Dialogue with an Art Historian: Part Four — On Patrons, the Church and Artists in the Renaissance Era

On my many trips to Italy, I have often taken guided tours of museums, churches, and medieval buildings. In those tours, I learned to recognize faces — of wealthy Renaissance and Medieval families, art patrons and sponsors, and Church officials, and the artists themselves — painted into religious scenes. While I understand the need for models, I also understand the ego aggrandizement and status importance for the art patrons and commissioners of being a part of these scenes. Was this a common and accepted practice mostly in the Italian Schools of religious painting? Was it not considered idolatrous and blasphemous? And how did the Lutheran Reformation movement react to this practice?

It would seem to be more than a mere novelty or joke; and rather a conscious and accepted practice. I am surprised that the Church allowed it. It is a way of affirming that those patrons were “closer to God” than many of lower social, political, and financial stature.

But then again, its allowance says much about the importance of recognition by the Church (as documented by inclusion in important paintings). They did not have social media, biographies, or photographs to establish their status beyond their communities.

Equally important are questions of profiteering and status for artists who took part in this trend. I remember seeing some religious paintings where scenes staged in Jerusalem were envisioned/transported to Italy. Of course, ancient Romans saw Israel as an important part of the Empire, and Renaissance art explored Greco-Roman art and traditions in the religious artistic expositions.

When I think about the speculations of collectors vying to commission and purchase works by the most esteemed artists of the day and the eagerness of those elite artists to be included in the collections of the wealthy and influential — along with their colleagues and competitors — it strikes me that the Italian Renaissance was perhaps the beginning of the same speculation, “Art is an Elite Business”, “there is only room for the elite few” etc. that we experience today. And that includes collectors storing away works by artists they hope will become even more famous, or already famous iconic works until the day those works can make a surprise appearance at an art auction and capitalize on their initial investment manyfold. Perhaps it was not art in the churches that was the big problem, as much as the popularity of using art in private homes as a sign of status, and a speculative form of alternative currency … much like bitcoins today?

NB. «According to the convention, Italian painters during the Renaissance tended to avoid producing formal self-portraits but frequently inserted images of themselves in their painting. The artist Masaccio appears as an apostle in his Brancacci Chapel frescoes (c.1426), while Piero della Francesca inserted himself as a soldier in the religious mural Resurrection (1463). Sandro Botticelli used an image of himself in his Adoration of the Magi (1481), while Michelangelo Buonarroti used his own face when painting St. Bartholomew in the Last Judgement fresco in the Sistine Chapel (1536-1541), and Raphael included himself among the characters of School of Athens (1510). The Venetian artist Titian is believed to have included himself as well as his son and a young cousin in his Allegory of Prudence (1565-70). Occasionally, a painter would depict a true-life group portrait in which he had a legitimate presence. For example, in the picture of The Gonzaga Court (1474) by Andrea Mantegna, the artist appears as himself. In addition, some artists – like the Florentine Gentile Bellini and Leonardo da Vinci – did execute more formal self-portraits.»

Above quote excerpted from: 

Ricardo:

The Visual Artist in Western Society

As for visual artists and their status: I believe that, contrary to some historians, they were never “anonymous” — we just don’t have historical records, so their names are unknown to us. But artists as creative beings (and I’m including of course architects) necessarily had a reputation once their works were seen in their own time. And, in one way or another, they always “advertised” their existence and skill(s): an interesting essay by Meyer Shapiro that analyses the role of the artist in tenth and eleventh-century France suggests that the better ones were well recognized and in demand and their roles as visual interpreters of Church tradition and dogma were part of their skill, even if they weren’t themselves members of religious orders. (See M. Shapiro, “On the Aesthetic Attitude in Romanesque Art”, reprinted (pp. 1-27) in Romanesque Art (George Braziller, NY, 1977).) And early in the Italian Renaissance, we find Giotto signing a painting of St. Francis from about 1300 (now in the Louvre).

So, the apparent uniqueness of the modern obsession with “fame” is perhaps overstated.  

As courts developed in the major cities in Europe during the Middle Ages and bourgeois classes grew thanks to increased commerce, trade, and worldwide exploration, the demand for and ability to pay for sophisticated, often opulent works of art likewise increased. Naturally, artists sought commissions from the newly-wealthy and powerful, since artists were trying to make a living. Partly impelled by a desire to earn more money they sought more prestige, as well. Some were able to align themselves with Humanist scholars whose writings became as valued as the Church’s theologians. All classes became interested in Europe’s debt to their Roman and Greek ancestors. Scholars kept finding and reproducing texts from ancient times that had been long thought lost and ancient artworks kept being dug up (the most famous find, in Rome in 1506: the Laocoon, a sculpture that is a Roman copy, mentioned in an ancient text by Pliny the Elder, of a Greek original and, as the text indicated, signed!)

Scholars fleeing the Ottomans in the Near East in the later fifteenth century brought their knowledge of Greek with them, as well as ancient texts.

This interest in the Roman and Greek past naturally was picked up by visual artists and, so, beginning especially in the early 1400s, aspects of Roman architecture began to be found in the frescoes and panel paintings and in the designs of new buildings themselves.  Rulers as disparate as the Gonzaga in Mantua and Rudolph II (HRE, 1576-1612) delighted in being identified in their artists’ works for it associated them with the glories of Rome in one way or another.  

Of course, the conceit that Rome and its heritage was somehow “lost” and then refound during the early Renaissance is a bit of a legend without much basis. Monasteries and other centers of culture in the Middle Ages preserved some of the Roman heritage and there’s certainly evidence throughout that writers and artists still reflected on that history.  To cite just one example, in the Morgan Library the Stavelot Triptych, created around 1155 AD, on its side panels contains miniature silver columns with Corinthian capitals and bases evoking Rome and the Constantinian era, consistent with the period of the legends depicted in enamel roundels on the panels.

The clients’ idea of having themselves pictured via portraits in painted works — both secular and religious — seemed to develop slowly in the early 15th century, but then caught on. So we find in Domenico Ghirlandaio’s frescoes in SM Novella in Florence on the life of the Virgin (ca. 1490) various Florentine “notables” in the crowds attending the various episodes. The work was commissioned by a banker of the Medici’s, Giovanni Tornabuoni (contract signed 1485). In the ducal palace in Mantua we find a room frescoed by Mantegna in 1464-75 with the Gonzaga ruling clan prominently displayed on several of the four walls. The semi-private functions of the room, the Camera degli Sposi, helped to create an air of exclusiveness that was meant to impress viewers with the wealth and cultural prestige of Gonzaga without an overt or gaudy display. 

It’s common in art history to teach that the first profile bust in marble since the end of the Roman Empire was done by Mino da Fiesole in 1453. Appropriately enough for our purposes and point of view, it was a portrait bust of the son of the patriarch of the Medici’s in the 15th century, Piero de’ Medici, who de facto ruled Florence 1464-69. The sculpture is now in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello. This would have presumably been for display in the patron’s home and not publicly. The great ‘boom’ in portrait art in Florence in the mid to late 15th century was featured in a recent Met Museum exhibition.

Even in Northern Renaissance art, we see contemporary donors or clerics being portrayed in historical or Biblical works. Thus, there are several masterpieces showing Chancellor Rolin of the Duchy of Burgundy, including one by Jan van Eyck (ca. 1435) where he is shown kneeling in front of the Virgin and child!  Hans Memling painted an altarpiece of the Crucifixion (ca. 1470) where the patron/donor, a cleric named Jan Crabbe, is seen kneeling at the base of the cross, while on the side panels (now at the Morgan Library & Museum in NYC) are his mother with her patron saint and his brother with his. There are countless other examples of donors being pictured within scenes that nominally are set in Biblical times but feature contemporary architecture and cityscapes.

Presumably, the Church in Rome had no problem with this. It was certainly a way to encourage the spending of large sums by patrons or wealthy clerics in order to have colorful works of art created which could adorn their churches (sometimes inside chapels ‘owned’ or sponsored by the patrons). For the Strozzi family, rivals but sometimes allies of the Medicis, in their chapel in SM Novella, Filippino Lippi painted a fresco (1502) depicting a legend of a saint’s deeds and pictured in it a very elegant Moorish man, wearing an extremely tall turban, which seems to be a portrait of Filippo Strozzi’s Moorish slave.

And, as you pointed out, artists took the opportunity to represent themselves as well as their patrons in some of these scenes. So, it’s thought that the man on the right peering out at the viewer in Botticelli’s “Adoration of the Magi” (1475, Uffizi) is Botticelli himself!  Likewise, we probably see Pontormo among the men holding the dead Christ in his “Deposition” in Santa Felicita (1528) in Florence.

Presumably, this reflects that by the late 15th century the most well-known artists had gained a status well above that of a mere member of a workmen’s guild (painters and sculptors often were lumped with other trades in large guilds). When they did have their own guilds, artists often used it as a way to keep out competition from artists emigrating from other cities or regions.

Certainly, your thought that being seen via portraiture in a painting of a Biblical scene might somehow suggest to the patrons that they were that much closer to Heaven is a correct one. I always found it somewhat amusing that this same thought led many aristocrats and members of other privileged classes to attempt to be buried in floor tombs within the church and as close to the altar as possible!  

The Maggiore chapel in Santa Croce, Florence, has frescos by Taddeo Gaddi’s son, Agnolo Gaddi, painted in the mid-1300s.  Agnolo was considered the artistic heir of Giotto.  The fresco is notable for details and curiosities that have nothing to do with the legend’s iconography.  In it, you can spot portraits of Taddeo, Agnolo, and Giotto.

I’m sure that artists were not oblivious to the concept that one way to gain business was to suggest to a wealthy patron that he/she commission works for a church in which the patron would also be pictured. But my sense is that the wealthy and powerful did not deal directly with artists and that agents or bureaucrats or scholars affiliated with the circle or court of the patron would have both recommended the artist and perhaps negotiated with him over the details of the work. Italy has a particularly rich archive of contracts for artistic works (the Northern Renaissance countries don’t) and in some of the contracts, there is a fairly precise description of what the picture should look like and what colors and materials were to be used (to impress one’s neighbors you’d have the painter use a blue made from lapis lazuli — extremely expensive — with gilding throughout; in the Middle Ages the gilded area often suggested Heaven).  

We should remember that painted images were not the highest form of ‘conspicuous consumption’ in the Middle Ages and Renaissance/Baroque: you showed you were especially wealthy by owning woven wool tapestries and sculptures (including table-sized ‘miniature’ bronzes by the likes of a sculptor dubbed “Antico”). Thus, the Medicis were sufficiently wealthy to commission Donatello to create his sculpture “David” that was probably intended for a garden. And the Medici pope Leo X commissioned Raphael to create “cartoons” for 10 tapestries (based on the book of Acts in the Christian Bible) that were sent to Brussels for weaving around 1516. All European rulers of stature until the 18th century owned often large numbers of very expensive tapestries.

Granted, these were the wealthiest and most powerful of secular and religious figures who had vast amounts of assets to draw from to pay their artists. By the seventeenth century, in more bourgeois societies such as those in the Dutch Republic cities, status seemed to depend more frequently on your ownership of paintings, including the new genres of landscapes and still lifes.  

Nonetheless, the Roman Church and its new orders such as the Jesuits continued to commission large projects, including the frescoing of ceilings and domes of newly-built churches, such as the dome of the Jesu Church in Rome. 

In terms of when the concept developed that “Art is an Elite Business”, it depends on your viewpoint.  As noted above, the artist was not necessarily the one creating the impression that his works would lend status to an owner. It partly required a knowledgeable patron with intelligent advisors to commission the type of work that would reflect grandly on the patron. Michelangelo gained his fame from the Pieta, the David, and the Sistine Chapel ceiling, all commissioned by “the Church”, though the ceiling reflected on the apparent good taste and sagacity of Pope Julius II, who also commissioned his own tomb from Michelangelo that Michelangelo was working on fitfully for decades after the Pope’s death. By the time the Pope commissioned the ceiling, Michelangelo was already “a rock star” and many of the era’s notables were nearly begging Michelangelo to make even a drawing for them.  

So, by this point in the sixteenth century, some artists had received the kind of acclaim we see today and could almost literally “name their price”.  What Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) spawned in his work on the lives of the painters and sculptors (1550; 1568) – a view of art as a kind of competition judged by people who did not have to be either artists or patrons – created a new profession: art critic, someone who was a kind of intermediary between the patron and the artist.  Was this the beginning of history’s tendency to “forget” certain artists who were not deemed of the highest rank, even though their works might well be worthy of attention and provide joy to those who beheld them?  (Vasari, of course, was himself an artist and architect, but that was not a requirement for art critics in succeeding centuries.)

But to answer your main query: Yes, clearly wealthy families or individuals hoped to gain both public prestige and a step up on the ladder to Heaven by commissioning frescoes and altarpieces that were, indeed, very visible in a church setting and, thus, would be viewed by other citizens who undoubtedly would marvel at the amounts spent by the patrons (often chapel-owners) to have had such magnificent works created. And some of the works of course involved sculptural settings and statuary/busts for their own tombs in a church if they were so fortunate as to be permitted such a permanent “residence”.  

The Roman (Catholic) Church clearly favored this approach and during the Counter-Reformation and Baroque periods, their churches became almost over-burdened with decoration. As you’ve noted, certain break-away sects among those that came to be called “Protestant” were more ascetic in their approach and, hence, we have the wonderful paintings of white-washed, brilliantly-lighted (via clear windows, not colorful stained glass) interiors of Dutch churches by numerous seventeenth-century Dutch painters. (See The Wake of Iconoclasm: Painting the Church in the Dutch Republic, by Angela Vanhaelen, University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press 2012. 222 pp, 56 illus. ISBN 978-0-271-05061-4).     

Certain Protestant sects, such as the Lutherans themselves, came to accept aspects of the decorative scheme and theology of the Roman Church and so permitted painted pictures, even of saints (the cult of saints had been roundly criticized in the initial phases of the Reformation).

But one senses that the patrons and artists were less likely to try to be “show-offs” publicly in the context of a Lutheran or Reformed church.

Again, this was a period when the opulence of art went back into private, but now bourgeois, residences (parallel to the palaces of the Medici, the Strozzi, Sforza, and other Italian wealthy families).

Collecting:  An Aside

As one of your points suggested, we shouldn’t overlook the idea that “consumers” of art drove the market, too. Commissioning or buying “fine art” was not always an aesthetic decision per se, but, rather, made in order to have something in one’s home that was deemed by others to be desirable.  Around the time of the Renaissance, the idea of forming collections of things as a goal in itself – pictures, tapestries, gems, items related to amateur scientific study, medallions, small bronzes, etc. – seemed to gain momentum. Vasari, an artist, and architect, was also an avid collector of other artists’ works, especially drawings. Reasonably well to do people who could not afford oil paintings much less tapestries, could perhaps afford drawings or prints. In any event, all these “objects” that were collected presumably meant to the collector that he had a certain prestige as a member of the cognoscenti by virtue of ownership of multiple numbers of fine visual works by more talented individuals who were acknowledged as such by the arbiters of taste at the particular moment in history when the collecting was carried out.

Given the secularization of society in general in the 18th through 20th centuries, religious art tended to be accorded less value than before and artists sought fame and fortune through portraiture and decorative floral and other still-life paintings and “genre” painting. (Mythological and historical paintings were still acquired most often by institutions.)  So the Church had less influence on the picture- and sculpture-making. Thus, artists threw their lot in with the nouveau riche and bourgeoisie.

One might have expected that extreme times would have brought changes in art – the subject matter, even the materials. After a wave of neo-classicism in 18th century Europe (France, especially), the French Revolution might have been expected to overturn all aesthetic “norms”. Instead, it seems to me that artists were wary about trying anything too new that might be deemed “aristocratic” and literally be a risk to their lives (at least in France). Even in French “satellite” countries, like parts of Italy, we see more “classicism”, such as Canova’s pure-white marble sculptures.  Elsewhere, like England and Germany, there develops a Romanticism that seems to be a “cry” back to the calm of pre-Revolutionary times rather than a direct response to the Revolution and its ideals and chaos. There were notable exceptions, of course, such as the work of the brilliant English poet, painter, printmaker, publisher William Blake.  


Adam:

Thanks, Ricardo. That was awesome!


This intriguing article is a good one for those interested in more information on this and related topics:

https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-italian-renaissance-wealthy-patrons-art-power

Do read this excellent piece on the history of Renaissance art:

https://www.history.com/topics/renaissance/renaissance-art

Here is more about the evolving status of Italian Renaissance artists:

The escapades of Isabella d’Este — a Renaissance art collector:

http://www.italianrenaissanceresources.com/units/unit-8/essays/isabella-deste-collects/ 

For those interested in more information about the Northern Renaissance, and about the Protestant / Lutheran Reformation and its effect upon Church and Religious Art, check out these excellent links:

http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/history-of-art/protestant.htm 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_in_the_Protestant_Reformation_and_Counter-Reformation

https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-arthistory/chapter/the-northern-renaissance/ 


“Masquerade: COVID-19”, oil on canvas, 46 x 55 cm., 2020, is self-explanatory at first glance. However, here I have left certain features slightly unfinished: the naked eyes, the disintegrating painted frame, etc.; this to suggest vulnerability and a sense of incompletion. COVID-19 presents the unanswerable questions of how effective we really are at masking fear of the unknown, and which “me” peers out from behind the superficial protective covering. This painting is a continuation of my self-portrait series, in which I explore different ways of seeing and presenting myself — with various styles and painting techniques.

 

Found in an old chest — cartoon from 1987, but still relevant today.

 

«Il tessuto dell’uomo», oil on canvas, 55 x 46 cm., This self-portrait by Adam Donaldson Powell explores Florentine textiles and the noblemen who adorned themselves with them. On a more conceptual scale, the painting alludes to «the fabric» of humanity itself.

NB. Photographs and paintings by Adam Donaldson Powell. All references and links are credited to the best of my ability. The artist who made the cartoon is unknown to me (unfortunately), but the magazine name is above the artwork.

 

Dialogue with an Art Historian: Part Three — The Continuation.

Dialogue with an Art Historian: Part Three — The Continuation. 

 

I have a further follow-up to your previous questions regarding comparing artists from different eras. 

I think there’s a basic problem in comparing artists, either in their own era or with respect to artists in other eras. Certainly, it’s interesting to try to detect “influences” (e.g., Japanese prints on some of Van Goghs later paintings). But ultimately, as you well know, what’s key in a work (to my mind) is the ‘sensibility’ (for lack of a better word) of the artist — to his materials and to himself (his soul, if you will). It’s that kind of ‘expression’ that subtly appeals to many of us, even if unconsciously.  That sensibility may involve her/his reactions to events of their time, their era — political, social, cultural, scientific, etc. But, even if a detailed analysis by a critic or art historian can seem to “tie” aspects of the artist’s work to public events or other artists past or present or things happening in the artist’s life, an exercise that seems peculiarly satisfying to other critics, art historians, and even the public, the final reckoning is the viewer’s/receptor’s “reaction” to the work. When you stand in front of the work, it’s just you and it. And each viewer brings her or his own ‘baggage’ — life experience, viewpoints, mood, preferences.  

That’s why, as I stated earlier in our exchange, I have a healthy suspicion of the whole idea of “judgment” in relation to art-viewing and discussion. Yes, I think one can speak intelligently and even non-judgmentally about one artist’s use of a medium vs. another’s. In an online discussion of “The Renaissance of Etching” (a Met exhibition and catalog last year), recently held in connection with the International Print Dealers Association ‘fair’ here in New York, it was interesting to hear several of the 3 member panel note that Durer’s few etchings reflected someone not comfortable with the medium but, rather, who must have preferred engraving (hence, he made only a few etchings). This is a probably historical fact, and interesting in itself, but should not necessarily ‘cloud’ our view of his etchings. What is our personal reaction to these etched images? Can we look at them and ‘appreciate’ them without drawing on our knowledge of how spectacular his engravings are? (Probably not….but we can still appreciate his effort at employing a new technique … and maybe enjoy the images themselves without any comparison with his other works … or with other artists’ etchings.)

As I stated earlier: it seems to me this idea of judging artists and eras began with Vasari here in the West and has not always been helpful in our attempt to understand what really happened in various eras of Western history in the visual arts. (If that’s what we want to understand.) We’ll always have a view skewed by what earlier critics and historians have determined was good or bad and by the ‘canon’ that they have implicitly created. This may leave we who are readers and observers without a real understanding of what earlier societies ‘valued’ in the visual arts and who they thought were good and not so good. A totally comprehensive overview of any era’s visual output is probably not practical, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop trying to get a ‘broader’ view of all that humanity has accomplished — to the extent we have the time away from our own work!  

Adam:

Artists and writers are a cross-section of society … with diverse political affiliations, social and moral values, and financial connections. While I affirm that all artists and writers have a right to their own views, I do wonder whether critics, art historians, museums etc. might have an obligation to present the artist in a context which gives insight into the connections between who they are are personalities and the art that they produce. But what are the boundaries of accountability — for art and literary historians, of critics and teachers, of publishers … and of artists? This includes the many instances of artists, writers and musicians who supported their sponsors in order to gain renommé, political and financial gain, and artistic opportunity. Is there a difference between that and museum benefactors who are known for politics and investments that are no longer politically correct? 

I have pointed out Gertrude Stein’s (and other famous authors’) fascist leanings previously. What do you think of the survival of her art collection purely due to her support of Petain? Is it excusable? How do we separate our valuations of famous writers and artists from their “madness” and opportunism as persons and personalities? Does genius supersede all judgment? 

I have personally reacted to known artists and writers who have expressed themselves to the media and in their art and literature in ways that I considered to be derogatory to women, to persons with physical handicaps, etc.; and I have also defended artists’ and writers’ right to self-expression, but only as far as I feel that s/he makes an attempt to present the case and give context to their xenophobia and/or other discriminatory perspectives … rather than merely make bombastic presentations in order to shock and provoke. This is a sensitive issue and has perhaps always been so. 

Ricardo:

All good questions. In the contemporary scene: what should we make of art museums and others being renamed because the benefactor was tied to Big Pharma ‘pushing’ of opioids, especially oxycontin? Or of the Princeton School of Public Affairs being renamed from the Woodrow Wilson School to a more innocuous generic name after Wilson’s terrible racism was (re)exposed? And what can we say about artists? Should we disavow Caravaggio’s works and importance because he was a murderer? (Many artists were at that time, including Cellini … self-admitting in his autobiography). I think the works have to stand on their own … including Wagner’s. But with sharp-eyed observers pointing out aspects (if any) that may deliberately expose their (now) abhorrent views.

Adam:

Yes, we are all responsible: in our creations, our judgments, our criticisms, our thoughts, our actions, and our non-actions. Existence is an exercise in creation. My most valued compliments regarding my art and literature have been when viewers/readers have told me that my work and ideas have sparked creative thoughts, artworks, and writing in their own lives. I mean for my own work to be an existential and philosophical “dialogue” with the Viewer/Reader … a dialogue that can continue in his/her mind, and thus further, in many forms and perspectives throughout the planet. In that way, we are all inescapably artists/writers/philosophers etc. And we are all responsible. In the words of Jean-Paul Sartre: “L’homme est condamné à être libre”, a concept which resounds in his “L’Etre et le Nèant” and in his “L’existentialisme est un humanisme”. In his novel “Nausea”, Sartre played upon René Descartes’ “Cogito, ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”) with his own discourse: “I am. I am, I exist, I think, therefore I am; I am because I think, why do I think? I don’t want to think anymore, I am because I think that I don’t want to be, I think that I . . . because . . . ugh!” ― Jean-Paul Sartre, “Nausea”. 

 

Dialogue with an Art Historian — Part Two.

Dialogue with an Art Historian — Part Two:

The Creative Space, Consciousness and Initiative 

Adam:

It occurs to me that the treasure chest / vault of art themes, representational images, style periods — along with political, geographic, economic, social status and, yes, art political history — all have created an overall “consciousness” from which all past and future Art ideas are created, “re-discovered and re-hashed”, either through copying of already copied ideas and images … or made with a smug emphasis upon finding one small quirky “style difference” that would promote one to the annals of art history fame. Perhaps it really is true that all images have been created previously, and that no ideas are truly original? But, as with the age-old discussion of whether or not paintings on canvas are now a “dead art form”, the moment one makes such an assertion a “new modern icon” is thrust forth by media, art galleries, art critics, and museums — all of whom are dependent upon finding a newly discovered icon to become the saviour of periodically declining art markets.

Ricardo:

I’m not sure whether all images have already been created/found, but in one form or another I think all ideas and theories ABOUT visual art and its history have already been propounded. There’s nothing new to say, but to make a living, critics and historians dress up in new, bizarre outfits ideas previously (sometimes way long ago) already published.

Adam:

So, where does that leave us? Is the problem our expectations, our restlessness and need to create more hoopla than necessary — rather than just enjoy Art in evolving forms, formats and styles? Is the problem obsession with money and fame? Are too many artists deluded into thinking that art is for most people more than “a business”?

Ricardo:

I think this all should leave us all (artists, “receptors”) in a very vital, refreshing position.  Isn’t it wonderful to be able to recognize and acknowledge that there is wonderful art being created by millions of people every day, not just by those judged by a small coterie of critics and art historians to be worthy of notice?  We’re able to say, “I really like that”, without immediately judging ourselves, not to mention the piece itself:  Am I being art-historically-critical enough in approaching this? Can it match the best of what I’ve previously seen? If it’s any good, why hasn’t it been noticed before?  The latter question can be asked of artists both known and unknown from the last 500 years, the first two can relate to contemporary works one may see.

It’s an incredibly freeing approach for one’s viewing self.  In my case, for example, I marvel at the creative instincts and talents of the children and young teenagers who participate each year in a project sponsored by the Morgan Library that encourages the production of self-illustrated books by youngsters. Their imaginations are amazing, and their skill at combining colors and forms in imaginative ways are eye-opening. 

Likewise, I’ve been startled by the number of impressive, beautiful, pleasing lesser-known works by well-known artists of the 19th and 20th centuries, together with works by many lesser known (or unknown to me) artists (many from Scandinavia) from that period, whose works have been discovered in digital form and “posted” online on Instagram by one of the Instagram subscribers whom I’m “following”.  

In other words, any sense of “guilt” or doubt in our own critical faculties can be lifted if we embrace the idea that we all (can) make “Art”.  Yes, beauty is “in the eye of the beholder”, and that’s a good thing.  What I enjoy, you may not.  We shouldn’t be counting “likes” for every created work that appears and thereby try to assign a value to it.  Nor should we follow the contortions of art critics or historians who are forced at this point to try to create new issues or “problems” in art (historical and contemporary) to write about.

Which isn’t to say that their input isn’t itself enjoyable and worthy of consideration.  But not to worry if we don’t get their arguments, or agree with them.  It’s the art that counts, no matter who makes it or who purveys it.  That realization may be one of the beneficent aspects of social media (though the reverse could also be something that social media ends up creating — i.e., an atmosphere of hyper-criticism, as in our politics……which doesn’t lead us to avoid social media, just to take certain content “with a grain of salt”).

Adam:

Interesting perspectives, Ricardo. Your praise of Instagram for promoting visual art has intrigued me, as it is something I have thought about.

Many are suspicious when I admit that I gave up on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram many years ago, for reasons varying from being weary of censorship, haters and trolls, to many of the arguments listed in various articles on the Internet. I have enough to administrate with my five blogs and websites, and my email networks. But I am also intrigued by the structured brevity mandated by Twitter and Instagram, and the experiential effects and consequences of cooking so much information down to a word count or a single image. How does that lead and limit our learning, thinking and perceptions? When is an image just another flash in a semi-conscious and babbling stream of visual over-consumption or garbage? And when does Instagram satiety interfere with our own desire to be creative in our art and lives, without undue influence that threatens our own originality? I tend to avoid art museums and art galleries at certain stages of my creative processes, in order to escape possible influence. The constant deluge of images on the Internet and social media treasure trove can be both a blessing and a bane. 

With no curator or gallery owner to control the volume of images presented, how important is self-limitation and self-protection on Instagram?

Ricardo:

I wouldn’t use any of these sites for anything too complicated or ‘deep’. Instagram for me is merely a kind of cyberspace ‘gallery’ with photos of works of art or buildings or monuments that I can skip over quickly if I’m not interested.  Likewise with Facebook.  I’m always amazed when people get excited over its political ‘content’ because my mind (and eyes) are used to ignoring anything but the messages and pictures from friends that I want to hear from.  One doesn’t have to be ‘sucked into’ all the other stuff going on.  So, for example, I shuffle through Instagram to find postings by the woman (who is herself an artist, apparently) who has been finding and posting on Instagram all these paintings that I love to see.  Or maybe the Morgan’s postings, or the Frick’s or the Medici Archives Project’s.   Not so hard to do.

Adam:

It sounds as if you have good control over what you take in. And you have a viable and healthy plan for how you approach social media. The cyberspace — like Art History — is crowded with imagery, impressions and impulses. In your field — which involves looking at art in historical and systematic ways — having an orderly approach must be essential. For me — as an artist — I feel that I must keep one eye open at all times. This is because the impulses in my environment are often the seeds of future artworks.