An artist is someone who should raise questions rather than give answers. I have no message. — Michael Haneke
I. I can’t stop thinking about this story I watched on 60 minutes last Sunday about this art forger, Wolgang Beltracchi, who deviously and convincingly created paintings in the style of some of the greatest painters (like Max Ernst and Heinrich Campendonk), made a ton of dough, was caught because he used a pigment of paint not invented when Ernst was painting, and was imprisoned for his deceit and theft. Apparently, he made millions of dollars selling his forgeries.
I think Beltracchi is a genius; his con was brilliant in its simplicity; his forgeries are great art; and I don’t think he should have gone to prison for what he did. He shouldn’t have lied and put someone else’s name on his work to increase its value and he should return all the money he made, but, is it a crime worthy of prison time? I don’t think so. Bank robbers should go to prison. Greedy Wall Street bankers who almost created a Depression should go to prison. Scumbags who scam older people out of money should never see the light of day. But Beltracchi? Did he hurt anyone? He made people believe something had more value than it has. Isn’t that capitalism?
The questions Beltracchi’s story raises is what art is all about.
Art is not a thing — it is a way. — Elbert Hubbard
II. I painted this painting a couple of years ago. It’s called “Traffic”:
It’s horrible, but it has remained on the floor of my bedroom next to the chair I write and read in. It is in my peripheral vision right now. Just yesterday, for the first time, I wondered why I keep it there. It’s a reminder, a visual reminder, to create or to be creative. I hate positive affirmations, but it is sort of an affirmation or instruction a la Neil Gaiman’s “Make good art.” Except “Traffic” isn’t any good. The message of “Traffic” is: “This isn’t good art, but good art is possible, so go make some.” Not as pithy as Gaiman’s advice. The point of art is not perfection or even being good. The point is the doing. Here’s a Gaimanesque slogan: “Just do it!” Oh, that’s taken.
Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. — Banksy
III. Can art provide comfort? According to philosopher Alain de Botton it can. To de Botton art is a
therapeutic medium, just like music. It, too, is a vehicle through which we can do such things as recover hope, dignify suffering, develop empathy, laugh, wonder, nurture a sense of communion with others and regain a sense of justice and political idealism.
And learn how to take care. I liked de Botton’s psychological reading of Venetian glass:
The glass workshops of Venice became famous in the medieval period for producing the most elaborate, delicate, transparent glassware mankind had ever known. Most of the time, we have to be strong. We must not show our fragility. We’ve known this since the playground. There is always a fragile bit of us, but we keep it very hidden. Yet Venetian glass doesn’t apologise for its weakness. It admits its delicacy; it makes the world understand it could easily be damaged.
The glass is not fragile because of a deficiency, or by mistake. It’s not as if its maker was trying to make it tough and hardy and then – stupidly – ended up with something a child could snap. It is fragile and easily harmed as the consequence of its search for refinement and its desire to welcome sunlight and candlelight into its depths. Glass can achieve wonderful effects, but the price is fragility. It is the duty of civilisation to allow the more delicate forms of human activity to thrive; to create environments where it is OK to be fragile. It’s obvious the glass could be smashed, so it makes you use your fingers tenderly. It is a moral tale about gentleness, told by means of a drinking vessel. This is training for the more important moments in life when moderation will make a real difference to other people. Being mature means being aware of the effect of one’s strength on others. CEOs please take note.
High sensitivity is very much like Venetian glass; it’s really just porousness, a way to let in..what? Reality? The truth? I’m not sure, but that openness to the world and vulnerability is our strength and the cost is being overwhelmed and overstimulated. High sensitivity is necessary and should be handled with as much care as 14th century Venetian glass.
If you want to buy “Traffic”, let me know.