Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Why I Still Don't Like Peter Max

I remember a sign that hung in the lobby of an advertising agency where I worked. A quote of Ray Kroc, the man who made McDonalds the world’s most successful eatery, it said that ideas are a dime a dozen, but taking an idea and making it a reality requires tremendous work and a lot of  luck. Most people don’t have the vision, patience and courage to make it happen.

That quote comes to mind often when I ponder the vicissitudes of making a living in the art world. McDonald’s formula for success could be stated in one sentence – “Give the public a burger that is tasty, inexpensive, and convenient.” Those happen to be three conditions that are objectively qualitative. Stray from the formula for too long and you risk going out of business.

The creation of a piece of art, however, comes about through a process of subjective inspiration that by its nature eludes objective criticism. For every person who loves a work of art, there will be one who loathes it. As contemporary art progressed further and further from the kind of realism everyone agreed upon, it became difficult to even know if an art work was good or bad.

Under those circumstances, it would become possible for someone with scant creative talent, but plenty of vision, patience, and courage, to become quite successful. And, as we have seen, savvy business artists have been able to trick even “experts” as to the genius of their art.

The viewing public, for the most part, do not trust their instincts when viewing modern art and fall back on the opinions of others. Should a second-rate artist become anointed a golden boy by critics and the press, then his name and genius become synonymous in the eyes of the public.

At some point, the art becomes secondary to the artist. We stop looking at the work and instead focus on the artist’s persona, their personality and lifestyle, who they hang out with. This has happened throughout the history of art to bona-fide geniuses as well as poseurs.

Art lovers ought to become familiar with all the various kinds of art. The payoff will eventually be an open mind and faith in their own opinions. And Ray Kroc’s formula for success needs to be amended for artists. Integrity and social consciousness should be added to the list.

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