FAMOUS ART

 

Thomas Russell Wingate   

July 2012

 

 

                   1

 

The damaged Winged Victory of Samothrace (c. 190 B.C.) is familiar to us all.

 

You can see the marble statue in the Musée du Louvre at the top of a wide staircase. When you are in Paris, you will not choose to miss it.

 

The most memorable view of Winged Victory is in Funny Face (1957): Audrey Hepburn, dressed magnificently in red, spreads her arms in imitation of what the sculptor must have had in mind.

 

We can be sure that la belle moderne was paid far more than the unknown sculptor’s unknown model.

 

                   2

 

Replicas, derivatives, and parodies of Winged Victory are plentiful.

 

In downtown Salt Lake City you can touch a wingless metallic variant on a pedestal outside a sports arena.

 

It has no title and needs none.  

 

                   3

 

Let us now consider The Wedding Feast at Cana (1563) by Veronese. It is the largest work the Louvre displays: ten meters wide, nearly seven meters high. If I may borrow a phrase from Cecil B. DeMille, it has a cast of hundreds.

 

It takes a while for the viewer to locate the bride. Does that match any wedding party you have ever attended or heard of?

 

Christ and His Mother are identified by halos. They are in the center of the painting but not the center of the scene.

 

Wikipedia tells us which of his contemporaries Veronese painted onto his canvas—which is, to repeat, the size of the side of a barn.

 

We see wine being poured from containers of practical size. Perhaps the miracle has not yet been worked.

 

Costumes and architecture glare: urban Italy, fifteenth century. What about Galilee in the reign of Tiberius? Well, what about it?

 

                   4

 

We have now been beamed aboard the many-splendored star-ship Hollywood.

 

Technique has advanced mightily since Veronese dipped his brushes.

 

Scenes conceal what is behind them. What is behind them often wishes to be concealed.

 

As Ronald Reagan put it: “The studio didn’t want it good. They wanted it Thursday.”

 

                   5

 

An artist has many objectives, not all of which he can reach in any dependable way.

 

For one thing, he would like his work to endure. Other people get to decide that: he doesn’t.

 

For another, he would like it to be understood—at least by some of the right people.

 

And it really would be nice if he could buy groceries while he is en pleine ardeur.

 

A painting or a novel or a musical composition¹ can take years to finish itself.

 

                   6

 

Rembrandt did hundreds of paintings. Your creditors wish you owned one. Rembrandt made fortunes. Rembrandt spent like many an actor (or politician) in California. Rembrandt was always at the end of his rope.

 

What the client wanted (or thought he wanted), the client got. Historians flinch at what Rembrandt painted, although everyone agrees he did it supremely well.

 

Vermeer, a merchant of paintings, did few of his own and died bankrupt. Girl With a Pearl Earring, which now has pride of place on the municipal website for Delft, was sold to settle a grocer’s bill.

 

Every creative person needs more sympathy than he is getting and more money than he has at hand or in prospect.

 

He carries on anyhow. I do mean: anyhow.

 

                   7

 

Disney’s Fantasia (1940) took fifty years to turn a profit. If Disney’s financial backers had had any way to know that, the film would not have been made. If Disney had known it, he would have kept it secret and gone ahead with production. The artistic would have been given precedence over the financial. I can see both sides of this issue. The money could have been spent on other things, and who would miss Fantasia if it had never existed? On the other hand, what is civilization for if not to bear fruit that doesn’t grow in a citrus grove? Whatever may be the cost of human ennoblement, the cost of human stagnation is greater and more disgraceful. Bless Disney and his gumption.

 

8

 

Hollywood loves the Trojan War, but not enough to depict it as it was.

 

In Helen of Troy (2003) we encounter a Marxist explanation presented as common sense. The Trojans are depriving the Greeks of access to “the spices of Byzantium.”

 

Agamemnon and Odysseus² took Troy in 1184 B.C. Byzantium was founded in 657 B.C.—half a millennium later.

 

A scriptwriter made that mistake. An editor failed to catch it. Both collected paychecks. Both should be dragged like Hector—or sent to Cuba to harvest cane. In Marxist idiom, they are exploiters of the audience.

 

                   9

 

The writer must be very particular about his facts. (If he sets his story on another planet he can fabulate as he goes, but his tale must be coherent.)

 

Probably the hardest thing to grasp, and to keep grasping, is that what is past was once future—that is, unknown, unknowable. The temptation—historians call it presentism—is to “make it come out right” because what happened was all that could have happened. People in Priam’s time think like we do because, well, there couldn’t be any other way to think, right?

 

When you are wishing ever-so-strongly to think well of yourself—to have the right beliefs, the right attitudes, the right predictions—you have already betrayed your independence, your acuity, your canniness, and most hope for redemptive wisdom.

 

                   10

 

Mumbo-jumbo does not limit itself to places and times far away from your daily existence.

 

A writer must remove himself from his time, his place, his nearest and dearest people.³

 

What good are F/X if you don’t have a long-range reality for comparison?

 

No reality, no identity.

 

Trust no frenzy. Especially not the one on your doorstep.

 

Trust classics instead. How do you think they came to be classics?

 

 

 

          NOTES

 

 

1 See Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995).

2 Homer does not mention the Wooden Horse. The tale

   is told by Virgil.

3 See Attention Span 6 on website.

 


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