19 June 2006

Repeating the Done and Over

i think it's a bit untoward of me to post again after only a couple of days but felt a strong need to share this with you. in the current issue of _the economist_ is an article called “painting by numbers” (page 64 in June 10th if anyone else is into that rag).

it notes the recent sales of chinese art at sotheby’s and christie’s (one auction brought $27M for 150 works, or an average of $180K apiece); wang guangyi’s “pop art revolution paintings featuring Western consumer brands” are selling for $500K apiece; zhang xiaogang sold a work for $1M. ergo, chinese art is improving as it becomes more open to western influence, etc. (is warhol spinning in his grave, or only chuckling?)

but that’s hong kong. on the mainland, where exposure to art is limited, there is a place called the “oil painting village” in dafen. there are 700 galleries there. what is sold there are mostly fakes, “hand-copied with startling accuracy,” that sell for a coupla bucks.

“painter workers” produce these works in an assembly-line fashion. each painter works on several canvases at a time, filling in the same patch on the canvas, then hand it off to the next painterworker. a p.w. produces about 200 paintings a month, and earns about $188/month, which ain’t hay in that part of the world. 5000 p.w.’s crank out the replicas, and there are also 3000 skilled artists are known as “painters.”

gallery owners take orders from mostly international customers---a popular order of the moment is to paint the last supper to include mary magdalene, a la _da vinci code_ (!). the customers are nouveau rich russians and middle easterners, as well as folk with florida condos (i can hardly bear to think of this last). the rising chinese middle class is buying too, as home ownership and interest in decor has risen.

a movement toward original art is starting, but these paintings are bringing only about $200 apiece.

sorry to trouble you with this belabored tale, but what struck me as i read this dismaying article is that we in this country HAVE the freedom to stop repeating the old and done---and for the most part, we don’t use it. these are people who DON’T have that freedom.

i like blonde’s suggestion (tho perhaps i only inferred it) that movements may be cyclical rather than linear (i can’t deal with the whole linear premise myself), and i like lance saying “getting over it” to curt’s “get over it.” i hear lance saying “writing is writing,” and in a way i’m agreeing when i say we have to follow our impulses (even, i add, as we analyze their sources). i see art as being very much tied to the sorts of economic machinery described in _the economist_ (and other kinds of machinery too---other fora for oppression such as sex, race, etc.), so i would not say “writing is writing” so much as i would say “writing is what we make it as per our individual capacities to evade said machineries.”