This is not an essay on the quintessential rhetorical question, "What is art?", rather an interpretation on the influence the media has on the populous view of art. I am aware of the exempt examples of art proceeding the media. Sometimes an artist demands the awe, support and acclaim of the media, but the influx incurred upon certain art by the media is often a political parlay of the critic, philanthropist or gallery owner. It is fortunate when government subsidizes art and uses public places for display, but I question if there are costs beyond the monetary, specifically, art lost in the shuffle. Additionally, the many mediums I consider for my critique of critics and the media goes beyond the traditional and abstract. I consider these important variables to dwell upon and I think we at least agree that literature is art.
I was recently distressed to discover that my favorite Cabernet Sauvignon had quadrupled in price. When I asked the snobby sommelier about the price change he asked if I read Wine Spectator. I crossed my eyebrows and told him that I did not. He began to explain the Cabernet Sauvignons from that year and region were recently reviewed and the wine I liked in particular had received 96 points. I didn't want to argue that he had paid the original price regardless and it was good business sense to have the "best price in town", so I decided to go elsewhere, to the 'hood where they might not read Wine Spectator. Apparently they had, and in fact, the first store was still selling the wine at a reduced rate.
I couldn't believe my misfortune, I must have consumed two cases of the stuff in the past six months and if I had a cellar, if that cellar had those bottles in it… I didn't want to think of it being any more unfair. Simple words had pushed me to a lower economic status in just two weeks. Granted, I couldn't float on "if " and I had to pat myself on the back for being a novice and appreciating a good wine, but could a simple article produce such a demand that the business could make a four hundred percent profit? Apparently so.
I began to wonder what kind of marketing strategies could produce such magnificent results. I thought about baseball cards and the variables that contributed to their values. None were substantial but some were based upon the player; performance, induction into the Hall of Fame, or death. These were the semi-substantial variables, they could be measured and compared. Then I remembered, age and rarity. These were the true substances of value. By consuming all those bottles of wine over the summer, I had increased the rarity and a New Year had clicked, now I understood. Still, baseball cards didn't quadruple in value overnight, even with the home run records, prices eventually stabilized, while the wine would continue to increase in value. It made sense, wine was just like art and until it turned or ripped or broke it would be worth something.
Considering cost and my new favorite wine, I wondered how valuable the canons of art were worth. How much would Michelangelo's David go for at auction? The Mona Lisa? Or The School of Athens? Priceless. These are all historical treasures, which have become relics of perfection. I could buy a nice Picasso, Monet or Van Gogh, for many millions right? Of course these aren't as old. However, the past century and a half has truly manufactured art.
Let us start with Realism and the Paris Salon in 1850. Gustave Courbet and Jean Francois Millet were some of the first to work on contract for a dealer. Through dealings, the realist style they created in France grew to Russia to influence Ilya Repin and for those familiar with the American Art movement, the realist effect best conveyed by Thomas Eakins. Forgive my slight digression (which can be found in any Art History book), but this was the beginning of art as an international movement and significant in terms of dealers influencing the value of art. The significance resides in a deeper field than that of artists being discovered, rather it renders the art we appreciate in museums today. This was the first time artists of their time were shown and now represent their time and movement for the rest of history.
Next come the Impressionists and we all know how wonderful and French they are. If you have ever waited in line for a Renoir, Degas or Monet exhibit passing through your city, you know the hype. An interesting painter of this period is American Mary Cassatt, who did her best to convince the wealthy banker friends of her father to buy up the works of Edgar Degas. Philanthropists got in the mix and we begin to find big business in art.
The post-impressionist period brings us to one of the modern conundrums of the art critic, Vincent Van Gogh. Not until the end of his life did he really begin to paint and when he died, in 1890, his paintings began to gain popularity (and value). One of his paintings sold before he died, posthumously, hundreds more. Which was worth more, the one before his death or those sold after? The previous fifty years had opened the doors of gallery owners to commission works of artists, each wanted something new, something to peak the public interest. Van Gogh became the first and the theme has been coerced since.
Which leads us to the crazy luvin' twentieth century.
The advancement of technology certainly played a role for art in the twentieth century. The media has even become art and the availability of mediums has flooded us all with potential. The most influential for the budding artist had to be Jackson Pollock and his abstract expressionist cronies, along with the minimalists and their size and shape genre. Who hasn't seen a Pollock splash painting or a canvas painted all black and thought, "I could do THAT."? The accidental, the conceptual, brought an outlet of spiritual self- expression where the artist and their flamboyant antics, became the art. Critics were enamored by the process, interpretation of the artists became easy to manipulate and portray, then sell. You could have an ideal, an emotion on your wall. Pop Art was born with the Fluxus movement and both grew with rock and roll. Magazines have used covers to combine media with the art and television has brought it even further.
Now, artists are left with a complex, conjoined, collage of form and function. They must resolve to be true to method and history while maintaining an individual, unique perspective. To be successful, they must hope for positive reviews of their shows, or a snippet of copy in the arts section of a periodical, then they must sell something.
I do not gauge success by the means of fame or monetary gain, nor do I feel that art needs these things to be art.
Reference: Art and Audience edited by Grieder, Terence. 1990 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.