The Degradation of Art

Everyday as I walk down the hall to my office at work, I pass two images hanging on the wall. Those two images are passed by me and my co-workers hundreds of times a week as we scurry about getting our work done. A number of months ago I stopped and actually paid attention to these two images, and have since been bothered by their presence.

Both images are reproductions of famous paintings by the French artist Claude Monet: The Wheat Field and Poplars.

Monet (1840 – 1926) was the father of the impressionist style of painting. His work can now be found through out the world, hanging in the most prestigious venues and collections. With the fame and recognition that these two pieces have, why then am I bothered by them? After thinking about it for a long time I have answered my own question.

If Monet’s original work was hanging in the halls of my employer, I would not be so disenchanted. Not only would I probably spend long periods of my work day appreciating them, but I’m sure there would be many visitors stopping in to do the same.

As a photographer and a photography teacher at a local university, I often bring up the subject of the print, and the image. Although the two could be argued the same, in reality they are vastly different. When a photographer or any artist in his respective discipline is inspired by their current surroundings enough to try and capture that experience and emotion on film or canvas or paper, and actually is able to take a full and rich experience that may include all five senses and successfully translate it to their preferred medium, where generally only one sense will ever be used in appreciating it, art is made.

When Claude Monet finished painting the Wheat Field, I can only imagine he felt as most artists, professional or amateur probably feel; a small sense of satisfaction. As the painting and painter gets more and more exposure, the artist gets more respected and his work more appreciated. Not only do others appreciate his work more and more but the artist himself develops sort of a relationship with his own work.

The more exposure artists gets, the more famous they become. They attract a larger audience, and with it, subjective success. This is where the problem begins.

At this point the artist may be long gone, and his legacy lives on though his work. Renowned galleries display his work attracting collectors and enthusiast from all over. Commerce steps in and wants its piece of the pie and reproductions are made. Pretty soon, the identity of the art work is known around the world. Although a relatively few people have ever seen the original piece in person, everyone recognizes it. The artists’ work starts showing up in calendars, postcards, screen savers, even on neck-ties. This is what I submit to be the degradation of art.

Mona-Lisa’s identity was probably never meant to be made commercial. Her face recognized my millions. Screen-printed and faded on a wrinkled tee-shirt with mustards stains. It has been reduced from exquisite art, to a cheap icon of the past.

I myself have owned 13 month calendars depicting Ansel Adams’ most famous photographs. Printed with lower quality standards, the production value is degraded, the full impact of his work and influence in the photographic world is never even considered as the last month expires and the calendar discarded.

So as I walk down the hall at work and see these two pieces by Monet, cheap posters, faded and warped from the sun, damaged from being in and out of storage, adorned with plastic frames made to look like wood. I think the master who probably never intended his work to be presented in this manner would feel saddened and disappointed.

Brandon Allen

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