March 17, 2011
Thursday night is opening night at the Chelsea galleries in New York. But, an art opening is not a good place to look at art because there are too many distractions. Nor is it is a good place to talk of art because you never know who might be listening.
In The Painter of Modern Life, Baudelaire writes about art very well. He has many things to say about beauty and other old-fashioned notions such as color, composition, and technique. Some of these things still exist in art today but have different names: Technique is now called process, and it no longer requires skill or study”though a master’s degree in semiotics might come in handy. Subject is referred to as concept or dialectic, and paintings, sculptures, photographs, etc. are now all indiscriminately known as a piece.
This is what Baudelaire heard a piece screaming at him from a salon’s walls in 1845:
I want, I want to be beautiful, and beautiful as I intend it, and I know that I shall not lack people to appeal to.
More recently but less immortally, Steve Martin also wrote about art, specifically the art world. He had some amusing things to say:
In dialogue was a new phrase that art writers could no longer live without. It meant that hanging two works next to or opposite each other produced a third thing, a dialogue, and that we were now all the better for it. I suppose the old phrase would have been “an art show,” but now we were listening. It also hilariously implied that when the room was empty of viewers, the two works were still chatting.
If you do not feel like dialoguing with the pieces, there are plenty of people around with whom you could talk, and most are very attractive and well-dressed. Some of the men might even approach Baudelaire’s definition of the dandy in his famous essay of that name:
Dandyism isn”t, as many thoughtless people seem to think, an immoderate taste for dress and material elegance. These things are for the perfect dandy but a symbol of the aristocratic superiority of their mind.
The galleries on Thursday nights are full of handsome, well-dressed men, some of whom might even have minds as superior as their shopping skills, and of beautiful women baroquely or minimally adorned. There is nothing frivolous in noting it; unlike much of what passes for modern art, it’s there for the naked eye to see.