Monday, 21 January 2008

The value of Art

Sunday on the Square, Seville, November 2006

This morning I watched a TV programme about Renoir's "Le Bal au Moulin de la Gallette" which had some interesting observations about Art in general. It put me in mind of discussions at the Landscapist (I link the discussions there a lot because I find them interesting, particularly as a departure from most of the rest of what I read about photography).

Renoir was quoted as saying: I paint pretty pictures. Yes, pretty. There was the usual line up of art critics to deconstruct as to why it is enjoyed as a pretty picture. Interestingly, they avoided seeking further meaning. (Renoir admitted and declared he was not an intellectual painter.) Maybe this was in light of the artist's declared intentions.

What also struck me was the lack of acceptance of the technique at the time. Impressionism and its soft light techniques are now well estalished but at the time were not well received by critics who did not understand the new style.

The smaller version was sold as one of the most expensive paintings ever ($70million). One of the commentators said all works of art have an element of the decorative and of the commodity. This price sent this picture more towards the commodity aspect (it was then locked in a climate controlled vault). It is unfortunate for Art but is an inevitable (IMO) result of it and other great works being held up as the greatest examples. Critics cannot elevate certain works to the highest heights and then bemoan the extraordinary prices they command.
At the time Renoir declared that he was likely to lose money as a result (actually the large version was sold and now hangs at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris). It has something of the feel of the artist creating a landmark work to make his name (not always a successful ploy).

I was struck throughout of the parallels between the discussion of this work (and Renoir in general) and how it was perceived contemporaneously with current discussions surrounding photography, its place in the art world and the pricing of prints. Plus ca change.

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