ARTdart: There are as many ways to think about art as there are to create it. Join Pamela Beck in her column, ARTdart, as she explores and considers the different perspectives that define the art world.
I often think about how the origin and destinations of a work of art affect the viewer’s perception of its worth. Recently I was given an abstract painting as a gift. It was purchased at a flea market for one hundred dollars, where it was found leaning against a junky chair on the sidewalk. I don’t know who the artist is, the signature is illegible—but it’s a strong painting. It probably had a much finer life before it wound up on the streets of the city, a victim of one or more of life’s inevitable 4 D’s: Death, Divorce, Dinero or Disaster.
People who see this work hanging in my home have a strong reaction to it: “Masterful,” says one. “Strong,” says another. “New York School,” says a third. “Latin American,” say others.
“Where did you get it?” they ask and name a local gallery or two or wonder if I bought it in New York.
If I answer that I bought my flea market painting from a prestigious New York gallery, the painting might suddenly appear to be more important and the artist more talented. If I say that the artist’s work can be found in a respected museum’s permanent collection, then my painting might seem more serious and the artist more vetted.
When I reply that, judging from the other things for sale at this flea market, my painting was one step away from death by dumpster, I notice that people become confused. Perhaps they wonder if they should like something that others thought worthless. Perhaps the painting suddenly looks like the work of a dilettante. One way or another, all find it sad to imagine someone’s creative efforts treated so disrespectfully. Nobody thinks that the painting deserved to be tossed on the street looking as forlorn and miserable as Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables.
And then there’s the issue of the well-made frame. It’s simple but expensive. Even if you don’t know about frames, you can tell by its skillful construction. There’s an assumption that a well-framed painting must be valuable. People don’t often put an expensive frame on a cheap painting. It influences people in their first impressions of the painting because the work is presented so well.
I’m not sure what fate awaits my painting. If I’m lucky, it’ll stay in my sunny Sarasota living room for years to come. After that, will my daughter want it? Will it stay with her throughout her life and be passed along to her children? Or will she sell it so that it moves along to live with a new owner?
Maybe somebody will be able to identify the artist one day. Maybe someone will kick a hole in the painting and that’ll be that. Or could be, as the saying goes, the more things change the more they stay the same. Maybe many years from now, the whole process will start all over again and the painting will wind up like it started with me: someone will be scrounging around a flea market and gleefully discover the painting on a dirty city street, leaning against something once known as a desktop computer.