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The Validity of Art

March 30, 2010

What makes any work of art valid? Must a teacher, a professor, a famous artist, a president, a king, a government, throngs of fans, a celebrity or a monetary exchange validate a work of art to make it so? If a work of art is only appreciated by one, is it valid? What if the artist is the only one who cares about a painting? Or only the poet likes a particular one of his poems? Can only one person’s taste make a work valid? If the artist is happy with his or her work, is it not valid to him or her? If somebody is willing to pay for a work of art, is it valid? If somebody slaps some paint on a canvass and they love it enough to stick it up on their wall for a while, is it valid? The work has served its purpose as art, right? It has given somebody satisfaction. If a work of art speaks to somebody and evokes feelings, whether a painting, sculpture, prose or poetry, the work is valid, at least to that somebody.

In 1989, the Canadian government paid $1.8 million for the 1967 Barnett Newman acrylic painting, ‘Voice of Fire’, and many people, including me, did not think it a valid work at least for such a purchase. If tax payer dollars had not purchased it, I suppose I would not have cared one whit either way about it. If some rich person wanted to hand off that much of their own money for a big ‘red, blue, red striped thing’, so be it. But, just because some art experts and critics claimed that this fellow was a major ‘Abstract Expressionism’ artist and especially a leading ‘Color Field’ painter, and certain circles of society were convinced of the importance of this kind of painting, didn’t mean that there was any valid significance to many people.

To me, big blocks of color or stripes are less valid than the paintings of many three and four year olds that I have known. I would personally rather pay for the abstracts of some very young painters than many ‘acclaimed’ modern artists. The fresh and fast paintings of just former toddlers are one of my favorite categories of art. But, some people like simple works of modern art. I don’t generally get that and many other modern attractions. Pablo Picasso and his ‘Cubism’ are validated widely by art critics and experts, but most of his paintings are not to my own and many other people’s tastes. Vincent Van Gogh ‘Expressionism’ does speak to me greatly, though, as do many artists’ paintings. As with literature as well as architecture, for me, art from before the nineteen hundreds is where it’s at.

I like a wide variety of art and music, but my literature preferences are more narrowly defined. Though a marketing machine might make a book a bestseller on whatever lists and amongst the masses, that same supposed work of literary art may be of no value to me. By the same (or reverse?) token, a sleeping classic may call me to read it over and over again, being a high value work from my own perspective, while of little or no validity to near everyone else. My favorite work from this or that artist may more than likely not be valued by most. I suppose the validity of any art to each of us is whether or not we relate to it in any measureable way.

I might like to paint my parlor a tasty shade of purple, and yet my neighbors might be horrified at that color choice for a key room near the front door. A top designer in the world might offer to do that room for me in chartreuse or avocado or some other mucky yellowish green that I don’t personally like. And though the room might win awards because a famous designer did it, I would still detest it if it were not done in a color that I consider yummy.

I am not inclined to be swept along by fads. I do not generally conform to what might be popular for the moment. Popularity does not necessarily equate to value. A commonly popular food may not be my gourmet choice. But who am I to judge as to taste for others? There are a great many fads, in art, music or literature, that are not of value to me, but, if something boring or annoying to me pleases someone else, then I accept that work as valuable to them. Validity is in the artistic tastes of the beholder.


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