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Amber Paulen

Art/Selling Out

20 May 2011


Since our trip to Florence I have been working my way through E. H. Gombrich’s The Story of Art. It has been months in the reading; I am advancing very slowly. The other night I reached the Reformation of the early 1500s when images were banned from the churches. Since the rise of Christianity until this schism, the highest buyers of paintings in Western Europe were the churches, Popes, etc. Though there were other rich people who commissioned work, still, most paintings were of a religious nature.

Then came the break. In the North it was outlawed to paint Mothers and Children, no more Annunciations, Crucifixions. Art lost its best buyer. Without this support, painting experienced a crisis: What to paint? For who? And all this got me thinking about the role the Church has played in the lives of the great artists of the past, for these artists worked for the Church, painting the paintings they required.

Much in art tends to idealism. I find that a healthy relationship away from the ideal is difficult. My ideals about art center somewhere around a purism that demands the artist more than believes the work he/she is involved in; that the artist live the work so the work is nearest to life as one can get, art being the best way to “capture” life. When these terms are denied art is not produced, instead it is entertainment.

All this got me thinking: Did Da Vinci believe in the Church? What about Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Giorgione? Or was the Church only a way to allow them to do what they loved and gain fame? Wouldn’t they have liked to paint some other kinds of pictures (as they invariably did)?

These men were intelligent and I assume, could see through the hypocrisy of that supreme-ruling-power. They read about Classical Rome and studied its architecture. Intelligence implies curiosity, the opposite of that lodestone of religion: faith. And if these artists did not really believe in what they painted, couldn’t I consider their art as selling out? Then my ideal gets flipped on its head. It’s best not to hold anything so tightly.



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