The emperor wears no clothes…

A re-post of an old one…

I happened to unfortunately land my eyes and my senses on the wrong pages of a catalogue. It displayed paintings up for sale. My senses ran away pretty much immediately, but my eyes stayed on. I couldn’t believe what I saw. Paintings which could have been passed as the works of a 12 year old kid were up for ridiculous prices! Really ridiculous. Amazingly ridiculous. Unbearably ridiculous. I have dabbled with paint and canvas and hence, couldn’t pass the page with a “Maybe it is the right price. What would I know?” thought. I shut the catalogue with least reverence, and rushed to look online for other pieces of painting which make me laugh or pull my eyes out of their sockets. I found plenty and managed to keep my eyes intact.
How do we decide the price of a painting or any piece of art and beauty? I go to a silk cloth shop downtown where the finest pieces of silk are sold. Wonderful designs on them using gold thread threads and threads of other colours which do not stand out in themselves but add a hue which makes you sigh and hand out that piece of plastic with least fear as to what will be charged on it. Creating such a piece of art is extremely difficult. The silk must be of the finest quality. The gold and silver threads should be such that they do not tarnish with age. The weave must be so perfect that thread knots do not appear on the fabric. Now interplay of silk and gold threads is not one that can be handled by a casual hand. Utmost care is demanded and a lapse of it can be quite frustrating to all those involved. So, we sum the prices of all this and add a fraction of the sum as a tip to the creative hand behind the entire piece. We pretty much arrive at the price, which was charged to your card. Not very far away from it. Mind you, some of these pieces are hand woven so let us not blame it on machining the silk world.
Let’s apply the same logic to a painting. Let’s consider oil painting (watercolours are cheap and water still so). We need canvas (good quality), brushes (reused across various pieces of the painting) and paint (also used across various canvases). What else, do we need here? So how much would that cost us? Around $100 (please check various online sites for the prices of canvas, a set of 12-18 brushes, paints, thinner, solvents, etc.) is my guess. Lets add a 100% as the artist’s effort and imagination and creativity. If you sit at it, a painting can be done in a single day (no I am not exaggerating). So the work should be in the range of $200-$300. Fine, fine, fine, let’s make $500. Happy? We used to work out the cost of food dishes in hotels (while we were students and every cent cost a lot). We would take a dish and figure out its ingredients and the cost of making it (chopping, boiling/frying/baking, etc.) and then add establishment costs (well, the hotel must exist before we are served the dish, right?). When we found that the number arrived at and the quote on the menu card matched, we would continue eating with least guilt!! As my friend would say candidly, “I will not pay an exorbitant amount for a lick, burp and fart!” Well, painting is not much the same. It is now viewed as an avenue of investment. I love the IBM advertisement about On-Demand when those guys keep discussing about how the painting is SCM and CRM and all that stuff, and an honest man walks up and says, “It looks like a horse to me.” I think we need to see things as they are, rather than conjure images and beliefs about them. The hype is what drives me against and up a wall.
I have picked a few paintings. Be honest to yourself and let me (or at least yourself) know whether you would truly pay so much for these. Forget about the names behind these paintings. It is important to realise beauty without knowledge of the hand that carved it. If I loved a beautiful piece of music, and someone tells me it was Chopin, I would respect Chopin for that piece. But that is it. If I here another piece and didn’t like it, and you came back to me simply to tell me that that was Chopin again, I would not respect Chopin’s work on that piece and ask you “why are you taking so much pains in impressing upon me Chopin’s worth or otherwise?”.
Nude in a Black Armchair (Price: $45 million)
Celebration (Price: $317,000)
Garçon à la pipe (Price: $104 million)
Mahasnan I (Price: $7954)
The Tomato Eaters (Price: $512)

Amongst these, I liked “Garcon a la pipe” (not because it is the costliest!) but would never pay a thousandth of the price. There are many more such pieces available. “Mahasnan I” demands INR 3.5 Lakh. This is pretty much what an average software engineer fresh out of college earns for a year at one of the good companies in India!! Try convincing them that their efforts throughout the year is worth that painting! You could visit Indian Art Circle and search for Gogi Saroj Pal to actually see the painting called “Mahasnan I”. Now for the names, The million dollar paintings are both by Pablo Picasso (so big deal). Celebrations is by Tyeb Mehta and “Mahasnan I”, as you might have figured out, is by Gogi Saroj Pal. I am sure everyone has heard of Picasso and a few might have heard of Tyeb Mehta. “Tomato eaters” by Heeral Trivedi is the closest to our acceptable price of $500, but I am never going to buy that piece!!!

Now I show you paintings that I like, but will still not pay in terms of hundreds of thousands of dollars or their quoted price. A note before that, I like works of Camille Pissaro and in India I happened to find (well, while I was looking through Indian Art Circle and after I searched for and reached her homepage) Shuchi Krishan interesting. I will present some of their works below as well as one by Shuchi Krishan which made me wonder, “For this? Its good, but I am not going to pay so much for this.”

Boulevard Montmartre Rainy Weather Afternoon
Portrait of a Young Man with a Pipe
Soul-C (the play of light and shadow is beautiful)
Some of the paintings on this page
Thirumalai Naicker Mahal (This is not exactly a painting, so our estimate of $500 would drop to about $200-$300. Nonetheless, the price quoted is less than $100!! Go on, buy it.)
Dreams of Nature

Before I start lamenting, please visit Shuchi Krishan’s homepage as well as this page for paintings by Camille Pissaro. Do lookup the web for the Camille Pissaro’s homepage (I didn’t do it, but might update this post later when I find one. Updated with this link.Here is another link to a good collection of Pissaro’s works.)

What is the world of art coming to? Earlier (and I am not saying that those days were better than now) an artisan did a fine job and was paid for it. I have hardly heard of artists being paid on the amounts of what $1 million means to us today. Think about it, if I paint 12-24 paintings a year, I would be earning as much as $20 million. And this is per year. A little more math for the next 10-20 years before I retire, should give you an idea and enough reason to take up art seriously!! But please don’t. As foolish and idealistic as I seem, do not get into art for the sake of money and merely because a huge number of super-rich fools exist who are ready to pay you such obscene amounts of money.

Before I close, I would like to draw your attention to this piece of news. A 4 year old child splashes paint around and enjoys her innocent self and the colours dancing on the canvas laid out for her. Her parents test waters by quoting a price for the finished works. Buyers are clueless that it is the work of a 4 year old. Soon, the kid sells over a dozen pieces and has her own show!!
Some excerpts from the news piece:

They rave how she makes colors interact with intensity. And her pieces are selling – some for as much as $15,000.

“She builds her paintings in layers. Children don’t do that. She starts with big swatches of colors and then adds details and accents on to that. That’s what is so impressive and beyond what other children do,” said Brunelli, who gave Marla her first show in August.

“She paints with emotion,” Brunelli said.

Excuse me, give a child bottles of paints and you will find enough layers all over the house and the intended canvas!! Emotion?? She is a 4 year old for Pete’s sake. I thought 4 year old had not much emotion apart from laughing and crying and shying away from playful adult eyes!! Don’t make me look at the tonnes of kids I play, with seriousness. They are kids. You love them and when they are done with their toys, they love you! Simple. Listen to her words for yourself.

In hushed answers of few words, Marla says she likes that people like her paintings. “It makes them happy. I like that,” the young painter says.

Buzz Spector, chairman of Cornell University’s art department, said Marla’s vision and process were exceptional, but that many children provided with the right materials and influences can produce surprisingly complicated abstract art pieces. While they show a “beautiful sense of color and material,” Marla’s pieces still lack the cultural and spiritual sophistication to be considered museum pieces, he said.

Her parents are sensible when they say:

“We thought they were pretty. We were proud,” Laura Olmstead says. “We honestly didn’t think it was beyond anything any other 3-year-old would do.”

The family gave The Associated Press an interview at Brunelli’s loft apartment, atop his gallery, a short ride from their home. Marla romped and rolled on the floor with her brother and later snacked on some cookies while her parents talked. Marla – as is mostly the case – had little to say about her paintings.

Bravo, bravo. I love this kid Marla. What more could one want from life? Paints and playthings and cookies and lots of space.

The earlier title I had for this post was “Art-schmart… Or Why should I pay so much for this?”


6 thoughts on “The emperor wears no clothes…

  1. “Forget about the names behind these paintings. It is important to realise beauty without knowledge of the hand that carved it.” – My sentiments exactly! 🙂
    Why do people buy paintings?

  2. Glad to voice your sentiments, ma’am.

    Why do they buy paintings? Because they wish to possess beauty. To make a chattel of beauty. To ensure that none other than themselves have it and others might envy it. How long does the beauty of a painting last? Do the security guards at the Louvre ( stop by Simon Vouet’s voluptuous Allegory of Wealth everytime, everyday? Or do they admire the peace on the girl’s lips in Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson’s The Entombment of Atala? I doubt. But when you buy the paintings, it takes on a different worth, which is not of beauty. Much to the distaste of many, this can be likened to the institution of marriage, where a (wo)man’s need to possess (her)his mate presses (her)him to adopt the vows to secure it.

    How do I say a painting is good? And is it entirely dependant on the aesthetics of an individual? Well, in a sense, yes. The answer would be the same when asked what kind of music is good? What fashion of interior decor is good? It is individual taste, and I am guilty of rushing in and throwing my hands out in wonder at another’s taste. It is quite likely that someone might like the “Nude in the Black Armchair” and find Raja Ravi Verma’s paintings so plain. They might see the depth in one and the lack of it in the other. But what stay’s is, would you pay so much? Some friends tell me, a painting should make me think, make me wonder what was going on the mind of the painter, what emotions s/he was going through when s/he dabbed that corner in crimson red rather than burnt sienna. I like to admire a painting and fall in love with it immediately. Or grow fonder by the day as I watch her smiling at me trying to ask me,”Hi, feeling comfortable?” Like a sunrise from behind high steeples and palm trees. Where the beauty is not in my interpretation but is there for all to see. Where mind has no words but all my senses unite in sighing.


  3. There are two ways to make birds your own…one is to capture them, put them in a cage and tame them till they have no desire to fly…another is to hold them in your eyes, in your songs, in your poem. I guess paying so much for the paintings amounts to the first way!

  4. Frankly, if I had the money to buy all the paintings that I like, I would simply do so, and none-the-sadder! It is a simple question of logistics. I needn’t go outside home to live in the bliss of just gazing at these paintings that I love. Even if I dont have gallery sized room, I can always change the paintings that hang on my walls time and again, suiting my moods, that of the house and also of the city and the weather and climate. It is all very interesting to me. Anyway, that’s what I actually do at home…2. Shuchi Krishan’s paintings are too photographic and sincere reproductions without anything much of the painter’s personality in them to appeal to me. She might have put in a lot of laborious and painstaking effort to create them. But they lack that something that should make a painting a painting and not just an exact reproduction of reality in the 3D plane…

  5. Parvati, You are just mouthing what art critics keep repeating. What message or feeling is there in Jitesh Kallat’s, Jogen Choudhry’s etc paintings. A painting should appeal to your senses and transport you into a world of comfort,pleasure and enjoyment.Communist critics like Suneet Chopra are thrusting their philosophy down people’s throats, and spoiling what art should be.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s