July 2, 2008

Grotesque faces are highly favored by the very rich.

Click here to see the paintings that brought the highest prices.
A 1967 portrait ["Study for Head of George Dyer,"] by Francis Bacon fetched $27.4 million at Sotheby's here on Tuesday night...

... "Untitled (Pecho/Oreja)," a 1982-83 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat... acquired by members of the band U2 in 1989... sold for $10.1 million....
I'm not knocking these paintings, by the way, just noting that both depict grotesque faces and finding it interesting that people with lots of money enjoy ugliness. I'm always jealous of successful painters — and I painted many grotesque faces in my failed-artist days. Reading articles like this one, I have to fight back the delusion that those millions should be mine.


Pogo said...

Tom Wolfe mused that since sixties art critic Clement Greenburg had concluded that 'All profoundly original art looks ugly at first', then if we really hate something, it must be profoundly great.

Ugly, therefore, is beautiful.

Nice to see nothing's much changed in the manner in which artists meet the status needs of their wealthy patrons, as described in The Painted Word in 1975.

MadisonMan said...

If you were a famous artiste, you'd not be blogging. That would be a shame.

George said...

"Any form of ugliness can be redeemed by a faithful and efficacious artistic portrayal.

"Artistotle...talks of the possibility of creating beauty through a masterful imitation of that which is repulsive and in Plutarch....we read that, in artistic portrayals, imitated ugliness remains such but receives a kind of echo of beauty thanks to the mastery of the artist."

-On Ugliness, ed. Umberto Eco.

Paddy O. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paddy O. said...

Rich art patrons on seeing a portrait of Kramer:

MRS.ARM:He is struggled, he is man-struggled. He lifts my spirit!

MR. ARM:He is a loathsome, offensive brute, yet I can't look away.

MRS.ARM:He transcends time and space.

MR. ARM:He sickens me.

MRS.ARM:I love it.

MR. ARM:Me too.

~Seinfeld, The Letter

I wonder if painters are ever jealous of successful bloggers? Honestly, I'm glad you're not a painter of grotesque faces. I think your personality and insights are far more unique in your role as a successful blogger. I think you've discovered a great approach in your blogging that gathers together interesting people from all kinds of backgrounds on all kinds of topics and involves them in discussion. Alternating between deep and absurd. Biting and frivolous.

It might not make millions, but I think there's more art to it.

Meade said...

"...my failed-artist days..."

A bit over-dramatic, perhaps? Is it because your work does not fetch millions of dollars? Many of your readers would consider you to be a highly successful and enviable artist.

But here's a tip: Create images of Leona Helmsley and dogs. I predict that very soon very rich art patrons will be engaged in bidding wars for your renderings of very ugly and grotesque subjects and you will feel like a success at last.

Outis said...

George, thanks for the Eco quote.

paul a'barge said...


They're all portraits of Liberals.

Who knew.

halojones-fan said...

It's not so much the aesthetics of the piece itself, as it is the uniqueness. A portrait or study of an ugly person shows you something that you can't see anywhere else.

It's like what they say about families. Beautiful people all look alike, but ugly people are ugly in ways that are theirs alone.

bearbee said...

Too much money, too little imagination.

Here is powerful art, riveting, that moves the soul, that tells about a time, a period, a struggle: 1930-40's Chinese political woodcuts/ink - powerful stuff:

1947 Silence is the Best Defense
1946 Take Him In
1946 When the Requisition Oficers Leave
1936 The Trial
Li Hua
Zhao Yannia

D-Day said...

Grotesque = popular word, lately.

Paddy O. said...

It's not so much the aesthetics of the piece itself, as it is the uniqueness. A portrait or study of an ugly person shows you something that you can't see anywhere else... Beautiful people all look alike, but ugly people are ugly in ways that are theirs alone.

Even thought the river of blog has moved far past this post, I feel like responding to this, even if just for myself.

I totally disagree that there is this distinction between beauty and ugly. Beauty is unique, real beauty at least. What makes the distinction is the fact we don't process beauty as well as ugly. We don't know what to do with it. Especially if we are living besotted lives. The ugly and grotesque become artificial stimulation for our enfeebled souls.

But beauty is so much higher and better, only it takes a soul seeking wholeness to begin to perceive this higher reality. Which puts pressure on us, if we want to go beyond, 'oooh, that's pretty'. We don't have the vocabulary for joy and beauty as we do for ugly, either in words or emotions. So, those who don't want such pressure feel more real, more themselves, more stimulated by ugly.

This reality is precisely why, I think, the great collection of eastern orthodox monastic writings is called the Philokalia, which means "love of beauty". The pursuit of wholeness, and stillness, and spiritual maturity opens one's soul to a love for beauty in all its manifestation and begins to give a vocabulary of understanding and response.

Not to say there isn't a place for ugly and grotesque. Definitely a window and an insight in its own way, but certainly not any more deep than real beauty.

The problem with a lot of art that tries to show beauty is that its not real either, because the artists are schlocky rather than deep. Renaissance artists among others, however, understood the depths of beauty and made it a path to their own contemplation. Michelangelo, for instance.