Cost me $220.000 if you can believe that. – On the Nature of Art and its Price

[This post is inspired by White Collar episode 1.11 House Invasion and compiles thoughts running through my head for a  long time already, but that fall into place while working in this WC art encyclopedia.]

So, Dan. If he weren’t so annoying, one could have empathy with him. He tries desperately to be seen and liked as someone other than the guy who inherited money and he fails in every way possible. What keeps stuck in your ear is his line with that he refers to his art: It cost me a ton of money, if you can believe that.

‘Why did you?’ one wants to ask him. But it is not like one would expect a satisfying reply; and that’s not only Dan’s fault. Art and its price – it’s complicated. For example, the Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art takes place from April 27 to July 1, 2012. It is titled ‘Confrontation is the Call of the Hour’. And one of the highlights curator Artur Żmijewski has planned with his crew is a reenactment of the final battle for Berlin at the location of a former amusement park. Asked why he replied that that is what Berlin needs the least right now and so they are doing it.

It’s about confrontation. Confronted with this event most people will ask if it interferes with traffic and shrug. Just as you can’t shock your parents anymore when you tell them that you intend to become a rock star – they will more probably laud your decision and drag you personally to the next reality show casting – an event stays an event in a myriad of events even if it’s called art. It takes more than a signed urinal today to provoke. And while Duchamp tried to take aesthetic out of art, he never intended to make it void of a raison d’etre what the dissolution in a sea of individualism would be.

As I mentioned Duchamp – who was he, what did he do and why should you give a shit? Marcel Duchamp (1887 – 1968) was a French-American artist and chess player. His piece fountain from 1917 – above mentioned signed urinal – was selected as the most influential art work of the 20th century in 2004 by 500 renowned artists and historians. Even more so than his output however, his influence as advisor to modern art collectors such as Peggy Guggenheim, Kathrine Dreier, Walter Pach and the Museum of Modern Art directors Alfred Barr and James Johnson Sweeney helped to shape the tastes of Western Modern Art. So, blame Duchamp for the problems of today’s art market.

How so? Duchamp’s star rose at a time of upheaval in many areas. The ideas of enlightenment had fertilized the minds and led to social change, a race in the sciences, a growing importance of economies and conflicts based on nationalism and ideologies. Concepts like childhood, spare time and hobbies took hold in the mind of the masses that were the subject of a new science – Psychology. And photo-realistic pictures could now not only be produced easily even by laymen, they learnt to walk and soon would be in color. What to do with the traditional arts?

While the artists of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism already turned their focus away from the mere reproduction of details and to the scientific aspects of color and its perception, they were still caught in a tight corset forcing them to please. Artist might have left their bond to church, religion and devotion behind, but they never got over this pesky decoration thing. Though taste had changed over the centuries, what was nice to look at was still decided according to the traditional and generally applicable rules of aesthetic.

Duchamp was fascinated by the philosopher Max Stirner and the mathematician Henri Poincare. Stirner is the father of all egoists. He said that for a person nothing should be above her/him than s/he, meaning individuality is everything, care for nothing but yourself. Poincare declared that the laws believed to govern matter are created solely by the minds that understood them and hence no theory could be considered true.

Duchamp took these two ideas and transferred them into art. He said that the crux of art is that the artist is always depended on the society he lives in and that he can therefore never fully evolve. Yet, it should be on the artist to decide what he calls art irrespective of any aesthetics or taste, while the artist has to understand that his art is just a creation that he formulated and not the truth. Any interpretation, judgment or criticism is as legit as the piece of art itself, but should again not be based on aesthetics or taste.

This is a postulation for true pluralism in art. It was a coherent conclusion from Enlightenment’s ‘Sapere Aude’ (Dare to be Wise!), asking everyone to use their own brains to form opinions and decisions, and a reply to the problems art faced through the competition of the new media at that time. It was clearly also a protest against the forced co-ordination of the complete life through any kind of regime or nationalistic movement. It was shocking, thought provoking and necessary – for its time.

It is the problem of today’s art market. The society – though almost no-one remembers even the existence of Max Stirner – has sought out his philosophy. And for arts this means everything goes. Our time doesn’t know a style; it knows individuals and the expressions of individuality that can be farts in a brain just as it can be a raw diamond. The market is left to judge. But the market learnt through the influence of Duchamp that taste is the true enemy of art and it’s actually up to the artist to decide what he calls art. It’s a Gordian knot. And the Dan’s pay tons, if you just believe it…

Yes, we all are different. Brain research points more and more to the fact that there isn’t just one way in which we are wired, but as many ways as there are people. We all are individuals with our own feelings, our own perception, our own head to think and we should be seen and acknowledge as such. If you believe it, God loves variety.

Yet in the end we are made to live together; today in the age of globalization and the Internet even closer and more documented than ever. It is up to the individual paired with the power of the group to create a place at which we as the individual want to live. The together part demands communication, a common language in which the ideas of the individual can be communicated to the group in an understandable way.

That’s what art should do today as honestly we are past shocking after horrendous wars fought with modern technology and brought to our living rooms live and uncut. And we don’t need to foster individuality anymore either. Look at the realities (and reality shows) and see where it brought us.

Art based on understandable symbols that tie in with existing interests, true and compatible with the modern life and once in a while even matching the sofa, is a way to go.

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