Friday, January 08, 2010

The Value of Talent

Because we have an opening tonight in our new space (it's looking great! so brave the cold and stop on by if you can), I have to keep today's post short, but there was a provocative exchange on The Tudor's episode Bambino and I watched the other day (yes, I know, folks either love or hate it...we love it). We're way behind (watching via Netflix), so if you're following the show, you'll notice this happened ages ago. Anyway, the fiance of a woman who had, in the meanwhile, become Henry VIII's mistress walked in on his betrothed having her portrait painted by Hans Holbein the Younger. The future husband was outraged to find the portrait was a nude. He wasn't aware that the nude portrait had been commissioned by the king. When the gentleman went to the king to protest this low-life artist's mischief, Henry VII replied:
If I had seven peasants, I could make seven lords. But if I had seven lords, I could not make ONE Holbein
The subtext of the King's message he wanted the gentleman to understand, of course, was "I value Holbein more than I'll ever value you, so leave me alone, you nonentity." But the subtext within the show, where Henry VIII is portrayed as valuing nothing so much as his own reflection and pleasure, is that even a maniacal egomaniac can be awed, if not humbled, by great talent. Personally, I find most of Holbein's portraits peculiarly unflattering to their subjects, but that may just be shifts in perceptions of physical beauty.

Or perhaps I've just come to think that recently, as I'm simply disappointed not to see his paintings look like the actors portraying the historical figures in the outrageously oversexed TV series. Here's Jane Seymour as rendered by Holbein:

and as portrayed by Annabelle Wallis:

Anyway, consider this an open thread on the value of true talent...a wide open topic, I know, but sometimes it's better to see where a trickle can lead you...

Labels: art appreciation


Anonymous Larry said...

Despite setting Schiller's text "Alle Menschen werden Brüder" in the 9th Symphony, Beethoven had little use for his own two brothers. On one occasion his brother Johann sent Ludwig a visiting card inscribed "Johann van Beethoven, Landbesetzer" (Landowner). Beethoven promptly returned the card, crossing out the original inscription and replacing it with "Ludwig van Beethoven, Hirn (brain) besetzer."

1/08/2010 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger David Reed said...

People at that time did not have the context of a celebrity sense of beauty that we do today. Most of them only saw people from a very local area in their entire lifetime. Even the wealthy would see only a fraction of the number of people we see images of in a week, and with no photography to reinforce the image, would be unable to totally remember what they had seen in the iconic sense as conveyed by our modern media environment.

Then there is the question of someone as beautiful as Ms. Wallis going undiscovered because she might have been born impoverished in a small village, while her beauty could quickly fade due to hard physical labor, malnutrition and ill health.

Finally the portrait you show is explicitly concerned with the conspicuous display of wealth and power through a formal and itself labor intensive depiction of a very expensive, detailed and labor intensive (yet appropriately understated in this case) costume.

The painting is a spectacle replete with the clothing made from embroidered fabrics and lace (all hand worked) and accessorized with extensive jewelry. Most of this costume would have been imported great distances which would only add to the value , expense, and cache of the subjects personal display.

Fascinating juxtaposition of images.

1/08/2010 12:10:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

For talent to have value, it must have value to someone. Certainly it has value to the artist, who enjoys exercising it. Also to the art lover, who enjoys looking at what talent produces. But why is the talent of one artist, and not another, valued by critics, curators and academics? Is it that their fields require them to generate words? So they value the sort of talent that requires explication? (There's not much that can be said about something that is simply beautiful or excellent.)

1/08/2010 01:00:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I've been watching Cable Acess - not overproduced, though often unnecessarily long and unedited. But you get a sense of what the community is like more than Law and Order and The Tudors. Exchange one bubble for the next I guess.

In the past there was TV Party - a show that had a lot of notables on the guest list. I am a fan of Concrete TV - Television "mashups" - like Negativeland or the Replacements - I guess "narrative" can get old - though I am back into movies - but when a show's main fascination is in presenting a beautifull face in some drama, thats a soap opera - The Tudors is a soap masquerading as soemthing else (I dont get HBO) - as much as Hill Street Blues or 21 Jump Street or Roots. Kunta Kinte was a badass right? (I saw a clip on You Tube) Well I don't know about talent - actors tend to borrow roles and ticks from the history of acting - the sad tramp, the goofy oddball neighbor, the vamp, the loner, the noble slave, the slimy sycophant, the mensch. Who do you want to be today? Maybe talent is taking a role and making it your own - by making people forget they have seen it before, because they have.

1/08/2010 01:13:00 PM  
Blogger Kirstin said...

Sometimes the frumpier royals are more interesting.

1/08/2010 02:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Go look at Holbein's portrait of Thomas More in the Frick. More specifically, the velvet sleeve on the right arm. That's what Holbein's painting is about: materiality, not people. He just needed the people to stand in the clothes, next to a musical instrument, a globe, or a distorted skull.

1/08/2010 03:19:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Were goign to have a tv party tonight"-Black Flag

You know ideals of beauty have changed -Annabelle Wallis might be ugly by Tudor standards - I;m not sure I;d find her all that attractive in ral life - models seldom are - and some kinds of beauty don't age gracefully.
The lady in the portrait has a small chin - if you look at a lot o thin women who diet their chins get this weird shape - like a knob at the end of their face.

My mom is watching "The Keeper" - its free digital broadcast (old fashioned antenna network) - it features a lot of women in leather corsets - sort of S&M - like batman+catwoman or David Lynch's Dune - but if you look at clothing like that pretty much all clothing does something weird to perception (obviously).

The Keeper though, is a contemporary drama set in a magical time - so I wonder is there a drama that could ONLY exist in its time? Liek the Updated Hamlet set in manhattan where everyone speaks old english, or Romeo and Julette where they used guns namesd stilleto or Claymore or whatever.

1/08/2010 03:25:00 PM  
Blogger Will said...

I see Henry VIII's comment as meaning anyone an be a lord, as they really require nothing for creation beyond the king's say so.

But genuine talent...

Henry cannot speak and create talent in anyone.

Hence, for him, talent's elusiveness, it's scarcity, gives it greater value than seven lords.

1/08/2010 06:59:00 PM  
Blogger Caio Fernandes said...

i am pretty sure tv wouldn't never try to be realistic about nothing .

... Holbein .... i believe was flattering at the time ... but he could only paint what he sees . and the concept of beauty was totaly diferent of today . Even so i see on his work a concernment about make the subjects prettier than i really was .
his wirk with colors is a good example of it . even the way he composes the background "helping" the main figure .

1/09/2010 07:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe talent (like beauty) is in the eye of the beholder. As a painter of still-life (which informs my sculptural/installation work) I have found that when people outside of the arts (general public, little interest in the visual arts as a whole) have viewed my work or others of this type a common response is "It looks like a photograph. You're/they're so talented."
In contrast to some in the arts who depending on their discipline and taste will look at work of my type and coyly say "Eh, it's just representational painting. That's been going on for centuries." Even I fall victim to judging, especially when viewing some contemporary mixed media/assemblage/sculpture/installation work. It's like... didnt Duchamp and Raushenberg already do this? And then I catch myself and recant my thought. Maybe talent, as viewed from outside the creators eye/hand is based on one's knowledge of the subject matter and
his/hers interests. If talent however is believed to be anything created based from assigned rules and techniques then the perception of talent becomes more narrow.

1/09/2010 10:20:00 AM  
Blogger Mery Lynn said...

Beauty does change. I'm addicted to Perry Mason (I have no clue why) but women on the show, what we would refer to as older women, are consistently described as beautiful. Most of them couldn't get a part as someone's grandmother on a current tv program yet they are in fact beautiful women.

Beauty, like everything else in our culture, is tied to marketability - not just the object/person itself but to the system and products which shape the object/person.

The real shocker in the Tudors for me is comparing the portraits of the real King Henry with the exquisite actor. It's like 2/3 of him was erased, the gouty part.

1/09/2010 08:06:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

But if I had seven lords, I could not make ONE Einstein.

It has nothing to do with "talent" which is roughly being described here as skill good enough to get one into the Painters Guild.

For Royal hotties try: Queen Isabel of Spain as painted by Diego Velasquez. I've seen this painting and Queen Isabel was truly beautiful.

Skill vs. genius, Velasquez went beyond the photograph before there were photographs.

1/09/2010 08:20:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

My take is that Henry VIII is not so much putting down the cuckolded nobleman, as recognizing the limitations of rank – including his own. He can promote nobles, but he can’t confer upon someone abilities like Holbein’s. Whether that’s a ‘natural’ talent or formidable discipline is another matter. But Holbein succeeds at something in ways the king can scarcely grasp, beyond the fact that such abilities are highly prized throughout the rest of the world.

Of course that doesn’t answer the question why the king permits Holbein to portray the young lady nude, and given Holbein’s artistic leanings, frankly the idea seems a bit far-fetched. About the only nude in his work I can think of is an early, Grunewald-like putrefying corpse of Christ. It seems an unlikely recommendation. True, he was versatile, but his flair ran to intricate ornament for textiles, temporary facades, painted glass and so on. He had a useful sideline as a designer, basically.

Still, let’s suppose he could summon a Cranach moment, if pressed. That kind of thing was probably a bit advanced for the dour and repressed Protestant Tudors. Pictures were never their strong point. England was still pretty much a backwater, as far as The Renaissance was concerned, which is why they were wide open to imports. Holbein was German, had built a big rep in Basel and had gone there to clean up big time among the nouveau vulgar. He knew his market. They knew their man.

But was his fantastic drawing really just down to God given talent? An interesting point. In his famous painting, The Ambassadors, he conspicuously places a skull in anamorphic projection across the foreground, amongst other things, loudly flagging familiarity with lens-based instruments. David Hockney has woven a conspiracy-length theory around artist’s uses of convex or concave mirrors and various camera obscura available throughout the period, and this is one time I’m inclined to agree, the artist’s reliance upon an immaculate and unbroken outline looks a lot like tracing – photo-tracing as we say these days. Of course he only had to get the faces, that way. All that intricate proportion and modeling there, was always going to be the killer app. Fanatical attention to clothes and jewelry could be done at leisure or outsourced.

Was this a trade secret? What really thrilled the aspirant yet and ignorant Tudor court? All the rest is coloring-in, decoration. What could be more English?

Still, he did have a terrific eye for facial expression. Who says The Tudors didn’t match anywhere in Europe for Machiavellian intrigue? Check out Holbein’s rogue’s gallery what a snake pit Windsor Castle must have been.

As for Annabelle Wallis – she’s always a bit ‘actorly’ for me. The eye makeup and eyebrow shaping are wrong for the period as well. At least the Holbein pictures can put us right on that!

One final point while on the subject – Holbein’s notorious ‘disaster’ in 1539 – when he was commissioned to portray Anne of Cleves, spectacularly fails to deliver, and is promptly ditched by the king – dies a couple of years later. What went wrong there? Letters only hint at some terrible mishap. Could his nifty little lens or projector have been broken en route to Düren? Later works continue to deliver on a much smaller scale, but maybe he needed something bigger for the Cleves job – it’s only about 2 X 3’ – but maybe he had a customized mirror or something for that scale? Notably he reverts to full face (when almost all of his work revels in ¾ for modeling and expression) to try and at least nail basic proportions of eye, nose and mouth. But he just doesn’t have the information to do much more than hint at volume here. The king must have wondered WTF. Hans must have known he’d blown it big time.

1/10/2010 08:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Holbein's genius was his insight into human character. His gifts for rendering the symbols of power and wealth gave him license to reveal his sitters completely psychologically undressed. He delivered the complicated facts, not a pretty story.


1/10/2010 01:04:00 PM  

the difference between a talent and a skill as I see it is that a skill can be learned whereas talent is God given.
take your average student and teach him or her all the skills of oil painting. Provide them with a projector as well and see if they ever paint like Holbein. What then is missing? Genius.

1/13/2010 10:26:00 AM  

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