Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Cardsharps

I wasn't able to upload this image on Dec 17th when I wrote about the discovery of Caravaggio's previously mis-attributed painting, an earlier version of The Kimbell's "The Cardsharps". Here it is.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Previously Unknown Caravaggio Discovered

It was just over a year ago (Nov 14 , 2006) that two lost Fra Angelico panels were found hanging behind a bedroom door in a librarian's house. She'd bought them some years earlier for a few hundred dollars.
Now comes word of the discovery of an undocumented painting by Caravaggio. The work, previously attributed to an anonymous follower of that artist, was bought by a British art historian for $100,000. He happened upon it while sitting in a restaurant, leafing through an auction catalog. A strong hunch that there might be more to it than previously thought, led him through the necessary steps to verify his initial intuition.

An article in the Associated Press recounts that analysis of the paint showed traces of very fine sand, which was a Caravaggio trademark, and that x-rays exposed detailed underlying sketching. According to an Italian art historian involved in the verification, “That's the ultimate proof. A copycat doesn’t do that.”

It is now believed that this work is a slightly earlier version of Caravaggio’s well-known painting "The Cardsharps" (1594) which can be seen at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

What other art wonders are just waiting to be found?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

But is it art?

This from London, according to ArtDaily: London’s White Cube gallery announced that British artist Damien Hirst's glittering skull sold for $100 million dollars, a record price for work sold by a living artist. The work is entitled "For the Love of God". According to the gallery a group of anonymous investors purchased the work.
The skull is made of platinum, encrusted with 8,601 diamonds. It cost $20 million to make the skull (diamonds and fabrication).

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Speaking of Record Prices at Auction ...

Speaking of auction record prices ... Recently at Sotheby’s in London, a rare work by Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez 1599 - 1660 – Saint Rufina, sold for £8,420,000 ($17,003,348), setting a new world auction record for the artist, and also becoming the most expensive Old Master Painting by a Spanish artist ever sold at auction.

Saint Rufina was one of only a handful of works by the artist ever to have come to auction. A work of particular intimacy and simplicity, Saint Rufina may even have reflected the likeness of one of the artist’s own daughters, Francisca or Ignacia, who were aged around twelve and fourteen years old when the painting was executed in the early 1630s.

The good news is that the painting was bought by the Focus Abengoa Foundation from Seville, the painter’s birthplace.
Alex Bell, head of Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings department in London, said: “I am thrilled that this beautiful portrait of Seville’s patron saint has found a permanent home in the artist’s birthplace.”

Following the sale, Anabel Morillo León, the Managing Director of the foundation said “We are absolutely delighted to have had the opportunity to bring the painting back to Seville, and to its people, who have shown such interest in this image of the city’s patron saint. The success of this joint effort between the Town Hall and the Focus Abengoa Foundation is a model of cooperation that will benefit the city of Seville.” “The Town Hall and the Focus-Abengoa Foundation have reached an understanding to work together to promote Velázquez’s oeuvre for 75 years. This agreement will encompass the creation of a centre to house the work by the artist, including Santa Rufina and La imposición de la Casulla a San Ildefonso, as well as a library and documentation centre on the life of this painter who is so important to the people of Seville.”

While Saint Rufina was the highlight of Sotheby’s evening sale of Old Master Paintings, the auction began with the sale of Turner watercolours from the collection of Guy and Myriam Ullens. Spanning 44 years of Turner’s career, the 14 works offered represented the finest group of watercolours by the artist to have come to the market since the 1920s.

After the sale, Baron Guy Ullens said: “The decision to part with the Turner watercolours was a difficult one. My wife Myriam and I have enjoyed the privilege of living surrounded by Turner’s genius for many years, and their absence now will be acute. But parting with these wonderful works has been made easier because of the knowledge that they will now be enjoyed by other collectors. The success of this evening’s sale means that we now have the additional resources we need to pursue a dream that Myriam and I both treasure: the building of a museum for Contemporary Art in Beijing.”

Aside from the record price for the Velázquez, eight further auction records were achieved,. Among the most notable new records was that for a work by Jan Brueghel the Elder, whose harrowing depiction of hell (Aeneas and the Sybil in the Underworld) realised £1,924,000 (17,003,348 ). Unrecorded until its rediscovery in 2001, the work was the only known example of the artist’s famous hell scenes remaining in private hands.

Raphael Portrait Goes to Private Collection

On May 28th I expressed the hope that Raphael's portrait of Lorenzo de’ Medici, Duke of Urbino -- which was soon to go up for auction -- would go to a public museum rather than a private collection. ArtDailyNews calls it: "The most important Renaissance portrait to be offered at auction for a generation, and the most important work by the artist to be offered at auction in recent decades."

The remarkable painting sold at Christies in London yesterday after a ten minute bidding battle. It went to an anonymous private collector bidding over the telephone .

Oh, well.

It sold for £18,500,000 ($37,277,500). This is a world record price for the artist at auction and a world record price for an Italian Old Master picture. Yes, indeed, there are some rather wealthy people in the world!

The Raphael was the highlight of the auction, but plenty of other magnificent works were snapped up. Said a Christies spokesperson, "This evening’s sale attracted clients from around the world, including a significant number who were new to the category, and particularly competitive bidding was seen for the best works on offer.

We are pleased with the price achieved by [the Baroque master Domenico Zampieri] Il Domenichino’s Pietà which sold for £3.04 million, a record price for the artist at auction. Venus and Cupid by Sir Peter Lely sold to a private collector within the estimate of £1,500,000-2,000,000.”

Portrait of a Lady by Lucas Cranach II (1515-1586), far exceeded its pre-sale estimate of £500,000-700,000, eventually selling to an anonymous bidder in the room for £1,812,000 ($3,651,180), setting a world record price for the artist at auction.
The Revel of Baachus and Silenus by Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678), which had been hidden from public view since 1953, realised £1,700,000 ($3,425,500).
The Woodland Maid by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) realised £1,196,000 ($2,409,940).

Friday, June 08, 2007

'Clueless' thieves sell £1million painting for £350

From the June 4th Daily Mail :

A £1 million painting stolen by a gang of 'clueless' thieves was discovered on sale at a flea market for 500 Euro. Giandomenico Tiepolo's Scenes from a Venetian Carnival was stolen last year from a private collector.
It was recovered from Pordenone, near Venice, along with more than a dozen other works of art worth more than £2.5million, following raids on a number of markets across Italy.

Tiepolo, whose works are characterised by vivid colour and movement, was born in Venice in 1727.

A spokesman said yesterday: "This gang was peddling works of art worth millions for just a few hundred euros. They were completely clueless and had no idea of the real value. "In fact to call them clueless would be a compliment." Who says the carabinieri are humorless?

I think from now on I'll spend more time at flea markets when I'm in Italy!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Speaking of Raphael

Speaking of Raphael – which I have been doing a lot in preparation for the release of our newest title, Raphael’s Stanza della Segnatura -- one of the few of his works that remain privately owned is is going up for auction at Christies in London on July 5th.
I do hope it will be acquired for a museum collection, rather than being snatched up by one of the world’s super-rich. But I fear that the cachet of owning one of the last privately-held Raphaels will send the bidding beyond the reach of museum budgets.
"The portrait shows a swagger Lorenzo de’ Medici standing proud and resplendent against a rich green background. In the Duke’s right hand he holds what is probably a portrait miniature showing his future wife."
The resplendent color, and the delicate treatment of the fur on his cape highlight Raphael’s exceptional ability and technique. This explains is reputation of ‘the Prince of Painters'.
The Medici gained great power through a series of appointments, conquests and strategic marriages. The second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici (1475-1521), was elected Pope Leo X in 1513. "Seeking to consolidate the position of the Medici family on an international stage, the Pope arranged for his nephew, Lorenzo, to be married to Madeleine de la Tour d’Auvergne, a cousin of Francois I, King of France. At the time, France was an important ally of the Vatican against the Holy Roman Empire."
"As neither the Duke nor the bride-to-be had met, an exchange of portraits was arranged in order that they could see what to expect. On 2 May 1518 the Duke was married in the château of Amboise in France. Returning to Florence with his bride, their entry to the city was celebrated with a banquet at which Raphael’s portrait of the Pope, now in the Uffizi, Florence, was exhibited. The couple had a child, Catherine de Medici, who went on to marry King Henry II of France, but less than a year after the marriage, the Duchess died. Lorenzo died soon afterwards in 1519."

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

3-Month Long, 40-Mile Long Art Exhibition

Although the Loire River no longer looks as it did in W.M.Turner’s day, it continues to inspire artistic endeavor.

For three months this summer, running for 40 miles along the river will be more than 40 installations created by an international cadre of artists. Visit

Artists including Anish Kapoor and Daniel Buren will install what we’re told will be a “lively, fun and unusual” variety of works in the cities and ports, on the riverbanks, on the water -- and even in the water -- to build a geographic and symbolic link between Nantes ando St Nazaire, two cities which share a common history of shipbuilding.

The works include “an 80 foot duck, astonishing feats of architecture, dramatic fountains and a floating house,” all of which can be viewed free of charge.

One way to see the river’s landscapes, its cultural and historic heritage, and the installations themselves will be to take a three-hour river cruise on a specially-built mirrored boat, while listening to the audio-guided tour designed by the artists (available in English and French).

Alternatively, the area is wonderful to explore on foot or by bicycle.

Not going to the Loire Valley this summer? Not to worry … you can start planning now to see the repeat of The Loire Estuary Project in 2009 and 2011!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

"Rafael Moneo has done something very odd, even unorthodox, to the Prado, Madrid’s world-renowned city-centre art gallery,” The Guardian newspaper reported in an article dated May 1, 2007. Over the past five years, the architect has overseen construction of a major new extension to the 18th-century neoclassical building that is surprisingly serious and well-crafted. “Flying in the face of 21st-century orthodoxy, he has avoided the temptation to design an ‘iconic’ (in other words, showy) gallery that might have rivaled Frank Gehry’s phantasmagorical Bilbao Guggenheim,” said the London newspaper.

"Those 'cool-seekers', as Madrid guidebooks have it, who are hoping for an all-singing, all-dancing extension to the Prado may well be disappointed by Moneo's quietly heroic work. Here, an architect of the first order has chosen to let the art that will be on display steal the show. What he has created over long years is a building of immense skill, craft, solidity and intelligence, which redefines a part of Madrid's city centre and makes the Prado itself a far more immediate gallery than it has been for some while."

The expansion was sorely needed. A few years ago I had the unpleasant experience of waiting in a v-e-r-y slow-moving line for upwards of an hour, outside -- in the pouring rain -- while their seriously inadequate and decidedly officious post-9/11 security efforts were exerted -- one visitor at a time – in a tiny log-jam of a foyer. Once inside, the experience was absolutely worth that discomfort, but how lovely I imagine it will be now that the space -- and undoubtedly the security process – have been enhanced. I so enjoy the sense of luxury about Madrid and about the Prado -- that dreary cattle-call entry was disappointingly unwelcoming and incompatible with that sense of elegance.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

More On Conservation Controversies

In light of my posting last week about the controversy among art historians and conservators about restoration techniques and their results, I was intrigued by a 4-year-old item I found on the ArtWatch International website, which I have copied in below.

I am in the process of creating a webpage presenting the newest Jane’s Smart Art Guides audio tour of Raphael’s Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican, and I came across the ArtWatch article while searching Google Images for a complete view of Raphael’s panoramic Dispute Over the Sacrament (La Disputa).

It was no surprise, actually, that this article was illustrated with an image from the Stanza della Segnatura, given that the President of ArtWatch International is none other than James Beck, Professor of Art History at Columbia University. Professor Beck authored the book in The Great Fresco Cycles of the Renaissance series, on which the Jane’s Smart Art Guides audio tour, Raphael’s Stanza della Segnatura, is based.

Vatican Wins an Award for Restoration! 12/11/2003
Biennale in Florence Gives the Nod
It seems truly unbelievable. The fourth Biennale Internazionale dell'Arte Contemporanea, which convenes in Florence this December, has awarded one of its Premio Lorenzo il Magnifico awards to the restoration laboratory of the Vatican Museums (the other went to Ferrari) in honor of the laboratory's "unequalled and continuing efforts" in its projects, "above all the complex restoration of the cycle of frescoes (15th-century works and those by Michelangelo) the Sixtine Chapel".
All of this despite the fact that the restoration of Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistina was -- and remains -- among the most controversial cleanings of the past decades, garnishing richly deserved criticism from both artists and art historians. Not deterred by public outcry or calls for open debate and discussion, the Vatican has continued its drastic cleaning methods, applying them not only to the lower register of 15th century frescoes in the Sistine Chapel by Perugino, Ghirlandaio, Botticelli and Cosimo Rosselli, but also to the Raphael's frescoes in the Stanza della Segnatura and Fra Angelico's frescoes in the Chapel of Nicholas V, all with equally drastic and irreversible results.
Perhaps this award is appropriate in light of the fact that the Biennale is celebrating contemporary art, which these radically cleaned 15th and 16th century works may now rightly be considered. Nonetheless, any celebration of the efforts of the Vatican's cleaning machine can only be considered an attempt to attract publicity and to flatter a powerful institution.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Dog Drool on a DaVinci

Having just posted thoughts about restoration of paintings, I came across this tale of restoration woe in Artemisia, by Alexandra LaPierre, translated from the French by Liz Heron.

Background: By the 1620s, the Gonzaga dynasty in Mantua had declined from five consecutive generations of extremely refined art connoisseurship, combined with great wealth, to a series of disinterested Dukes who had no real interest in art and a desperate need for cash. The Spanish and French monarchs also coveted the Gonzaga collection, but it was the English King, Charles I, whose emissary carried away the hugely valuable art collection -- hundreds of antiquities, decorative artifacts and Renaissance paintings.

It was the celebrated collection of which Rubens had been curator for eight years, and it included, besides Caravaggio’s Death of the Virgin which is now in the Louvre, a Raphael Holy Family, Titian’s Entombment, and several dozen other paintings by the likes of Mantegna, Correggio, Giulio Romano and Leonardo da Vinci.

Having concluded the arduous, clandestine negotiations on behalf of his King, Nicholas Lanier packed the art works for transport to London. Knowing that the watercolors would not fare well on a sea voyage, he carried those with him on his overland journey. The rest was crated up and stowed aboard the Margaret –carefully segregated on one side of the hold, away from the sacks of grapes and barrels of mercury.

But Lanier hadn’t considered “the effects of heat and condensation on the sugar and the mercury in the hold.” Uncrating the artworks in England, Lanier discovered that the evaporating mercury had left a sticky layer of ink-colored quicksilver on the canvases, and had saturated the drawings.

A frenzied restoration effort ensued. Although Lanier was by now being castigated by the French and the Spanish (and by the Mantuan people who knew what they had lost) for having “stolen” the collection – having paid far below its market value – nonetheless a large hole had been made in the English Treasury to acquire these works. The King would not be pleased.

“But sponges soaked in milk or dog’s slaver – the customary methods – had not completely erased the ghastly overlay.” The most famous chemists in the realm suggested countless ineffective solutions. He swabbed the canvases with brandy. He dripped droplets of alcohol distilled from wine. Still a film remained. “Finally, he washed the finest canvases with plenty of water. Determination, luck and a mastery of the techniques of painting enabled him to restore some of the masterpieces. He enjoyed His Majesty’s favor more than ever.”

Imagine calling Fido over to drool on a DaVinci!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Color Controversy in Art History

The controversy around the restoration of the Sistine Chapel ceiling in the 1990s has always struck me as odd. A surprisingly large cadre of critics objected to the brilliance of the colors when the restoration was unveiled, believing them to be too “modern”. I find this odd because it’s widely known that Mediaeval and Renaissance fortunes were made, intrigue and political manipulations abounded and, I suspect, murder was even done in pursuit of control of the components of brilliant colors.

For example, after the Ottomans gained control of and limited access to traditional sources of alum, the Papacy took aggressive steps to control new-found alum sources in Italy. One of the important uses for alum was as a color fixative in dyes and paints, the light-colored alumen being useful in brilliant colors, the dark-colored black or very dark colors.

Certain paint colors were extremely expensive. This added value – both monetary and symbolic – to any work in which they were used. For example, in the more than 50 frescoes he painted at the San Marco priory in Florence, with Cosimo dei Medici financing the work, Fra Angelico -- true to his monastic principles -- used just a single passage of pure ultramarine blue. He used it only in the most prominent fresco, to highlight the importance of the subject: coloring the Virgin Mary’s cloak the unique clear blue that only ultramarine could produce.

Ultramarine is the oldest and most technically specific device whereby a painter and his patron could honor a distinguished personage. That is because ultramarine was by far the most precious of all the painter’s materials. It's beautiful, it’s extremely resistant to the damaging effects of light, and it’s very rare. Consequently, painters’ contracts of the period frequently specified the exact quantity of ultramarine that the patron authorized the master to use. At San Marco, whose frescoes are distinctive for technical as well as aesthetic reasons, the message is clear: in the spirit of humility, the opulent blue pigment appears at San Marco only on the Virgin Mary and only in the Chapter Room.

Referring to the importance of identifying historically-true colors in art restoration, Stephanie Reitz, in an article in the ArtInfo newsletter says, “The implications go beyond aesthetics to cold cash. For example, the use of pure Prussian blue—the first synthetic color of the Industrial Revolution—can cause a painting's value to skyrocket.” So what’s changed?

Theoretical and practical approaches to art restoration change over time, influenced largely by available technologies, and also by cultural trends.
Until a quite recently, restoration and preservation was a “best guess” proposition, with the restorer -- typically an artist by training -- making assumptions about what paints, varnishes and other materials were originally used. Results varied from good to disastrous. Restorers today often find themselves having to undo ill-advised past restoration efforts.

In much the same way as a good historian pursues the truth about what happened at a distant past point in time, a good art restorer seeks to know the facts related to the creation of a particular artwork.

Today chemists are involved in restoration, using invisible-to-the-naked-eye samples of paint taken from the piece. Henry DePhillips. a Trinity College chemistry professor says, ''The whole goal of art conservation is to preserve the original vision of the artist, not my vision of what it could or should be,'' alluding to the guesswork in outdated theories of restoration.

Using cutting-edge science chemists can identify the mix of ingredients – like iron oxide, mercury, titanium dioxide, lapis lazuli -- that constitute various colors. For example, titanium dioxide is what made white, white.

“If you're going to restore a piece of art to the way it was on the day it was finished, you need to know exactly what materials they used. Our job has been done correctly if you, a viewer of the piece, cannot tell that anything has been done,'' DePhillips said. ''That is meeting our responsibility to history.''

Monday, March 26, 2007

Rare exhibition of 2000 yr old frescoes

Here's an exhibit not to miss if you can hie thyself to Madison WI between now and June 3rd, '07 ... Stabiano: Exploring the Ancient Seaside Villas of the Roman Elite. The Chazen Museum of Art has mounted an extremely rare exhibition of 2000 year old frescoes that have never before this tour been seen in the US.

In the first centuries BC and AD, the sumptuous villas dotted all around the Bay of Naples served as summer residences for leisure and political entertaining . In the hot months Rome was empty of the rich and powerful, and the area surrounding the Bay of Naples became the virtual capital of the Empire.

The villas were designed to provide fabulous views of the Bay and also contained serene garden courtyards. According to , the exhibition features twenty-six remarkably well-preserved fresco wall paintings and eleven wall reliefs made of stucco among the more than seventy works of art and artifacts recovered from five partially-excavated ancient Roman villas located in Stabiae.

The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 a.d. destroyed a wide swath of populated territory, bringing an end to the area's era of affluence. But the thick layer of ash and pumice functioned exceptionally well as a preservative, and the Restoring Ancient Stabiae Foundation has as its mission the excavation and conservation of at least two of the enormous villas and the transformation of the site into one of the largest archaeological parks in modern Europe. The site of Stabiae (Castellammare di Stabia) is 2.5 miles from Pompeii and is currently open to the public.

The four-year tour of this exhibition represents the first long-term loan of major cultural treasures from Italy to the U.S. After Madison, it will travel to the Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX (July 8 – October 7) and then to the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Jacksonville, FL (November 7- Feb 3, 2007/08).

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Celebrating Easter on the Wrong Date?

For many of us it’s just one of those bits of knowledge that we absorbed somewhere along the way: Easter falls on different dates for the Latin and Greek Orthodox churches. We know it, and it never occurs to us to wonder about it, until someone asks the question – a child, maybe, or a Jeopardy contestant.

The Pope endorses his scientific advisors’
GregorianCalendar Reform
Detail from Gregory XIII tomb
by Camillo Rusconi, St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome

Why does Easter fall on different dates in the Latin Church and the Greek Orthodox Church? And which one’s the “right” one? Until the latter part of the 16th century, all Christians celebrated Easter on the same date. So what happened? The answer is found in a fascinating little slice of history.

Ancient calendars were based on the lunar cycle until around 45 BC, when Julius Caesar decided that his vast Roman Empire should adopt a new calendar, one based upon the earth's revolution around the sun. By giving up a link with the moon, the Julian calendar – so-called in honor of Caesar -- gained about three days every 400 years. By the 16th century, this error had accumulated to 10 days, and the discrepancy between the calendar dates of the solstices and the actual occurrence of the solstices had become a real concern to the Roman Church.

The long-standing formula for dating Easter depended upon the lunar cycle and the vernal equinox. Easter was being celebrated on the wrong date!

A solution challenged astronomers and mathematicians until 1582. Pope Gregory XIII endorsed their recommendations to modify the calendar and the new Gregorian Calendar changed leap-year rules to synchronize with the solar year -- to an accuracy of about 1 day in 2500 years!

To adjust for the discrepancy that had accumulated since 45 BC, the year 1582 was shortened by 10 days. The days between October 4th and 15th were abolished. So that the last day of the Julian calendar, October 4, 1582, was followed by the first day of the Gregorian calendar, October 15! Roman Catholics and Protestants use the Gregorian calendar, while Greek Orthodox Christians base their liturgical dates on a much older calendar.
How come?

The 16th Century was the era of the Protestant Reformation, and papal decrees carried little weight with non-Catholic Christians, so Gregory’s calendar reform was not soon adopted in Protestant countries. By the time Britain adopted it in 1752, an eleventh day had to be dropped. Russia didn’t adopt it until the 20th C. That’s why the October Revolution of 1917 actually occurred in November!

The Greek Orthodox Church has never endorsed the Gregorian Reform of the Calendar, so Orthodox Easter (and Christmas) falls some days later than the same celebrations in the Latin Church.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Seeing ancient structures as they were

"The aqueducts had to drop the width of a finger every 100 yards -- any more and the flow would rupture the walls; any less and the water would lie stagnant ...

Their greatest glories, such as the triple-tiered bridge in southern Gaul, the highest in the world, that carried the aqueduct of Nemausus, were frequently far from human view. Sometimes it was only the eagles, soaring in the hot air above some lonely mountainscape, who could appreciate the true majesty of what men had wrought. " Pompeii, by Robert Harris

As isolated as it was then, these days the Pont du Gard attracts well over a million visitors a year! I am often struck by how hard it is for us to imagine the original context of historic sites while one's senses are being assaulted by the jostle of fellow tourists, the babel of languages, the din and smell of tour buses.
Parenthertically: This speaks to one of the benefits of audio guides: Headphones help blockout distracting sound, and an engaging narrator can bring the original context into the present, and convey the true meaning of the site.
According to Wikipedia, the Pont du Gard was designed to carry water across the small Gardon river valley. It was part of a nearly 50 km (31 mi) aqueduct that brought water from springs near Uzès to the Roman city of Nemausus (Nîmes). The full aqueduct had a gradient of 34 cm/km (1/3000), descending only 17 m vertically in its entire length and delivering 20,000 cubic meters (44 million gallons) of water daily.

How hard it is for us to apprehend the magnitude of the accomplishments of Roman engineers! The aqueduct was constructed entirely without the use of mortar, probably during the 1st Century. The stones – some of which weigh up to 6 tons – are held together with iron clamps.
And still it stands! In 1998 the Pont du Gard was hit by a major flood which caused widespread damage in the area. The road leading up to the bridge and neighboring structures were badly damaged, but the aqueduct itself was not seriously harmed.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

But Is It Art?

I've just finished reading an engaging little book by Cynthia Freeland, called But Is It Art?.

The day before I started to read it someone was telling me about how he sees art in everything, so it seemed a nice coincidence that, only two pages into her book, Freeland writes that many people "would not distinguish art from artefact or ritual. Medieval European Christians did not make art as such, but tried to emulate and celebrate God's beauty. In classical Japanese aesthetics, art might include things unexpected to modern Westerners, like a garden, sword, calligraphy scroll, or tea ceremony.”

This resonated for me because I consider virtually anything made by human hands to be art ... not always necessarily good art, but art nonetheless! I also see art and architecture in nature. It's all there: form, color, line, pattern, compositional balance ...

I take particular pleasure in architectural detail. But I've observed that relatively few people seem to notice it. In Italy there are exquisite floors everywhere you look, painstakingly laid centuries ago by amazingly skilled craftsmen; but most people don't seem to notice what's under foot.

I feel fortunate to have "seeing eyes", and part of my purpose in creating Jane's Smart Art audio guides is to help others see in art and architecture what I see, and then to explore the historical context that provides meaning. I love the exploration process!

If you’ve ever wanted to learn a bit about art theory, but have been put off by arcane and pompous grandstanding, then I recommend Freeland’s lively little book, But Is It Art?: An Introduction to Art Theory. It’s very readable and – although not an in-depth review of aesthetic theory – enlightening: “eye-opening” in the sense of enlarging one’s ability to thoughtfully see “art” where previously one might have reacted with disinterest, perplexity, amusement or disapproval. Freeland is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Houston, and an active member of the American Society for Aesthetics, so she knows whereof she speaks!