Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Few More Musings About Making Art

When is a painting finished? Where do you quit? That’s the big one. Or maybe it’s the big one I wrestle with. It goes to the heart of many issues, including the question, What gives art its value?

Jonathan Winters, Red Skelton and other celebrities can garner tens of thousands of dollars for an image they have signed. The value of their art is amplified by the signature affixed to it. In a sense, then, some value is due to who created the piece.

What about time as a variable? Does a work of art increase in value based on the amount of time invested in the piece by the artist? In one of Matisse’s first oil paintings, he painted and repainted his wife 176 times. Was the final product more valuable because of the effort expended to “get it right”? And how good is “good enough”? What about the value of his next painting if he only re-painted twice?

If time were the measure of value, an artist could theoretically make one brushstroke per day for forty years and his work might become incredibly valuable... or maybe not, thoguh the idea of it has a certain mystical appeal to me. Each day would be a meditation about the color, width, opacity of that stroke. I would have to be 97 to complete a forty year painting at that rate, but the project has some appeal. I may spend a few days mulling that.

These kinds of questions circle around one aspect of the question of value. I myself am wrestling with the idea of who makes the rules? Who decided that one of Monet’s Water Lily paintings, now being offered at Christie’s, has an estimated value of $44-59 million dollars. That’s a rather substantial chunk of change. And Monet painted hundreds of paintings of water lilies. Who decided that Monet's paintings of water lilies were worth more than Clyde Warner's?

Actually, that's not the heart of the matter most artists struggle with. Because money is not the bottom line in the pure arts. My issue is more to this point: in writing it has been observed that less is more. That is, a piece of prose improves with tightening, with editing, cuts and deletions. When painting or drawing, once the ink or paint hits the white surface it's marked, marred, altered.

Does anyone else wrestle with this question? Perhaps it depends on what you're trying to accomplish with the piece, assuming you have some kind of vision for what it is to be. Or perhaps, like so much of art, it's a purely intuitive matter and the rationale effort to make rules about all this is simply an exercise in futility.

Do something creative today and make a memory.

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