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In reading perspectives of art as a function of value through essays by Mark Sagoff, Whitney Chadwick, Griselda Pollock, and Ivan Karp, art becomes less aesthetic splendor than a cultural expose’, casting a harsh light on civilizing control exercised in the name of art on aesthetic creations that become a means to maintain systems of socio-economic inequality, gender inequality, and racial discrimination, leading one to wonder how beauty can also contain such ugly truths.

On the Aesthetic and Economic Value of Art by Mark Sagoff, his aim is to consider why people, “go to great pains to distinguish the value of art as art from the value of art as an investment.” (Feagan & Maynard 120) Sagoff proposes the iron law, as he calls it, based upon the apparent fact that price of art always increases, never decreases. Six principles follow. 1) Art is immortal. 2) Art eludes markets of public distribution. 3) All forgeries are worthless irrespective of the artistry or quality of the work. 4) Art objects serve no practical function or use in daily life and if they once did, in becoming art, such objects no longer serve their former use.

5) Art becomes art not by creation but by a cycle of rejection and re-discovery (This principle is the most curious and the least explored posit.) 6) The value of art exists not to measure

aesthetic worth but as a means to preserve cultural heritage and prestige, a powerful status symbol, showing one to be a protector of sacred relics from the past.

Sagoff’s argument is compelling, offering a logical and thorough examination that shows how aesthetic appreciation may be less important to art appreciation than society’s manner of assigning value to it as a means to preserve cultural heritage: art-I-facts. Sagoff never seems to step outside an objective point of view; this is in contrast to the essays presented by Chadwick, Pollock, and Karp whose perspectives are equally measureable, their bias being evident in their forensic approach. Whereas Sagoff is like a detective trying to solve a mystery, the others are more like police gathering evidence at the scene of the crime, caught. While each author certainly makes valid and worthy points, Sagoff stands out in his theoretical approach which serves to explain the following essays that present like evidence to his thesis.

Women Artists and the Institutions of Art is a brief essay by Whitney Chadwick discussing the segregation of women from public institutions of art, education, politics, money, elements of cultural power. His example is The Academicians of the Royal Academy by Johann Zoffany, (Fig.1) a Royal Academy member portrait where two of its founding members, Angelica Kauffmann and Mary Moser are most notably absent from the lively spectacle of their colleagues holding court with two scantily clad models, an environment women were not permitted to attend in the time of its painting.


 

Whether it be meant as a sort of cruel joke or an attempt to be as permissive as culture would allow, Kauffman and Moser do appear in the painting as chaste portraits demurely hanging on the wall behind their male colleagues, representations within a representation, twice removed from the telling of their true place in history, erased by being immortalized in the image of art. What do such methods say to Sagoff’s argument of art as a means to preserve heritage?
Art can affect culture through aesthetic appreciation, which softens unattractive points of view.

 

 

 

 

(fig. 1) Johann Zoffany, The Academicians of the Royal Academy. 1771-2: London.

 

 

 

The point of view presented by Chadwick flows rather seamlessly in concordance with the ideas presented by Griselda Pollock in her essay, Modernity and the Spaces of Femininity. However, Pollock is more extensive in her analysis, as she explores the literal space women were confined to as a matter of cultural appropriateness as prescribed by nineteenth century standards, its relation to interpretations of modernism and does so through comparing the figurative implications suggested by spatial environments and visual points of perspective presented in works by artists such as Edouard Manet, Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt.

Particularly, her concern is with the ways women, as images of art such as those represented in Edouard Manet’s Olympia (fig.2) and Bar at the Follies-Bergère, (fig. 3) exploit female sexuality by culturally polarizing. For the artistic woman of the impressionist era two options existed: choose a doomed life of isolation and respectability or forgo social boundaries and be a damned whore.


(Fig. 2) Olympia. 1863: Paris. Musee de Louvre (Top)

 

 

(Fig. 3) A Bar at the Follies- Bergère, 1881-

2: London. (Left)

 

 

While modernists attempt to defend the sexually explicit work like Manet’s, arguing that the representations are not intended to disparage women, but to make a point about myths of classlessness in the late 1800s. Pollock does not deny this position but rather searches for understanding as to how this male dominated world of art, which revels in objectifying female sexuality, affected women artists of the time and shapes modern opinions of them today, insisting, “The historical recovery of data about women producers of art coexists with and is only critically possible through a concomitant deconstruction of the discourses and practices of art history itself.” (Feagan & Maynard 134)

This is the main difference that separates Pollock from Chadwick. While they both agree that, as a function of value, art history successfully immortalizes woman as a devalued being, Pollock presses further, hoping to reclaim truths of women artists and bring understanding to the limitations imposed upon them, so that their work may find appreciation in modern interpretations of art history.

Through insightful consideration of works such as On the Balcony by Berthe Morisot, (fig. 5) Pollock reveals a quiet desperation that lurks like a phantom within the confines of socially appropriate subject matter women artists were resigned to maintain a position of social respectability. On the Balcony is more than an aesthetically pleasing object, it is an aesthetically pleasing creation transformed into art by its ability to convey beauty while communicating unattractive truth.

What looks on the surface like a beautifully fashionable woman and child benignly enjoying a view over the city, is also a portrait of gender oppression and socially reinforced captivity. To Morisot the view of the city is not as significant as the point from which she must be satisfied to see it, at a removed distance deemed safe for feminine existence. Where the balcony with its railing emphatically drawn in thick dark lines emphasizes a feeling of being trapped the ghost-like suggestions of buildings and woman’s face with no mouth implores the viewer to see the coded truth in the sparse impressions of her brush strokes. Pollock peels away the layers of passionless art and uninspired femininity to reveal how impressionism became an artistic device by which women artists could afford to express themselves implicitly in spite of the restrictive subject matter and content society permitted women artists to convey.

 

 

 

 


(fig.4) Berthe Morisot, On the Balcony 1872: Paris, Private Collection

 

 

 

 

In How Museums define Other Cultures the same spirit of truth aimed toward revelation by Pollock is evident in Ivan Karp’s assessment of art and its value to oppressive cultural systems. However, while Karp certainly agrees that art is a powerful tool for the legacy of social inequality, his focus concentrates not on differences of gender but on ethnic identity.

The general theme Karp conveys in this essay is consistent with Sagoff’s theory of art valuation and follows the same lines of power Chadwick and Pollock present in their arguments except that in his exploration of race as a measure to value art, he considers ethnicity from a place that does not seem to necessarily seek to defend his own lines of heritage by the revelations he uncovers. Rather he confronts racism head-on, in spite of the lines of association, which may serve to taint the ethnic fact of his own history. This is quite surprising and the only example where Sagoff’s principles of art valuation do not entirely fit.

Karp proposes a model of racism as a valuation of art that transpires by two means: exoticizing and assimilation. Exoticizing is a cultural device that emphasizes differences between two ethnic groups while assimilation highlights similarities. The result of each method is the same to preserve a belief system introduced through colonialism and imperialism that dehumanizes indigenous people through imagery using familiar characteristics of one’s own culture to explain others differences in terms of irrationality, emotional-behavioral volatility, and intellectual inferiority. .

The apparent realization arrived through Sagoff, Chadwick, Pollock, and Karp’s collective writing is a perspective of art as an econo-anomaly to capitalistic practices of commerce and valuation. While it is surprising that none of the authors chose to address the phenomenon of monetary value being a determinant of the mortality of its creator, Sagoff’s theory addresses the concept indirectly through principle five, (art is not directly created; it is discarded then discovered). Overall each essay addresses different aspects of culture that support the general belief that art is literally priceless not for its aesthetic qualities but to exert control over the history it presents in order to favorably direct the immortality art represents.

 

 

 

What is it to “create” something artistically?

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For the artist, the act of creation is important unto in itself. Some may even argue that the process is more important than the resultant object. For what is an inanimate unchanging object compared to the thrill, uncertainty, and anticipation that comes with inspiration. For those who do not create art, the process may mean nothing because there is no frame of reference to compare, but for those who have experienced the bliss of creative movement, it is a difficult feeling to match.

Perhaps, it may be useful to attempt to explain what inspiration means to an artist and how it transpires so the process may be more clearly understood. The dedicated artist is one who moves with creative flow, alert, always keeping the mind open to ideas that present opportunity to creative action. Whether it is seeing a strange branch on the ground and deciding to pick it up, hearing the sound of a train or bird, being struck with a blow of any blend unexpected emotions, waking from a dream too vivid for consciousness to shake, the prompts that trigger the process of creating art is not a behavior or state of mind that can be recalled, memorized, predicted, and certainly not forced.

No, it may be disappointing for those who do not attend to create to know that for every work of art the artist succeeds to create (if any at all), there are innumerable attempts that have long been abandoned and though skill may certainly improve the aesthetic quality of the artistic result, it does not guarantee the artist will produce more or better art than someone of less skill. This is because inspiration, the process by which the human mind attends to creating art, is not something that one can learn like reading, writing, or arithmetic, and once one has been inspired does not mean he or she will ever know inspiration again, in this sense, creating art is somewhat, a mystical experience, evading explanation, simple logic. It is a process that moves like hot electricity through the mind, the hands struggle to keep up with the ideas that flow with a speed and intensity that sparks and extinguishes so quickly that once it strikes, the artist can only let the mind flow and hope the body can keep up enough to capture some of the streaks of creative lightning in some form before inspiration is spent.

Art cannot be directly created is true. It is the curse of the artist as much as it is a joy. The artist who can accept this fact will enjoy the act of creativity; the artist who determines to create a work of art will only find frustration, move farther from the possibility of experiencing the process, and in some instances, even become hopeless, destroyed. The act of creating art is not a light hearted process. It is not necessarily fun or enjoyable. It is something different that requires one to abandon the conventions of learning and restraint; it is opening the flood gates and letting every mode of human emotion fear, love, hate, jealousy, happiness, anger, sadness, joy, desire, envy, pride, shame, hope, every last drop of human sensitivity let it flow out and try not to get swept up in the tow.

So, if this process, the act of creating art is so important that it rivals the objects of its attention, and then what is the artist creating? As it has been said, art cannot be directly created. As such, let us first consider the basic building materials that comprise art. First, art, above all begins with an idea. Then the idea takes shape through some form of physical action. Finally, the action produces an object. All of these stages must transpire to complete the cycle of producing art, but the cycle can began and/ or end at any one of the steps. This means that the artist creates an idea, an action, and an object. Each of these components must be completed to produce art, but not all the components need be present in the resultant product of art. Sometimes, the idea is the art, other times, the action. Though it is easiest to understand art as an object because humans are creatures who’s most dedicated sense is vision, (Seventy percent of the cerebral cortex dedicated to processing visual information.) it makes sense to think that art must be something a person can physically see, it is the sense with which humans are able to perceive with most readily.

Is there a plain answer that may describe what the artist is creating if art is not simply a physical object? Maybe, the artist is creating something that ultimately exists in the human mind, an abstract thought. So the creation here is a description meant figuratively. The art is basically creating a pathway, opening a door, building a bridge, digging a tunnel. The artist allows his or herself to be open to every idea that may spring forth and be ready to act or not act upon the ensuing emotions that may equally fire at will.
The artist is a participant, catalyst, and conduit for art, and so must always have a degree of humility. The artist who believes his or her art is a product of mastery will see inspiration fade. This may explain why, particularly, famous musicians, seem to produce their best work before fame and/or fortune. Too much pride closes the gate of creativity.

In the end, to attempt to determine which is more important, the art or the process depends upon the individual being asked and his or her relation to art. There are only two ways a person can relate to art; one can create art and one can observe art. While observing art is, in a sense, an art unto itself, this question of importance in process is one that not are all qualified to determinedly decide. The artist who attends to creating has a particular understanding of the experience of the act of creating that an observer can realize by means of imagination, but only an artist has an experience with which to attach comparative importance. So really, the only way to answer this question is to try to make art. Go. Create.

 

 

Works Cited

 

 

Feagan, Susan and Patrick Maynard. Aesthetics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

 

Manet, Édouard. A Bar at the Follies-Bergère, 1881-2: London. The Courtauld Gallery.

 

oneonta.edu. 17 December 2011.

 

Manet, Edouard. Olympia. 1863: Paris. Musee de Louvre. repainterdiaries.com. 16 December

 

2011.
http://repainterdiaries.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/olympia-manet1.jpg

 

Morisot, Bertha. On the Balcony. 1872: Paris. Private Collection. anthenaeum.org. 17 December

 

2011.
http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/display_image.php?id=3170

 

Zoffany, Johann. The Academicians of the Royal Academy. 1771-2: London. arthistory.about.com 16 December 2011. http://0.tqn.com/d/arthistory/1/0/Q/t/fashionable_life_0910_06.jpg

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