Greatness Takes a Village : Open Thread
I was thinking a bit more last night about the sense I got from some of the comments on the "Opening up the Sophistication Speakeasy" thread that some folks are less convinced than I that everyone (and I do mean everyone) should play a role in the dialog surrounding contemporary art and that it behooves those involved actively already to be more inclusive rather than exclusive, regardless of what one may view as the motivations of the "strivers."
Why that seems important to me was a question I let rattle around in my head a while until my mind landed upon the old adage that in "the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." Settling for the limited wisdom or ruling capacity of the one-eyed king, rather than seeking a cure to the nation's blindness, strikes me as an apt parallel to settling for a semi-literate population when it comes to the arts. If you could cure the nation's blindness, you might find that not only can you do much better than the one-eyed king for leader, but even the one-eyed king would then be challenged to do better by the example of those around him reaching their increased potential.
I had forgotten about this train of thought until this morning, when reading Jerry Saltz's lovely review of MoMA's current Van Gogh exhibition "Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night," it struck me that all of us lose something incredibly important, because its potential is so incredibly fleeting, by settling for a semi-arts-literate society. From Jerry's review:
So my thinking here goes something like this: Say there had been no Millet or his painting The Sower. Moreover, say there had been no Gauguin or other apt contemporary judges of van Gogh's work in his day. Certainly those things in and of themselves would not have prevented van Gogh from willing himself to greatness, but if he had simply floored all the other artists and indeed the entire world with the work he had done while living with his parents, what would have propelled him further? His own assessments, perhaps, sure. But I think there's a cumulative social element to talented people reaching further, pushing themselves, and actually reaching greatness.
Set aside the show’s muddled logic, the cheesy Andrew Lloyd Webber title and the pretend rationale that this is anything more than an excuse to bring in crowds. The Night Café and The Starry Night still emit such pathos, density and intensity that they send shivers down the spine. Whether Van Gogh thought in color or felt with his intellect, the radical color, dynamic distortion, heart, soul and part-by-part structure in these paintings make him a bridge to a new vision and the vision itself.
"Colors of the Night" clicks, despite all its flaws, because it is compact. Comprising only 23 paintings, nine drawings and a few letters and books, it reminds us that small surveys can deliver more punch than windbag blockbusters. In the first of its four sections, "Early Landscapes," we see flat-footed work by the self-taught late bloomer, revealing that Van Gogh, like Pollock, was one of the least naturally talented artists ever, that he virtually willed himself to greatness. From there, we see his progression through work painted while Van Gogh lived with his parents and versions of Millet’s The Sower. Finally, in "Poetry of the Night," Van Gogh begins soaring, as he finds his own style. [emphasis mine]
Consider why artists from all over Northern Europe flocked to Italy during the Renaissance. It wasn't enough for Dürer, for example, to wow the Burgermeisters of backwater Bavaria (forgive the geographical illiteracy...I'm a slave to alliteration). Not when he knew his work could be measured against the best work being produced in Venice by some. The culture in late 15th Century Venice, the dedication to greater discernment that flourished there, influences opinions about quality to this very day. Golden Eras will ebb and flow, of course, but when the money's there (and until recently it was here), a great deal is lost to all of mankind if the people spending that money don't know enough to demand better art. I think it takes a concerted collective effort to create an atmosphere in which those gifted enough to achieve greatness are pushed to do so.
OK, so I can see some problems with this line of thought already...off for java. Consider this an open thread on whether the sophistication within any given society increases or is irrelevant to whether an artist in the society will reach further in his/her quest.