Author Archives: Levi R.

Posts by Levi R.

A Triptych Sells for $142 Million

Here’s a summary of the article (NYTimes):

“A 1969 triptych by Francis Bacon sold Tuesday night at Christie’s for $142.4 million, described as the highest price ever paid for an artwork at auction.

Seven bidders vied for the painting – “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” – that depicts Bacon’s friend and rival, Lucian Freud, sitting on a wooden chair against an orange background. It ended up selling for $142,405,000.”

Here’s a link to the NYC showroom where the artwork was sold, in case any of you have a few million to throw around:

If your reaction is like mine, you’re probably thinking that paying so much for this/an artwork is a) an almost-comical waste of money, and b) undermines the artwork by placing a focus on its “value” or “cost” and distracting from its message.

What I’m wondering is, what could be the justification for paying so much for this artwork (if you think that works of art should even be bought in the first place)?

Imagine yourself in the position of the buyer. What are you thinking?



Irrelevantly, the both the painter and the subject of the artwork share names with famous historical figures (Francis Bacon and Freud).

Also, Francis with an “i,” not an “e.” Thanks, Professor.

Comments by Levi R.

"In this piece, Sibley describes to his readers the foundations of “taste.” He asserts that aesthetic concepts (such as elegant and graceful) do not logically depend on non-aesthetic concepts (such as color and shape). This means that although recognizing non-aesthetic concepts is an integral part of making aesthetic judgments, there is another factor (“taste,” or “aesthetic sensitivity”) that is requisite for making intelligent aesthetic judgments. He claims that it is impossible to define absolute criteria for aesthetic concepts because there are far too many conditions and negative conditions in existence. For example, an artwork has enough attributes to qualify it as being “beautiful.” There can, however, be negative, non-aesthetic conditions that negate the ability of that artwork to qualify as “beautiful.” In fact, “[Sibley’s] claim about taste concepts is stronger; that they are not, except negatively, governed by conditions at all. We could not conclude even in certain circumstances, e.g. if we were told of the absence of all “voiding” or uncharacteristic features (no angularities and the like), that an object must certainly be graceful, however fully it was described to us as possessing features characteristic of gracefulness.” Since there is a myriad of aesthetic and non-aesthetic conditions, any attempt to create a set of rules that can properly aesthetically define a piece is futile. Without “taste” or “aesthetic sensitivity,” according to Sibley, one “who fail[s] to realize the nature of aesthetic concepts, or who, knowing he lack[s] sensitivity in aesthetic matters, [does] not want to reveal this lack [and so] by assiduous application and shrewd observation provide[s] himself with some rules and generalizations; and by inductive procedures and intelligent guessing, he… frequently says the right things.” He says that eventually, however, this method will fail to produce correct assessments because he does not understand the essence of aestheticism: “In ‘appraising’ pictures, statuettes, poems, he would be doing something quite different from what other people do when they exercise taste.” He uses this example to reinforce his claim that “Examples undoubtedly play a crucial role in giving us a grasp of these [aesthetic] concepts; but we do not and cannot derive from these examples conditions and principles, however complex, which will enable us, if we are consistent, to apply the terms even to some new cases.” Thus, when “applying words like ‘lazy or intelligent’ to new and unique instances we say that we are required to exercise judgment.” There is linear logic employed in making such judgments. “Nothing like this is possible with aesthetic terms.” When applying aesthetic terms, we exercise taste. It is with this and other examples, some summarized above, that Sibley tries to define taste, and also show the difference between “taste,” and other judgments “which demand ‘spontaneity’ and ‘individual judgment’ and are not ‘mechanical.’” This raises the question: if there are no concrete criteria for calling something beautiful, is there any objectivity to a statement asserting the aforementioned? This question was mentioned in the introduction to the essay, but not (at least obviously) answered. If Sibley addresses this question, I think that he does it in the second part. (If he answers it at all, and even if he does, I’m not sure whether I’ve understood it correctly,) He says that our perception of aesthetic concepts is taught to us by those who surround us in our childhood, and then is cultivated later on by critics (he expounds upon the way that this is done). So aesthetic concepts (like other words, it would seem) are an amalgamation of connotative definitions with consideration given to historical applications (and must be felt, as Sibley did point out), and this is how aesthetic taste can, if at all, be objective."
--( posted on Nov 20, 2013, commenting on the post Frank Sibley, “Aesthetic concepts” )
"I'm about to be kicked out of the library, so I'll leave you with a humorous and slightly relevant addition to the conversation: The Onion's Tips For Succeeding As A Woman In The Workplace:"
--( posted on Nov 18, 2013, commenting on the post Linda Nochlin, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” )
"Nochlin says that the question “Why have there been no great women artists?” itself is “simply the top tenth of an iceberg of misinterpretation and misconception.” The actual issues relate to the ideas of “genius,” which mislead people into believing that greatness is begotten by genius, and so the reason that there have been no great female artists is because there have been no female geniuses, suggesting that women are simply not intelligent enough for the task. She tackles this idea first by dismissing the romanticized accounts of artists such as van Gogh “spinning out sunflowers despite epileptic seizures and near-starvation” and “Toulouse-Lautrec, dwarfed, crippled, and alcoholic, sacrificing his aristocratic birthright in favor of the squalid surroundings that provided him with inspiration” as “obvious fairy tales” which no serious contemporary art historian takes seriously. She does, however, elucidate the role of these myths: they form “the unconscious or unquestioned assumptions of scholars.” This is important because it demonstrates what she describes as the misconception of the existence of genius, and its focus on the individual rather than the “social and institutional structures” of the time. This provides the groundwork for her argument, which is that it was the social and institutional structures of the time(s) that prevented women from becoming great artists, rather than the faults of women in general. She attacked the misconception by summarily examining the backgrounds of individual great artists and then of women as a whole in the past 500 years or so. She demonstrates that most of the “great” artists had 1) direct artistic influences (usually fathers) and 2) established institutions that enabled them to recognize their potentials. She uses the very pertinent example of women not being allowed to paint nude models, an integral part of the training of artists. This institutional exclusion, among many others, she argues, is why there have been no great women artists. Nochlin provides a practical viewpoint to adopt in order to erase the state of female subordination. Her advice to women is to "face up to the reality of their history and of their present situation, without making excuses or puffing mediocrity. Disadvantage may indeed be an excuse; it is not, however, an intellectual position." Nochlin explains what is necessary for women to do in order to be equals, and tries to provide a paradigm by which lower female stature in other arts can be examined. Her methods of doing this, of course, reach far beyond only women and only the arts. Her methods of examining how “problems” are defined (not covered in this post), institutional discrimination, and what can be done about it, are widely applicable. Though not new, her methods provide an analysis to a much-deserving topic and so set a precedent for other such works."
--( posted on Nov 18, 2013, commenting on the post Linda Nochlin, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” )
"Though she spends many paragraphs analyzing the understanding of foreign culture, Berenson’s rhetorical style in the last paragraph is a good summary of her argument: her very statements assume that individuals do understand the artwork of other individuals and cultures. She “plead[s] that we exorcise this particular ghost,” the ghost being “gratuitous mysteries” in the complex field of understanding the art of other culture. This ghost can be seen back in the beginning of her paper, when she questions the validity of even asking whether it is possible to understand the art of other cultures. She makes several others arguments including “that there exists an important confusion in the area of intercultural understanding because we constantly confuse the understanding of something with the quite different notion of approving of certain practices,” and characterizing ways of understanding (Embodiment, Particular Embodiment, and Emergence), amongst others. These are there to supplement her final argument, which is that even challenging whether it is possible to understand the art of other cultures is unavailing (a good example of this is at the bottom of page 44: from “Given that they are valid, so what?” onwards) and worthy of discarding because it makes understanding (which, according to her, exists) that much harder to potentiate."
--( posted on Nov 14, 2013, commenting on the post Frances Berenson, “Understanding Art and Understanding Persons” )
"Benjamin writes on page 234: "The greater the decrease in the social significance of an art form, the sharper the distinction between criticism and enjoyment by the public. The conventional is uncritically enjoyed, and the truly new is criticized with aversion." He goes on to describe how "individual reactions are predetermined by the mass audience response they are about to produce," how movies are a perfect example of this, and about paintings has to say that "Although paintings began to be publicly exhibited in galleries and salons, there was no way for the masses to organize and control themselves in their reception.” This analysis is interesting. First Benjamin claims that the less socially important an art is, the more distinct are criticism and enjoyment of it. Thus, the mainstream is enjoyed without mass criticism, whilst the avant-garde is heavily scrutinized. This is why “the same public which responds in a progressive manner toward a grotesque film is bound to respond in a reactionary manner to surrealism.” He then goes on to say that our individual reactions are predetermined by the mass response an art produces (which I don’t understand, since public reaction to art is rarely, if ever, homogenous). But are our sentiments towards art really dependent on whether we can form a mass response to it? Does the power of mass opinion so aptly affect us that we acquiesce to peer pressure in the absence of peers? I keep on thinking about these questions, and can’t come up with answers, mostly because I can’t think of any good examples that are analogous to the film vs. painting contrast Benjamin uses. Maybe somebody can help me and come up with some relevant and cogent examples, because I’m stuck."
--( posted on Oct 30, 2013, commenting on the post Walter Benjamin )
"Sparshott says that the "whole system [of music] is artificial." If I understand correctly, he is saying that choosing what frequency of sound is "A" is completely arbitrary, and since the whole system of notes is based on their separation in frequencies from each other, the whole system is arbitrary. Thus, music "is made from the materials the very nature of which is derived from the principles of the art." I find this fascinating, since, as Sparshott mentions, no other art operates like this. What I don't understand is why there is a saying that "all art aspires to the condition of music." I understand the attraction in an art which is based entirely on human arbitration, but why should painting or sculpting aspire to the same basis? Is there not something in a painting of a still life that equals that, or is on the same level of that of a symphony? Or for that matter, a theatrical performance? Or a work of literature? Or poetry?"
--( posted on Oct 9, 2013, commenting on the post 10/8 – Copland, Kramer, Sparshott )
"Copland discusses the "question of inspiration" in regards to composing. He answers that most the man who asks this "forgets that composing to a composer is like fulfilling a natural function... it is something that the composer happens to have been born to do... and, because of that, it loses the character of a special virtue in the composer's eyes." Since I am not a composer and cannot assess the validity of Copland's statement, I'll have to take it as fact. In this case, I was wondering what everyone else thought about this. When you are doing something that you were "born to do," does partaking in it not have a special significance? Copland wrote the composer asks not "Do I feel inspired?" but "Do I feel like composing?" Do you ask yourself the same types of questions when you draw, or compete athletically, or whatever it is that you do? These questions also beg the question, how different is the creative process of composers when contrasted with those of scientists, painters, and architects? If at all, that is."
--( posted on Oct 9, 2013, commenting on the post 10/8 – Copland, Kramer, Sparshott )
"I like what Kramer writes on page 24: "Because we always hear the music in transition between its ideal and its actual sound, everything we hear is full of a specific potentiality that the music makes actual as it goes along." This quote reminds me of Plato's Theory of Forms, in that it makes a distinction between the "ideal" and the "actual." The stand that Kramer makes is that the system of classical music is constructed so that there exists a "metaphorical space that the music and the listener can occupy together" in which the listener can absorb all of the benefits of classical music. It has been argued that free will is making the choice when your earthly self and your soul conflict - if so, if we extend this notion (the soul being ideal and the earthly self being actual), we could contest the Theory of Forms which states that the ideal is a higher reality. In fact, the humanness of our liminality, and humanity's and individuals' places between the two, the conflicts between earth and heaven, body and soul, ideal and actual, and the culminated synthesis of the two, is the only reality that should be. Bringing it back to classical music, this means that the difference between the ideal performance and the actual performance, the space of "specific potentiality," is the tool we use examine and change ourselves."
--( posted on Oct 9, 2013, commenting on the post 10/8 – Copland, Kramer, Sparshott )