Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Picture NOT Worth a Thousand Words?

‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ said Napoleon Bonaparte.  Some famous pictures are also worth thousands of dollars.  Okay.  I understand that.  But can a mere scrawl be classified as a picture worth a thousand words and several thousand dollars?  Apparently it can.  A guy I don’t know said Abstract Art is a product of the untalented sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered!

A painting by Barnett Newman

How I agree with this quote, on visiting one of New York’s exalted museums on Modern Art.  This is not to disparage the Whitney Museum of Art or MoMA or anyother. But seriously, it did feel at the end of my visit, that all Modern art and so called abstract art is a huge con.  A racket meant to deceive people into calling absolutely silly stuff they call‘Art’.  Art critics or artists may feel offended by an absolute layperson like me talking on a subject which I have no authority on.  But, let me give you examples and you might just agree.
In the museum I visited, exhibits included honestly- a graph paper drawn by pencil, a square, a few rectangles, just a plain colored canvas with a line across it, scrawls that a two year old might draw, some random squiggles in multiple colors or in one color, a few threads hung on a hanger, shoes hung outside a boxing ring, some scraps of colored paper on a wall, some twisted ropes in no particular shape and several such.  I can understand art in nature, in a leafy or in a bare tree, in water, in the sky, in living beings, in buildings, in objects.  But seriously, just lines in a commonplace graph?  Come on! And people pay millions for this!  Why, I almost regret paying the few dollars that I did to enter the museum!

Moreover, all these paintings are described in so many words.  A single rectangle might be described to have perfect symmetry (well isn’t that expected of a rectangle?) or if it is a trapezium, describe it as a rectangle with imperfect symmetry and then go on to call it Bold, Charming, Evocative, Reflective, Callous, Mystic, Timeless, Lyrical, Strong, Touching, Expressive, Deep, Raw, Powerful, Amazing, Rebellious, Anarchic, Idiosyncratic, Nihilistic, Avant-Garde, Surreal, Symbolic, Blunt, Imaginative. 

I would probably describe it as insipid, inane, silly, absolutely unimaginative, hollow, fake, is that art?, a scrawl, a line, trash!
A painting by Rothko that recently sold for $18 Million

Take this one exalted artist for example, Rothko who has several famous paintings to his name. Do gaze at the painting and see for yourself, what wordplay transforms the painting into!  ‘Rothko happened upon the use of symmetrical rectangular blocks of two to three opposing or contrasting, yet complementary, colors, in which, for example, "the rectangles sometimes seem barely to coalesce out of the ground, concentrations of its substance.’

When criticized about the lack of substance in these large paintings, Rothko retaliated, “I realize that historically the function of painting large pictures is painting something very grandiose and pompous. The reason I paint them, however . . . is precisely because I want to be very intimate and human. To paint a small picture is to place yourself outside your experience, to look upon an experience as a stereopticon view or with a reducing glass. However you paint the larger picture, you are in it. It isn’t something you command!”

Well, okay, if he and the art world insists.  Maybe one could stand infront of a gaudily painted wall and experience that instead of paying a million bucks for the same experience.  I would rather go anyday with a painting that has some real art in it instead of something that I can or a five year old can draw. I hope the Renaissance days return with more landscape paintings or still life paintings or portrait paintings (Realism and Impressionalism), less esoteric symbolism, and more substance instead of deceptive squiggles and scrawls described in flowery language and given a fancy name.  Let the picture be worth a thousand words rather than a thousand words that make the picture sell!