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Speak Out: WHAT IS ART?

By Frank Barron
ART TIMES January/ February 2013

ART, IT HAS been said, is what you make it.

The dictionary lists eight different meanings for the word, but when we think of art, mainly we think of paintings, sculpture, music, ballet, etc.

We think of such as Picasso, Dali, van Gogh, Monet, etc.

But art is also a business. A BIG business, with galleries all over the world, many in private facilities, such as colleges, personal museums, ad infinitum.

True art lovers buy paintings for their aesthetic enjoyment, for the sheer beauty of viewing them at one’s own discretion.

Dealers, of course, buy paintings because they are a business. An art dealer friend of mine many years ago suggested I buy a certain Marc Chagall painting. I didn’t particularly care for the work but was reminded that, “At his age he can’t go on forever. The price will go up.” That happened, the artist passed away, and the price went up. I never regretted making the purchase. I just didn’t care for the painting.

Another friend of mine bought paintings sporadically, but not for viewing or enjoyment. They were for future re-sales. He hid them in his closet for fear of thefts. To him they represented dollars.

There are the art lovers who enjoy viewing their treasures, while others see only the dollar signs.

Art galleries abound in many cities.

New York City, for example, abounds in galleries and museums, too many to list here, obviously more than in any other city in the U.S.

I have visited the old Tate in London, the Louvre in Paris, and the Prado in Madrid. The “Mona Lisa” was a surprise in that it is that small. What did I expect?

In Ohio, the Cleveland Museum of Art has spent $30 million in expansions and renovations. There is the private Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, Ca., with nearby Los Angeles County Museum of Art, plus the private J. Paul Getty Museum.

The Beat Museum in San Francisco specializes, while San Diego boasts the Museum of Contemporary Arts, the San Diego Museum of Art and the Timken Museum of Art. There is the Denver Art Museum and Philadelphia’s Museum Art, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Even colleges William & Mary and Yale University have their own galleries.

All are well attended and do much to expand art and the art world to the general public.

Art as a business? Yes!

Many paintings have sold for multi-millions of dollars. Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” went for that kind of money, now protected by a Plexiglas box at the New York Museum of Art, which also displays his famous “Madonna”. Another attraction there is van Gogh’s “Starry Night”.

A Franz Kline untitled 1957 painting brought in over $20 million at a Christie’s auction, as did some of his other works.

And Warhol’s contemporary paintings go for astronomical figures, as do the paintings of numerous other artists. They bring in sheer pleasure for viewing — and for dollars.

One who individually expands the art world is traveler Rick Steves, whose every TV travelog visits art galleries and museums through Europe, complete with descriptions and explanations about the artist and the painting.

In a different vein, there is cartoonist Matt Groening, creator of “The Simpsons”, who says, “I call myself a writer, and I draw a little bit, Is what we do art? I don’t know, but it’s fun. There are always arguments about whether cartoons are art, but cartoonists want to be taken seriously as artists. That’s the most dignified thing you can say about us.”

Cartoons? Comic strips? Groening says, “yes.”

So we go back to “What is art?”

(Frank Barron, former editor of the Hollywood Reporter, lives in Van Nuys, CA.)