Artist’s Journal: NUMBER 94

Making Sense of it All. Or, At Least Trying to! 


…a lot less exciting, and it is

no surprise that artists were

much less apt to be regarded now

as sages or priests, much more likely

to be seen as just another set of

knowledge workers.

                      WILLIAM DERESIEWICZ

The Death of the Artist—and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur

GOR #14 – 2016 – 81 x 100 cm

Artists. We make Art. Sometimes, Art is not made in so much as what is made of it by (others): viewers, critics, gallerists, curators and, collectors.

Ernst Gombrich wrote about the perception(s) of these others in Art & Illusion. The viewers or, as he referred to them, the beholders of art/Art had a share; a stake in the process. He called it the beholder’s share. What he identified was, that the viewer’s (beholder’s) perception, their emotional participation and, their scope of understanding when they are looking at a piece of art helped bring another dimension to it.

But, what is their perception based on? I’m referring strictly to subjective or, abstract art. What they are presented with is color and form, contrast and what else? Repetition? What about the alignment and/or the proximity of the shapes and forms? 

If you ask someone who is standing in front of a painting; what do you see? You will get a totally different answer had you asked; what are you looking at?

So, perhaps the seeing part is pretty straight forward. The looking however, involves emotional participation. Their scope of understanding and their interpretation of what is before them is when and where things get very, very personal and beyond the scope of the intent and the control of the artist who painted it. Two things come to mind as I write this.

My undergraduate painting instructor Herb Cummings used to say, “One man’s broccoli is another’s asparagus.” And, to paraphrase a comment my granddaughter once made when she was quite young; “My art and your art may be two different things!”

I am asked by non-artists who, although they don’t reject abstract work outright, feel very intimidated by it; “What is it that I’m supposed to be seeing?”  These same people also feel, for whatever reason, that they need to be educated in Art in order to understand and appreciate an abstract piece.

A painting is nothing more than paint on a cloth stretched over a wood frame. A work of art then, in my opinion, does nothing except offer the artist intellectual, emotional or, some personal or professional satisfaction. While, for the viewer, the same piece of art may offer a similar or, a completely different interpretation or level of intellectual, emotional or personal satisfaction.

Again, I refer to Gombrich’s view of the beholder’s share; a somewhat Holy Trinity composed of the Artist, the Art and the Viewer. What is the Viewer seeking? Do they want their intellect challenged? Do they want their emotions verified or piqued? What personal satisfaction are they looking for?

Personal satisfaction could simply be that the painting matches their couch or drapes. Do they see the artwork as an investment; believing the Artist has the potential to gain attention, popularity and thereby increase the value of their work? 

How is value assigned to an artwork anyway? By the square inch? By the number of hours devoted to creating it? By the principles of supply and demand? In a recent Facebook post, I quoted painter Ad Reinhardt. He said that, “The ugliest spectacle is that of artists selling themselves. Art as a commodity is an ugly idea… The artist as businessman is uglier than the businessman as artist.”

In my humble opinion “Art as a commodity” is not an ugly idea. It is a commodity. By definition it is an article of either trade or commerce. It is especially a product rather than a service and, it is a useful thing.

The last part: a useful thing. Something that is of use, functionalpractical and utilitarian.  Something that matches the couch or drapes. Something that speaks to the viewer. Whether practical or esoteric, it remains a commodity. That is, unless and until it becomes iconic, institutional or representative of a culture.

If it has intrinsic value: it is essential. It adds to the the quality of one life or many lives. It possesses value in itself or, it is valued by someone just for its own sake.

What about instrumental value? The instrumental value of an artwork provides the buyer/collector a means to some intentional end. Usually, this end is financial gain – buy low and sell high. When you detach the Art from the money value or, it doesn’t provide any emotional value it becomes nothing but canvas, stretchers and paint.

But what about its price? The cost of buying an artwork for either purpose; intrinsic or instrumental purpose. How is that established? There is a social and cultural aspect that assigns a price to Art. It involves how the artist is perceived and that is how the value is assigned to the based on the opinion of the art authorities: critics, collectors and gallerists.

The authority, if celebrated, admired or recognized as an expert in their field, can, upon their assessment and pronouncement, turn an artwork into a piece of valuable Art.

Dr. Robert B. Cialdini, who wrote Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion outlined six principles which, came to be known as Cialdini’s 6 PrinciplesThose principles are: reciprocity, commitment/consistency, social proof, authority, liking and scarcity. They, in my humble opinion,  are very much a part of what turns an artwork into a piece of valuable Art. 


Posted on: 29/10/2017, by :
%d bloggers like this: