There are no words in the English language that express a feeling, only emotion. Since the dawn of humankind, there has been an incessant need to express these feelings through some medium. Many today, however, often wonder why a painting that looks similar to a kindergartener’s effort, is selling for $3.4 million dollars. Karen Rosell, professor of art history, paints a broad picture with her explanation.
What defines a work as art?
The intention of the person who made it. The fact that he/she is making a living, and that they have a reputation as an artist. Before the 20th century, people looked at the painting and the message. Now, however, it has in part, to do with the intention of the artist, as well as recognition. If a person creates an artwork with intent, who can deny it as art?
Is art an innately human behavior?
I think it is. Art is a visual form of communication, and increasingly, we’ve become more and more of a visual society. When language wasn’t developed, people turned to images; I think it has evolved from that, but nevertheless, it is still communication
Is communication the sole purpose of art?
Not necessarily. It can be an important aspect, especially when you get to Van Gogh – the intense desire to communicate feelings, hopes, desires, fears. Some artists create out of “inner-necessity” – they are trying to communicate the depths of their soul. But there is another purpose, this is the desire to create something beautiful. I think everyone appreciates beauty, as well.
Why are some works more famous than others, and what makes them valuable?
That is interesting because, throughout history, the works that tend to be the most famous are, in their times, the most controversial and/or the more profound. So works that go to the core of human reality – death, fear, hopes – are the more profound, because they convey these feelings that we can relate to, regardless of whether or not we know the artists or the work of art. In terms of value, the reputation of the artist drives up the price, and up until recently, whether or not the artist is a white male. So obviously this involves critics’ opinions.
Why do we like the works that “go against the grain”?
It takes time and distance to look back and see that the artist was actually pushing the limits. A lot of people, in their own time, were not appreciated at all, and they actually led difficult lives. From our vantage point, when we look back and study the works of old masters, we can look at what the artist was trying to do and maybe not always appreciate it, but at lat least understand it.
Is art still in the eye of the beholder, or is it now governed by what is hip?
Jackson Pollock, in part, became a phenomenon because Life magazine asked if he was the greatest living 20th century artist. Suddenly, everyone wanted to buy his works. Not simply because people liked them, but because it was the “hip” thing to do. There are other examples of artists like Van Gogh, who sold only one painting in his life, but after he died, everyone wanted his works, because he was this “tragic hero”. Today, it’s a tough call, because some people do just go along with what’s in vogue. However, I think if people would tell you truthfully what they thought of a piece, it is in the eye of the beholder.
Christopher Bender ’10, Juniata Online Journalist