Saturday, May 30, 2009

Art for Art's Sake

Last night at Karen Bjorneby's Writing Salon class, my fellow students gave me feedback on the opening pages of Chapter 6 of my new novel. I was excited by how much they picked up about the entire book from the ten pages they read. Carol went so far as to see the connections between religion and art, that for a large portion of recorded history, art served religion.

Whom does art serve? My mom went to art lectures at Stanford University, and the professor she liked the most was Albert Elsen. Elsen wrote a book called Purposes of Art which answers that question in its examination of art history. On page 190 of my mom's copy of the book, Elsen writes:

A contemporary of Caravaggio, Annibale Carracci, for the first time in history centered a painting on a man eating (Fig.); a rugged anonymous peasant fills his mouth with beans while clutching a roll. The great polarity of Baroque painting is shown by Domenichino's depiction of St. Jerome receiving the Eucharistic wafer and Carracci's Bean Eater. The former eats to partake of Christ's body and so ensure his future in heaven, while the latter figure is concerned with satisfying his stomach and staying alive.

Elsen has the chops to know that this is the first time in history eating portrayed in a work of art does not serve religion, does not help the viewer gain insights to Christ, or God, or any other religious figure. This is a significant break in art history.

Around the Renaissance, art began to serve the aristocracy. In the same way that art had helped the church communicate Bible stories, art began to tell stories about marriages, battles, coronations, and other important historical events. Not a huge surprise considering who compensated the artists.

As a result of the division of labor needed to sell art to the growing middle classes, the art dealer business began in the seventeenth century and grew in the eighteenth century. Artists began to cater to the taste of the middle class.

Whom does contemporary art serve? One answer is that contemporary art is art for art's sake. You'll have to buy my book to find out the other answers.

No comments:

Post a Comment