Saturday, 6 December 2014

The Barnett Newman Formula - Facebook debates

Keeping myself busy with comic art masterclasses, travelling, and having a cold lately, I've not found much to blog about. However I do find myself getting drawn into conversations on Facebook. One of the more interesting of recent weeks being when Jon Haward posted an article about a Barnett Newman painting selling for $44 million, with an anti-art comment attached. I reposted it and started my own discussion. Here's how it went.
Me on Barnett Newman's painting (sold 18 months ago, but raised on my timeline this morning). It's not literally worth $44million but someone's willing to pay that for it. The reason they're willing to is that this painting, and indeed any painting by Barnett Newman, is a significant part of 20th century history, Newman was an abstract expressionist who, alongside people like Pollock and Rothko, moved painting into areas it had simply never been before. It was the 1950s and these artists were discovering potentials of human expression that can be seen as the equivalent of their contemporaries who were developing early computers and discovering DNA. Quite why so many people are willing to accept that scientific developments are valid, without actually understanding the details, yet dismiss artistic developments out of hand, without thinking there might be any details worth understanding, I don't know. But that's how a lot of people think, so those of us who went to art school have learned to sigh and live with it.

Pete Renshaw People get all insensed about the prices paid for art but the fate of most art that does not gain value through the market is the skip or the bonfire. Remember the Nazi rounded up all the 'degenerate art' in Germany, Picassos, George Grosz etc. Exhibited for public mockery and promised to burn the lot. Actually they sold into the Swiss art market. A nice big price protects art for posterity.

Alan Cowsill Who decides what's good and bad though? That's what I've never been able to find out...

Scott Barlow Is it down to good and bad or just how desirable it is? Anything is only work what someone is willing to pay.

Alan Holloway Art collectors can be such morons. Emperor's new clothes syndrome strikes again

Glenn B Fleming I produced a painting similar to the above 15 years ago - you can have it for half the price. PM me.

Tony Cowards The art market is basically manipulated by investors like Charles Saatchi. What they do is buy up lots of art by a particular artist (e.g. Damien Hirst) for very little, then they pay way over the odds for one particular piece which then sets a benchmark and creates a demand for the rest of that artists work (because people in the art world need to be "told" what is valuable and what isn't).
They can then sell the earlier pieces at a massive profit or insure them for much more and then conveniently lose them in a warehouse fire (allegedly).

   Elise Harris It is more about buying into the celebrity and reputation of the artist rather than the technical achievements. You also have to buy into whatever the concept is - in some cases the concept is "you will give me large amounts of money for very little conceptual effort on my part."

Graeme Casey That's not a painting that's my table tennis court.

Tony O'Donnell It does nothing for me but I would not be upset if someone gave it to me, mind you I would sell it quickly!

Kev Sutherland I wish we could separate the art market from the art, but they're intertwined and always have been. "Who decides what's good and bad?" It's the subject of constant debate and discussion, which is part of it's reason for being. What is art for? To make us think and to advance the ways we look at the world. I equate art with pop music (which I love possibly more than fine art). In both cases people make stuff which, when you think about it, is kind of pointless and that we could live without. And most of the stuff that people make, painters and musicians alike, gets heard by few and doesn't become a big hit. But when something "works", you'll find people liking it, agreeing about it, and somehow this thing has become part of culture. Whether it's Barnett Newman or Little Richard, Roy Lichtenstein or The Beatles, David Bowie or Gilbert & George, Christo or The Smiths, Damian Hirst or Flaming Lips, Steve McQueen or Kanye West, Duncan Campbell or Taylor Swift, every decade someone in the art form does something that "works", and there you go, it's part of cultural history. Perhaps it's because the pop music is more democratically chosen, as far as the big hits are concerned, that people forgive the millions it makes. But there are innumerable musicians who've made influential and respected music but made next to no money from it. It still "worked". Likewise art.

Karl Frisby Overpainted when he added the line. Could have made another $4m easily.

Stan Dickinson Never like Rothko or got it and this just adds to the mystery for me.

Glenn B Fleming Ha!Ha! Carl!

Lara James If people want to buy, they can. BUT I think every painter who reaches a set 'selling point' amount should receive a percentage of the sales (or their heirs). It is a value created from their mind, which wether we like/agree if it is art, is theirs.
Just my 2 cents on an artists struggle to make a living and the millions made by some off their work.

Christopher Moody · Friends with Karl Frisby
Spending £44 mil on this is just a vulgar expression of wealth inequality, it may not have been what the artist intended but that is what it now represents, nothing more.
Felicity Harper Going back to your point about science, I think the difference is that everyone can see its impact in everyday life, whereas non-artists might struggle to see what difference this painting has made to the wider society.
Kev Sutherland Can everyone see science's impact in everyday life? Or do they take it on trust? Two words: Higgs Boson. No, don't try and explain it to me again, I've understood as much as I can manage. The bottom line is, I don't get it, but I trust the scientists that it's worth spending the money on. I so far haven't had anyone on my Facebook calling it the "emperors new clothes" or a waste of public money. (Even fewer suggesting a child of 6 could do it. Though frankly, if your kid came up to you and said he had an imaginary friend who he'd called Higgs Boson, just how different would that be?)
Christopher Moody · Friends with Karl Frisby
The's impact on everyday life, trying to find a cure for ebola.... science's impact on everyday life, and so on.
Kev Sutherland All the branches of human endeavour are valid. My point was asking why so many people choose to deride art, or want it to stay ossified and not moving forward. To not want art to have developed throughout the 20th century so we had abstract expressionism is akin to saying "it's 1900, we've got the steam engine and photography, let's stick there."
Christopher Moody · Friends with Karl Frisby
I love art, this piece however doesn't come close to kind of blue by Miles Davis which you can probably get for free now on spotify. I think generally people don't like to be told that something like this is good and is worth x million and that if they say otherwise then they are told that they don't understand it. It's quite easy to understand and it isn't that good.
Ste Melton · Friends with Alan Cowsill
Trouble with being an artist is that you need two lives to appreciate it, one as skint and the second to spend it.
Chris Howard Rothko needs to be experienced in person. Stare. Absorb. Not sure about Newman's work, is he 'Voice of Fire'?
Ste Melton · Friends with Alan CowsillSorry to be a humbug at this time of year but as an artist, Art teacher it's worth as much really as you're willing to pay for it yourself. I'm off to buy some chocolate
Ste Melton · Friends with Alan Cowsill
Pablo Picaso once said "The less they understood me the more they praised me."
Dan Walker · Friends with Karl Frisby and 1 other
the "value" of this work is certainly not in the art,....but then when did art need to have material value
Felicity Harper With science, you know that there are parallels with things people didn't understand when they were first discovered. The outcomes of discovering the higgs boson may not be known in our lifetime, but heuristics tells us there will be some. In society, there is avery much a belief that art is accessible only to artists.I don't think it is so much that people don't want art to move firward; it is that they simply don't care.
Andrew Wildman Well said Kev. So many philistines around. the 'value' in terms of dollars is always and only dictated by one of two things, 1. Someone knows that it has cultural value and decides to buy it simy as an investment. 2. Someone who has the means sees something that so speaks to them, moves them and inspires them that they simply have to have it as part of their life. Clearly it wont have that 'value' to someone else who isn't moved by it. Funny old world, eh.
Christopher Kent I liked your original comments.
Karl Frisby Sadly the contemporary art industry is the most unfettered, deregulated expression of free market economics in the modern world. Here in London we have syndicates of collectors manipulating the market to heighten the value of the work they possess both by both buying art works at artificially inflated prices but also by lobbying the boards of public museums (as expressed by my last post). There are even cases of artists buying their own work to inflate market value. You can hardly blame them, as in the realm of visual art, unlike music or literature for instance, artists (with a few famous exceptions) have no right to receive royalties from the resale of their work or its use for promotional purposes and so ultimately become financially divorced from their innovations.
Kev Sutherland I agree, art speculators are parasites. But the initial reason the work is considered to have any actual value is a result of a mixture of academic concensus and popular reaction. I love the quote in the preface to The Picture Of Dorian Gray, "All art is quite useless." Quite so, and I for one love it.
Andy Stenhouse Science makes life easier; Art makes life worth living!
P.S. Sport Sucks!! If you want to talk about a waste of money!
Steve Bright You don't need to deride the art world as a whole in order to find the obscenity in any one buyer being able to afford $44 million for a ping-pong table. In fact, if it wasn't for that obscenity, I wouldn't have just called it a ping-pong table. If I ever produced anything that anyone would offer me $44 million for, I'd tell them to **** off and do some good with the money... then sell it to someone else for half that amount. Greedy, I'm not.
Karl Frisby The thing is, that although I don't believe that complexity equals 'value' anymore than price does. I can't help feeling that the gross commodifcation of an artwork such as this, transports its social function so far from the intention of its creator that it inevitably transforms into 'something' else altogether. I'm afraid in a world where so many have so little, and so few have so much, that 'something' which it becomes is nothing short of grotesque to me.
Steve Bright Precisely. It's no longer a work of art in most people's eyes. It's a commodity, and very few will evaluate its merit without directly linking it to its current price tag. That becomes the inevitable talking point. You can be shocked by it or impressed by it, but you can't ignore it. It has become the centrepiece, and the people who handle that part, the seller, the buyer, the deal-brokers, have effectively vandalised any essence of art the piece may have had.
Fred Ferenczi Sublime.
Tony O'Donnell If ART is a form of comminication then ART that needs to be explained to the public in order to be understood, has pretty much failed is what I believe.
Kev Sutherland Or to put it another way, If hip hop is a form of communication then hip hop that needs to be explained to the public in order to be understood, has pretty much failed is what you're saying. In the same way that not every generation automatically understands another generation's music, while there is definitely something profound there to understand, so art works the same way. God knows I spend long enough talking up the merit of comics to the picture-haters of the literary world to see the merit in doing the same for any art form.
This thread reminds me of the poem by Vladimir Mayakovsky, Talking To The Taxman About Poetry (also an album by Billy Bragg). Everyone here who's dismissing art out of hand, you are the taxman. I hope you're happy with that.
Steve Bright Would you be talking about this painting if it were not for the price tag, Kev? That's what people here are talking about, and I don't actually see anyone here "dismissing art out of hand", more that relationship between art and its perceived financial value. That value is dictated by wealthy people, never the masses. At the levels we're talking about here, it's elitist, obscene, and goes against the grain of what motivates the vast majority of artists, I suspect, at least when they set out. In most cases, the artist doesn't benefit much, if at all (Van Gogh), but rich collectors get richer. That isn't art - it's about power, not passion, status, not enrichment of the senses, and greed, not giving. It's the rape of art, and it's wrong. I have nothing against this piece, although it does nothing for me either. If I had loads of spare cash to spend on art, I'd be touring the degree shows and buying up work that does give me pleasure. Seriously, Kev - I applaud your staunch defence of the art world here, but I don't think it's needed. The negativity here isn't towards artists or their work (whatever any artist can get paid, good luck to them, I say) - it's towards a part of the 'art world' that is divorced from the everyday reality of the overwhelming majority of the people it sets out to serve (i.e. everyone).
Elise Harris Conceptual art is partly about the artist's intentions and reputation, but if you take into account Reader Response criticism/Death of the Artist, that says it doesn't matter what the artist intended, what their life is like or what they have done before and it is entirely up to the viewer/audience to respond to it then the original concept becomes moot. So people accessing art are always going to base their response on their cultural touchpoints, life experience and attitudes. No matter waht the artist intends someone who had an art degree will respond in a different way to someone who wants to make money from an art work or from someone who knows nothing at all about art. You can't, and shouldn't, police what someone's response is. It is as valid for someone to buy in to the concept as it is for someone to dismiss it and see just a blue canvas with a line. Or it isn't valid. Also, you can never really know the artists intention and if they genuinely believe their own concepts or are just playing with the audience. If you buy into the concept of the piece you inevitably start to access other information about the artist. Can you separate Tracey Emin's recent political outbursts and attitudes from her earlier work; is Jeff Koons just a sleaze bag out to make a quick buck, playfully challenging audiences expections or plagiarising kitsch - or all of the above; is Hitler as crap a painter as everyone says or is everyone looking at his little landscapes and projecting what they know about him onto their response - and how can they not do that? Art is/should be maleable, flexible and open to any number of interpretations, That is not a bad thing.
Pete Renshaw The description is false: a canvas painted blue with a white line down the middle might not be worth $44 million. Without seeing the actual painting it cannot be described. The popular press confuses people with these facile descriptions. All anyone has to do is to sit on the bench seat provided and quietly contemplate the work for a few minutes, let your visual cortex absorb all the complexities of what seems at first a very simple image. Art doesn't require any extra training, just an open mind and the same atitude that one might use to contemplate nature.
Steve Bright Nature produces infinitely more magnificent works than any human will ever achieve. But that's a different argument. Or is it? Once an artist releases their work to the masses, it ceases to be about them, and becomes whatever the eye of the beholder sees in it. If that then includes concern over the artist's intentions, then great. If it doesn't, then so be it. It should 'belong' to the people - all people who take the time to observe it. And not anyone who has a spare 44 million bucks.
Pete Renshaw The art market serves two purposes, one noble and one not so, to the later first. Yes art as a commodity is used as a sound investment. I once wrote a story about a pimp laundering money through the art market. Then I moved to Glasgow and found out that gangsters here were buying up art wholesale from a well known but somewhat impractical artist. The noble purpose is that by ascribing a value it acts to preserve the art for the future. A work of art without a commercial value is eventually going to be destroyed. When I walk around the National Gallery I am not mentally adding up the value, the work there is in that wonderful positive sense 'priceless'. I really believe that the appreciation of art uses completely different parts of the brain to the bit that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Steve Bright I agree. There is nothing at all wrong with art having commercial value. Artists need to eat and have bills to pay like everyone else. And most people would have no problem with exceptional artistic talent being recognised through financial reward. The problems arise when the amounts become obscene, and rarely go to the artists themselves. Millions of dollars/pounds spent on one piece that could prevent the destruction of thousands of works as you describe it, Pete, and provide incomes and encouragement to many artists. I can't see any altruism whatsoever about that end of the market.
Pete Renshaw Great idea Steve but I don't think that is what happens. My personal list of dead artists that I have known must be up to half a dozen by now. Nearly all of them a part of the South Wales art scene. Family and friends will conserve as much as they can out love but they will also die in time and the bodies of work will sooner or later end up with people who don't care. They will try to see if there is a commercial value for the work but if none ever sold through the auction houses then there will be only one fate for the art, destruction.
Kev Sutherland You're right I'm discussing it because someone else posted this article (from ages ago) about the painting selling for $44m and added anti-art dismissive comments to it. That was my starting point. I'm really pleased there's been so much intelligent debate on the thread - in fact the nearest to trolling has been my "amusing" jibes, calling people things like taxmen and the like. It proves I have the best people on my Facebook.
Steve Bright What am I bid for Kev's Facebook...?
Kev Sutherland "You can't, and shouldn't, police what someone's response is". I know. I am very guilty of pointing an accusatory finger at people for being differently-opinionated than me. I am a bad person.
Andy Stenhouse It's not about Understanding Art; Its about being open and receptive to it, to FEEL it. Who asks what does that bit of music mean? You yust listen and like it, hate it or are indifferent to it. Why do people think visual art is any different? I agree art is about communicating, but so is music! Someone explain to me what's the problem. I'm a practising artist, I don't get upset if I see a work that I don't 'get', I am more likely to think what is in this that I'm missing. I don't BLAME the artwork. YES the prices are an obscenity, but it's about supply and demand and how much you're going to make in royalties from publishers printing images of the work you just bought, and speculating that the price isn't going to drop.
Mark Charalambous · Friends with Glenn B Fleming
If you buy into this as 'art' you are a sucker, plain and simple. This is a con. As long as enough people buy into it, it persists.
Steve Bright Jeremy Taxman!

Kev F Sutherland, as well as writing and drawing Pansy Potter, Bananaman, Biffo The Bear et al in The Beano, runs Comic Art Masterclasses in schools, libraries and art centres - email for details, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter. He's been writing and drawing comics for 25 years, he must know something. 

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...