Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Artistic Value, for Better or Worse

I've almost finished reading Perceval Everett's novel Erasure. I like it a lot and maybe I'll write more about it later, but I thought I'd just place here a passage from it I found funny and also quite insightful about the relationship between artistic value and commercial success or the lack of what's considered commercial success. It's a brief imagined conversation between the painter Mark Rothko and the filmmaker Alain Resnais. In Erasure itself, the exchange has nothing to do with the plot, and as a matter of fact, neither Rothko nor Resnais figure anywhere else in the book. Still, it does connect thematically to what's around it in the novel.

It goes like this:

Rothko: I'm sick of painting these damn rectangles.

Resnais: Don't you see that you're tracing the painting's physical limits? Your kind of seeming impoverishment becomes a sort of adventure in the art of elimination. The background and the foreground are your details and they render each other neutral. The one negates the other and so oddly we are left with only details, which in fact are not there.

Rothko: But what's the bottom line?

Resnais: The idiots are buying it.

Rothko: That is it, isn't it?

Resnais: I'm afraid so. They won't watch my films and believe me, my art is no better for the neglect.

Rothko: And no worse, Alain.

And as I read this passage, chuckling, I thought, "Yes, on every level, true."

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