like it, that it is inherently 'better' art? How do we make that incredibly subjective call as to whether one piece of art is better than any other?
My friend above appeared to suggest that simply because my painting 'looked' like it didn't take long to paint, it was of lesser value aesthetically and, most probably, financially. Thus they measured its worth by value/time. In other words, if it takes a 'long time' to paint, it's worth more than something which is painted in a minute. I wonder if they'd ever seen a Leonardo sketch?
It's an interesting point however, and I certainly don't begrudge this person for making this particular judgement. After all, art is, by it's very nature, highly subjective and open to immense interpretation of worth especially when it comes to 'successful' art and what that actually means. But I think it goes a little deeper. I believe it boils down to perception. In this particular case, the 'perception' that it only took a short amount of time seemingly degraded it. As the artist who produced the work, I know that this is certainly not the case. But then I can't go round explaining to everyone about each piece and how long it took to paint simply to justify it's price tag. Reluctantly, I have to leave it to the viewer to make up their own minds, and hopefully, if they like it enough, they'll buy it.
Recently, "Le Boulevard Montmartre, Matinee de Printemps" by Pissarro was sold at Sotheby's for £19.9m. This brings up a number of important questions relating to it's inherent and perceived 'value'. Firstly, was it simply the name 'Pissarro' that was worth nearly 20 million pounds? Or was it because the buyer liked the painting SO much that they were prepared to hand over that amount of cash just to hang it on their wall at home? If the former is true, then it obviously negates any intrinsic value of the painting itself. If the latter holds, then you could argue that the buyer had more money than sense. There are many better ways to spend £19.9m in my opinion. But there you go.
In itself, this painting is merely a simple representation of a Paris street on a spring afternoon. It is well painted, colourful, vibrant, easily popular. But then again, so are many other paintings by much lesser known artists who sell for a tiny fraction of the cost of this work. So one could conclude that it's perceived value was simply an notional amount which one person was prepared to pay for a Pissaro on the day, and not, sadly, because of the quality of the artwork itself.
And herein lies the rub. Just as this assumption that an abstract technical comparison relating to the time it took to produce the piece was enough, apparently, to devalue it, and thereby placing as secondary any aesthetic consideration, they were falling into the trap of valuing a piece of art, not by what they themselves might feel passionate about, but by what others (often with a strong vested interest I might add) tell them they 'should' be passionate about.