Tuesday, January 21, 2020

A theory of art

I love getting all objective about art as much as the next person. Actually I love it at least twice as much as the next person, and maybe even three times as much. Not only are there ongoing series running in this space with titles like "The Hundred Greatest Albums of All Time" and "Did I mention yet that Caravaggio is the best painter ever? Because I'm going to do it again right now!", but you might also have noticed all my book reviews, reviews of Romantic Comedies, and even my copious reviews of Italian Gelaterias, which are not infrequent visitors to this space, have their fair share of a tone I would describe as VOICE OF GOD. 

Well, it's about fifty-fifty VOICE OF GOD and "I'm really quite absurd", just to keep everyone on their toes.

Is everyone on their toes? 

At the large, near urban library where I work, across and to the right from the front desk of the library, there is a large, abstract painting on the wall there. It is of unparalleled ugliness.

Wait, I was just being dramatic to make my account really pop and because "unparalleled ugliness" is a very fancy thing to get to say. But it's not true and I'm kind of embarrassed. It is not a painting of unparalleled ugliness! It is a painting of pretty regularly paralleled ugliness. 

But, and to invoke the voice of god:


No one could think it is a good painting. It is void of feeling, technique, invention, purpose, and understanding. And last week two library patrons walked by it and one stopped and said "I love that painting." It wasn't casual. She said it like she meant it!

And so, as I do whenever I encounter anything that threatens to tear my brain apart, I developed a theory. Don't worry. It's wasn't hard work. I develop theories like breathing. They come in. They go out. And before you know, wallah!, 2,500 theories and you can read them all, right here, at clerkmanifesto. Tell your friends.

On second thought, don't tell your friends. It's not really their sort of thing. Though I'm glad you like it.

Here is my theory:

Different people like different art.

The thing about Van Gogh is that maybe one of his paintings will have 60 percent of the people who look at it really liking it or loving it. That's a lot of people! And the painting in my library will maybe have one percent of one percent liking it. That's very few people. That difference makes one of the paintings wildly sought after and valuable, and appropriate for a museum. Whereas the other is wrongly mounted to the wall in a public library when, really, it belongs in the house of that one person who commented on it the other day, where she can sit and like it all by her lonesome.

Or, perhaps even more bluntly, Harry Potter is loved by so many people that they had to print 100 million copies of it and the author became one of the richest people in the world. Whereas I, for instance, think this blog post is notably better than the final book in Ms Rowling's series, but I'm nearly alone in that contention.

Does that make me wrong and everyone else right?

Yes, generally. 

But specifically, no.

No, no, no, no!

In fact, and here is the thing in the valuing of art that I kind of like: 

Whoever is making the argument, wins.

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