The original meaning of art as in “the culinary arts” meant more than just a stir-fry. It meant a experienced, skilled, dedicated master making extraordinary work. This elitism offended many who considered leveling art to something done without effort, in fact by hiring technicians to do the dirty deed. One might as well hire an Olympic athlete to win a gold medal in your name. In 1617, Sir Dudley Carleton, for instance, protested to Rubens that paintings offered to him as by the hand of the artist himself were in fact largely the work of his studio. Rubens was quick to replace them with works he could vouch for as being entirely his own — it would not do to acquire a reputation for passing off inferior work as original. In 1652, Peter van Halen, painter and Master of the Guild of Saint Luke in Antwerp purchased Brueghel’s painting Cattle Market for 204 guilders. On closer examination, Van Halen decided it was not an original but a copy. After three years of lawsuits, van Halen managed to establish that the painting was indeed a studio copy made by Brueghel’s assistants and was awarded damages.
Possibly the most important observation of creativity came to me at the age of 17, as I got lost in a drawing where I followed my feelings by adding color here and shading there. A few hours later I had an amazing image and understood that something had worked through me, something had risen from darkness impenetrable just as Emily Carr had described:
It seems that aesthetics, beauty, and sensory artifacts are never neutral, they always carry unconscious content reflecting the great cultural currents and conflicts of our times. In nature a bee’s dance informs the hive of the location of a field of flowers, including sun-oriented hourly-based data and the caloric value of that patch. All without any consciousness that a human can discern. This leads to far reaching speculation on unconscious content in the artwork of the naked ape!
In closing we need to ask whodunit, whatsitfor, whodat up in the sky? Who was that masked man? Art fell to a sorry disgraced status and no one noticed yet the public often thinks art sucks, they’re asking why can’t we have children’s drawings in museums instead? Art itself takes revenge on us in the form of a Richard Stella steel plate that fell and killed a workman. How obvious can it get before we sit up and take notice? One of Canada’s most esteemed curators was disturbed when I let slip that perhaps artists like General Idea appropriated the credibility of scientists because of insecurity about art in an age of science certitude. This really meant lesser artists failing to find meaning in their field. This fissure once took place in religion and gave us Christian Scientists. Artists are now social scientists, ethical moralists, lab coated physicists or semiotically dressed mechanics. For most this is gratifying but the rest of us would ask for more. If art is boring it ain’t art … which means we need howl for amazing work and when that is lacking we should not hesitate to byte. Just sayin… criticism on a bed of witticism.