Of What Value is Art?
I just watched a show on art forgery and it got me thinking.
There’s this painting. At first, it’s just a nice little painting in the Renaissance style. Some guy paid a couple thousand dollars for it and hung it in his restaurant.
Then someone said it was most definitely from the Renaissance, and the painting suddenly got a lot more valuable. Tens of thousands of dollars.
Then someone said it was a Da Vinci, and suddenly it was worth millions. No, hundreds of millions. Hell no, it’s priceless.
Then it goes before a panel of experts. Some say it’s genuine. It’s sublime. It’s for realz.
But some say it doesn’t reflect Da Vinci’s genius. They pull out a magnifying glass and point to obscure details, like these brush strokes are 10 degrees too close to the vertical. It’s definitely not a Da Vinci.
But someone carbon dates the vellum, and it’s from the Renaissance period. Well. Maybe it is a Da Vinci.
Not so fast! A master forger shows how he can take an old painting, scrape off the paint, and paint a copy of a Monet on top of it. This guy’s painting looks like the real thing, even when put next to the real thing. He put a modern forgery on ancient canvas. Carbon dating proves nothing.
So…. now what?
They bring in more technology.
We get X-rays, super high res photos, color filters, infra-red cameras, digital re-layering, 3D reproductions, extreme magnification, side-by-side comparisons with the Mona Lisa. Special software. Statistical comparison. Historians. Fashion experts. Hairstyle experts. Paint experts.
After all that, most, but not all, of these experts say:
It’s a fake. Game over, thanks for playing.
Suddenly the painting is worth nothing.
What the hell — it’s still the same damned painting! It hasn’t changed in the least. The only thing that has changed is who people think painted it.
And it took a couple dozen experts with Terminator technology to figure that out. No one could tell if they stood back and admired it. You know, like the way you are supposed to appreciate art.
So that begs some fascinating questions:
When people buy art, what are they paying for? The painting, or the artist?
Isn’t good art worth the same, no matter who created it?
Why is Picasso’s toilet paper worth more than an art student’s masterpiece?
I’ve seen the Mona Lisa up close, and she is captivating. I’ve gaped at the Sistine Chapel in awe. I loved Blue Water Lilies before I knew who painted it. But this little painting I got in Mexico by some street artist for $10, well… it’s mine, and it makes me happy.