Friday, February 6, 2015

The Midas Touch. Not.

No cheesy art was harmed in the making of this slightly silly illustration (The Art Curmudgeon)
Copyright © Edward Riojas

It’s everyone’s dream: We go to a garage sale, buy a cheesy print of dogs playing poker, and take it home. We remove the crappy print to re-purpose the frame, discover a tiny Rembrandt sketch previously unknown to the art world, and make a bazillion dollars on a pawn shop reality show.

Wake up people! That only happens to bidders at a Christie’s auction who dish out a bazillion dollars for a wonderful Rembrandt and find another one hidden inside the frame. The only thing you’re going to find behind that painting of poker dogs is decades-old dust and ladybug bodies.

Everyone wants to discover a work by a famous artist, but here’s a question: Is EVERYthing an artist produces worthy of a museum? The answer is a definite “No.” And no, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus. So get over it. Why is it then, that I get a sinking suspicion most folks think art masters had some kind of golden touch?

As an artist, I know my limits, and I know those works of mine that fall far below the grade. Even MY grade. For some reason, my sub-par works never make it to the incinerator – mostly because they aren’t worth even that much effort. Those ugly things sit around, piled up in a corner, and continue to bug the crap out of me. My hope is that they are never discovered by some aunt who loves everything I do. My hope is that they never again see the light of day. But there’s always the chance that my worst works might end up in a garage sale, and some bargain hunter perchance will slither among the card tables and spy my trash. Then things will really get ugly.

I was once browsing through a museum’s exhibition on loan of Impressionism and came across a Degas that was embarrassing. No, it wasn’t a nude – it was just plain ugly. I mean, the thing was a mess. It certainly wasn’t the Degas that we all know and love. The clarity of color and vibrancy of life was poisoned by a smudge of black so obvious that it caused me to wonder why the artist was pissed off the day he worked on it. Yet the thing was proudly hung on the museum wall, and I had to ask myself, “Why?”

At some point, an expert on Degas decided that the work was, indeed, painted by the Impressionist master. No one ever thought to check where it was previously hung. My guess is that it was hung in the artist’s bathroom. Near the floor. And he “missed” a lot.

Artists, after all, are human. We have good days. We have bad days. This side of heaven, we are more apt to have an abundance of the latter. Not every doodle I’ve done as an artist is worthy of transferring to a canvas. Often a sketch isn’t even worth the effort of erasing. While I’m no master, I know that even the masters have done a doodle or two worthy of nothing greater than the city dump.

Apparently, that doesn’t stop art aficionados from clambering over every scrap of paper and searching for previously unknown pieces touched by the masters. Perhaps people simply want to claim ownership of something – ANYTHING – produced by an art genius. Perhaps folks want to completely reconstruct an artist’s life from bits and pieces of junk. At some point along the road, discerning folks need to use their noggins and give every piece of art its due. It may be worth its weight in gold, or it might not be worth a plug nickel.

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