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Exclusive Art

Each of us has an individual relationship with art. In the past it has been a pleasure for the few; along the twentieth century, artistic movements have emerged with an agenda of opposing to this elitist idea of art.

One such movement has been the pop art of the 1950s in the UK, and mostly of the 1960s in the US. Artists the likes of Robert Rauschenberg or Jasper Johns have started the movement, and world-famous people like Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol have taken it to be known by the public.

Indeed this was the point of the movement, the “popular art”. Works such as Warhol’s Campbell Soup tins, or Lichtenstein’s Happy Tears, have been reproduced in millions of copies and are appreciated by art lovers of all kinds; many have them hanging from the walls at home, making them into “popular” art strictly speaking.

Almost in contrast to this extreme divulgation, a completely opposite way of conceiving art has developed at the same time. We might say it “revived”, because in a way it is like going back to the source. I’m talking of exclusive art.

Exclusive at the origin: talent and technique.

Gallery owners and art critics contributed to the diffusion of an idea of art that is free from the need of reproducing reality.

Up to the end of the nineteenth century, in figurative arts it was given for granted that talent and technique should serve to the representation of reality. Individual cases of authors, who chose to paint more or less surreal scenes, have been limited—think of Hieronymus Bosch, or Füssli’s Nightmare; anyway, talent and technique have never been subject to open discussion.

Since the end of the 19th century, figurative art has gradually detached itself from the faithful representation of reality.

The trend was initiated by artist such as Edvard Munch, a painter who had already proved himself with classic skills, and who in his well-known work The Scream deliberately chose a childish style to represent deep anguish.

Artists who disconnected art from reality – from Munch to Kandinsky, Mondrian, Klee, all the way down to Pollock and beyond – all came from a traditional artistic path, and all sported talent and technique.

As years went by, they were followed by other artists, who removed themselves more and more from the classic path. There is no doubt that some of these were talented people. Others give the impression of having thought that after all, if so-and-so great artist composes a master work by dribbling paint on cloth, then I can do the same, and I’m a great artist too.

Now you may want to ask a question.

What was once a path restricted to the few, who were expected to show talent first of all, then study and practice for a long time before they could master technique, has now become available to all. If we do away with talent and technique, then anything is art and anybody is an artist.

The question is: is this true? Can we really say that anything is art?

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Exclusive at the finishing line: critics and market.

It is a monumental topic, reaching different levels – philosophic, aesthetic, social. But I’d like to make another point, and it has to do with the value of a work of art.

When we deal with works from the past, few are really astonished when quotations reach fabulous levels. The record was taken in 2015: a painting by Gauguin, Nafea faa ipoipo, was sold for three hundred million dollars.

Can you really imagine how much would Leonardo’s Mona Lisa be worth, in the absurd case it were for sale? It would certainly overtake the price paid for the Gauguin work—and by far.

Artworks by authors of the twentieth century, totally disconnected from realism, have also been sold for high prices, albeit not as high as the above. One example: one hundred and forty million dollars have been paid for No. 5 by Jackson Pollock, another artist who moved from a figurative style to a totally abstract one.

But then, something else happened.

The artworks I mentioned so far, had been created with the purpose of lasting in time. Starting with the 1970s, a new kind of art emerged, namely the installation: deliberately ephemeral, made to be dismantled, installation is a form of art that – according to its advocates – involves the “consumer”, who becomes part of the artwork.

How much is an installation worth?

Here we get even more complicated. To make things simpler we can say that an installation, or more generally a contemporary artwork, has the value that someone decides it must have.

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Who says how much it’s worth?

Art experts, critics, gallery owners: in the end, an artwork has its value decided by someone who has little to do with the seller – the artist – and the buyer: that is, you.

This is one of the reasons why many end up saying that “contemporary art is all a scam”. Of course one should not generalise this way; however, when I need to defend myself in a lawsuit, do I select a qualified and experienced lawyer, with a good chance of a positive outcome, or do I choose at random, maybe someone who says that “anyone can be a lawyer”? And if I should need surgery – let’s say, for appendicitis – do I place my trust in a skilful surgeon working in a reliable hospital, or do I let my neighbour’s cousin do the job, since he says he watched lots of operations on the telly?

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Experience, qualification, and also talent are absolute requirements in most activities.

Art is something of a grey area – in fact we refer to figurative arts; there are arts in which pretending or improvising technical skills which one does not possess, is plainly impossible: for instance, one cannot execute a Beethoven sonata at the piano without having studied a lot.

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Art and exclusive

Let us go back to the central topic.

The value of an artwork is not restricted to the price you are requested to buy it. In fact it is much more: it depends on the pleasure you will enjoy in admiring it, possessing it. Knowing you have something unique, exclusive and unrepeatable: yours, and nobody else’s.

The artist’s talent, his technical skill, the creative process, the materials used in creating the artwork, more or less precious – all this contributes in making the artwork into a worthy object, equal to none other in the world.

The connoisseur looks for something, which he alone shall enjoy. The ability of the artist in his creative process, the message he conveys, the emotions he raises, offer this opportunity to him, who knows how to grasp it. He seeks a stimulus for his imagination, a dream, an experience: everything he expects to find in a figurative artwork—indeed, also in a non-figurative one, which must therefore be easy to understand and interpret.

But if we look at what the market offers, we find that many jump on the bandwagon by copying other artists’ styles, instead of focusing on the research of their own distinctive mark. Others choose the way of negation, of denial, of doing the exact opposite of what the so-and-so well-known artist does. Going the opposite way can seem a good idea, however it lacks the artist’s real deep motivation, he did not explore his capabilities and he completely ignored the creative-emotional path that gives meaning to the artistic choice of the author that he took for a model. “Artist X represented light, I’m going to represent darkness”. Yes, but why?

Figurative art is an extraordinary medium, by which an artist can establish a channel, a bridge between his view and the public’s. This bridge is built on the pillars of experience, talent, and emotion. With no pillars there can be no bridge, and with no bridge there is no communication. The artwork results in an empty medley of incoherent, worthless signs.

What you really want, when you buy or commission an exclusive work of art, is this bridge, this emotion. You want it all to yourself, and you want it to be forever.

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