Would you buy a painting of Papa Smurf?

February 13, 2011

Art isn’t always supposed to be pretty. That’s one of the first rules of art in the modern era. Nevertheless, if art is to survive it must be somewhat commercial. No matter how successful a photo or painting is in provoking the viewer in the gallery, how successful will the artist be if he/she can’t get a patron to buy that painting and take it home?

In other words, that photo of the artist’s scrotum looks great on Saturday night, after a couple of glasses of wine, but do you really want to take it home and hang it on your living room wall?


One answer to the question(s) is that as long as art is compelling, wealthy patrons will support the art scene and make sure the scrotum photographer is funded for years to come. Even if his work ends up propped up in the hallway closet of somebody’s Aspen ski lodge. But what about those of us who would like to see good art in the eyes (and hands) of regular people?

Well, there’s low brow art. That is, art inspired by pop culture themes and often depicted with illustrative style. In some circles, low brow is the best of both worlds — iconography that is accessible to great unwashed, in a setting that provokes the mainstream by subverting what is perceived to be ‘fine art’.

And such a genre would appear to be successful. “Crazy 4 Cult” exhibits at Gallery 1988 are regularly successful; the opening reception for their videogame-inspired show in Venice was uncomfortably well attended. Venture into Meltdown Comics on Sunset Boulevard to check out their take on the contemporary art gallery, and you’ll find work by gifted artists in a welcoming environment and at an affordable price.

But do you really want to buy a painting of Papa Smurf? As charming as that He-Man inspired piece is…do you really want to hang it on your living room wall?

Maybe an impulse buy is feasible. Maybe a painting of Kevin Smith and Wil Wheaton touches a nostalgic place in your heart enough to part with a week’s salary. Maybe this first step into the world of fine art is the beginning of a lifetime of art patronage.

Or maybe, this is just another way of saying that fine art is doomed to be replaced by pop culture fantasies that last only as long as a generation’s memory of their childhood. That there is no long-term hope for fine art as we know it.

Or maybe I should bite my tongue until I can find a painting of the trial of Christ featuring Ferris Bueller and Cameron Frye. With Mr. Rooney as Pontius Pilate.

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