Monthly Archives: October 2013

Matters of the Art

This morning as I was just about cranking my office apparatus to a slow usual start, among other things I read a couple of excellent articles which in turn gave me something I thought I would share. The first article was about how what we perceive (or not) as art is dependent on in which setting we found it. Let me come back to it shortly. The second article was about why authors like Malcolm Gladwell and Dan Brown are bestselling and the whole problem with a lot of popular non-fiction particularly the Gladwell type (Dan Brown writes fiction but with similar tools). Do read it here.
So the art and setting thingy. The article I read tells about an experiment by The Washington Post where they asked an acclaimed, Grammy winning violinist, Joshua Bell, to pose as a busker (a person who performs on street for people for money they might give him) at a Washington DC subway station. He performed the same piece he did the previous day at a concert where the entry ticket was more than 100 dollars per person. A hidden camera captured his complete subway performance. He managed to collect a total of 32 dollars from about 7 people who stopped and listened to him playing. 1097 people passed him by in total. Only 1 recognized him. Amazing isn’t it?
The article also mentioned a similar story of a graffiti artist known as Banksy, who set up a small vendor stall in New York for one day. The stall, manned by an unknown elderly man, sold his original signed work for 60 dollars per piece. He managed to sell a total of 8 of his artwork for 240 dollars (yea, 8 pieces 60 dollars apiece should be 480, but it seems some people haggled and got some bargain!!) Banksy’s original work goes for thousands of dollars, if it could be sold at all that is, because he paints on public walls. Banksy is a graffiti artist. A stencil graffiti artist to be specific. Graffiti is basically any drawing, writing or painting, usually done illicitly, in a public place. Banksy uses stencil, which is a design cut on a paper, metal etc…oh c’mon you know what stencil is, don’t you. So he uses stencil. But why is he such a big name? Well, his work is beautiful. His work is witty. But most importantly, his work is satirical social commentary. His work make strong social and political statements; art with a purpose, if you crave some cliché. His work can be found on walls all over the world. And to add to this, his identity is secret. Nobody knows who Banksy is really (well a couple of journalists know, who interviewed him (but they are nobody. LOL. Now that is a hilarious extempore joke :D)). I strongly urge you to go and visit his website, here. But as the ‘clicks’ history on my blog dashboard tells me, I know most of you would not, so let me show you some of his artwork below.

banksy ghetto

banksy graffiti crime

Banksy mouse
I love his brilliant use of situation. Like here, a perfectly placed mouse and a little wood dust give the illusion that the mouse toppled the oppressive signboard.

What the article tried to convey was, how appreciation of art is not an absolute, to us. People were propmt to appreciate the violinist when they were told that he is tremendous and paid $100 for it. I am sure, a lot of them went home impressed. But when the others heard him perform for free and in an untidy setting, they did not really care. Of course there were other factors too but this fact still remains. Similarly, people of New York could not appreciate the art of Banksy while it was available on a park stall. And it is all the more ironical because Banksy’s hides his identity, according to him, so that his work matter, not his face, so his art should have mattered.
And this is something which has divided opinions forever. What constitutes art?
Consider this below piece for example:

Black circle
Black Circle by Kazimir Malevich. Oil on canvas. 1915

Modern art was a long time mystery to me. Not all of course, but things like this:

Snail matisse
The Snail by Henri Matisse. Gouache on paper. 1953.

I mean, I do not really find the black circle and this colorful piece here particularly repulsive, but why should they be interesting to anybody, always irritated me. Particulary if such work is celebrated. Pablo Picasso is perhaps the greatest example of this. He is widely known to be a genius artist. But then I see something like this and I wonder, what is wrong with ‘me’:

Picasso Dora Maar
Dora Maar with Cat by Picasso. 1941. One of the world’s most expensive paintings.

I was reading an article about Picasso somewhere which first appeared in The Guardian. Towards the end, the article had this quote, a sort of confessional from Picasso. He said it while being interviewed by a writer Giovanni Papini.
Today, as you know, I am famous, I am rich. But when I am alone with myself, I haven’t the  courage to consider myself an artist in the ancient sense of the word. Great painters are people like Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt, Goya. I am only a public entertainer who has understood the times and has exploited as best he could the imbecility, the vanity and the greed of his contemporaries. Mine is a bitter confession, more painful than might seem, but it has the merit of being sincere.”
This quote was like a vindication to all my long held theories. I said, yea I knew it all along sucker. I knew it.
Coming from The Guardian, I never suspected its authenticity. But I think the journalist did not really did the background check and this quote is almost certainly an invention of Papini. But the fact that I was so eager to believe it was a real eye opener for me. It was damn funny how I so wanted to believe that all modern art is fake. And the fact that a journalist made up that story and it has been believed as true by so many people, is in itself, saying a lot.

I am no longer such a non-believer, but that theory has a certain pull, and I am far from alone in this. Most people I have met do not really believe in abstract and modern art. I was reading ‘What is Art’ by Leo Tolstoy sometime back which I dropped for some reasons, but from what I remember, he was not particularly friendly. One voice inside me which distracts, asks the question that what is the purpose of a piece of art if people cannot appreciate it; enjoy it? I mean, if a painting is too vague to be understood or if somebody has to be told that the sound he heard just now was some kind of amazing music, then what is the point? But then, is it really the burden of the artist if his work is too profound for the majority of the world? Should he really water down his work just so a lot many can enjoy it? What about his personal sense of satisfaction? That makes me not give up.
Ok before I wrap up, enjoy this little battle between Banksy and another street artist King Robbo. Robbo had created a graffiti which Banksy later ‘added on’, and the battle ensued. Do see, here. I would have posted it here, but there are about ten pictures, too many.