Aesthete & Amateur 7, part 1: Mysterious versus Obvious Realism

Fictitious on-going series (continued from Issue#6) of gallery reviews by professional art critic, Eleanor Medier, and her less-than-professional (and proud of it) husband, Heavy Writer.

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The Aesthete & the Amateur, Issue #7, Part 1:
Mysterious versus Obvious Realism
 by Eleanor Medier

The only way to know if Heavy has learned anything about art is to challenge him. As his confidence grows he gets more arrogant. Let him not forget that he represents the man on the street! I firmly believe that viable art must communicate to a wide audience. There are many works I love conceptually that are sadly missed by most viewers. The great works elevate the viewer; they inspire or teach, and only confuse when that is the theme conveyed.

It is with mixed feelings that I teach Heavy about how to view art, how to talk about it, and the concerns by which it is judged. No where is a little knowledge more dangerous than in the arts! Yet, confounding him, testing him, and even arguing with him is fun—until he overextends himself. That is trouble. I hoped that by sinking his fishing boat, he would leave my painting collection alone. Yet, I know he won’t, so I need to devise a humbling experience that will show him how little he really does know.

Timing is everything, so I wait until he seems receptive right after dinner. “Heavy dear, it is so heart-warming how much you have embraced participation in my profession. Yes, being an art critic is fun. But, you need to know value too. After all, art is a business—it is not just self-expression or a hobby. So, since you are gaining knowledge, how would you like to make a bet?”

Heavy hates to back down from any challenge. Such an inclination makes him easy to manipulate, so let this be a warning to egos that love to be right. Although Heavy is unpredictable in most things, in this, he is 100% reliable. My question instantly gets his attention. “What kind of bet would you like to make? You better be careful, as I have connections.”

“Ok, then let’s see how good they are. I have here $40kL to split. Let us each purchase the most valuable painting that we can find. Then we will invite an objective appraiser to come over and see which can command the larger return. Although I do not feel that aesthetics and monetary value have much to do with one another, it is only realistic to admit that art is also a financial investment. So, let’s see how good you are on a commercial level.”

He pauses to consider and I see the dollar signs in his eyes. It is sad for me when people look at art first for how much it costs, but this is part of reality. Heavy reaches out and takes the money with a faraway gaze. I am sure he is already thinking about the strings he can pull. Off he goes, his swagger leaving confidence in the air.

It is time to choose the gallery review for the month, so it makes sense to echo our competition. I toured Angelwood Bay Gallery recently. As part of Heavy’s test, I choose two artists that I predict he will enjoy. Though both traditional, one uses technology in new ways, the other uses old technology in refined ways. Heavy keeps asking to view two-dimensional works, pulling me from my fascination with the 3D. When two-dimensional work is uploaded into a virtual world, I wish for it to gain something—a new display approach, a collection that is impossible to see in real life, or an enhancement to the work itself. It is tough to move past this prejudice, as I am committed to the integrity of media. Heavy doesn’t see this because for him, media doesn’t matter. So we land in the garden at Angelwood Bay.
• Part 2: Gem Preiz (“Aliens or Ancients”)
• Part 3: Liz Lemondrop (“Views to the Outside”)
Both show at the beautiful Angelwood Bay Galleries

(After the reviews, we invite Rosy Rozene to view the two paintings acquired for our competition.)

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Heavy has a lot to say in the gallery reviews—and I focus on the content of what he pontificates versus his style of delivery. Yet, as mature as I think I am, it is annoying to have my professionalism challenged. On the other hand, it is fun to observe his progressive understanding. I have been looking forward to displaying our competitive choices during this past week. Now it is judgement time.

To be totally fair, we invite a gallery dealer, Rosie Rozene, to appraise our discoveries. She is not allowed to comment on the aesthetic value, only on the monetary. The three of us assemble in our living room with two large flat wrapped packages. I know that my choice is a fantastic buy, not to mention, an image that I am sure Heavy will adore. And it follows our discussion about Liza Lemondrop’s work. I did say that aesthetics are not part of this competition, but I lied. Great art always wins, and I know what is great.

“Ok Heavy. Let’s reveal the two paintings to Rosie at once—counting, one, two, three!” And we each tear the brown paper from our packages— and I gasp: “Heavy—what IS that???!” My beautiful Edward Hopper image goes unnoticed in my shock, which is not a positive declaration.

“What do you mean dear? This is a very valuable painting by Leroy Nieman. And I am sure it is worth twice what I paid for it,” he declares defensively.

I detect that his feelings are about to be further offended, but I can’t help myself. “This painting is so commercial and shallow!! How can you bring home such a thing?? Have you learned nothing?” Yet as soon as the words are out of my mouth, I know that is not what he expected. Whenever attacking with criticism, do anticipate resistance. It is a better choice to smile and say  “that’s very nice dear. Many people like such easy to understand art.” Sadly, I don’t have that much self-control, and the reaction that I get is not pleasant.

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Poor Rosie (actually a secret friend of Heavy’s) cannot get a word in. He explodes “You said this competition is about money. No one sells better than Leroy Nieman!! Just because you don’t like his work, that doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable.”

He’s too reasonable; I am too horrified. He met the challenge, but unfortunately, we are now the unproud owners of a Leroy Nieman that represents what I most hate in the commercialism of art. My poor Hopper, arresting in its appeal, is ignored in the heat of the ensuing aesthetic debate.

Rosie slips silently from the room, with a smirk on her face. She knows that neither of us won the debate: the two paintings are worth what we paid for them. Each has a different audience, and the conclusion is that money and aesthetics don’t mix. Also, some people are better students than others.

We find peace in this argument when the Hopper is hung in our living room, and the Nieman brightens a corner of the garage.

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© 2014 by Eleanor Medier, Sim Street Journal. Articles cannot be reprinted without permission.