Artistic imagery

The owner of an art gallery recently amused me when he said that one of the more dispiriting moments in his profession was when a customer walked in and declared he would like to buy a painting. On being asked what kind of painting he would like, he responded, ‘four foot by two and a half foot’. Another customer agreed to buy a painting and, just as he was about to pay, indicated that he intended to cut off an inch on each side so that it would fit the alcove he had in mind for it (after which the sale was refused).

I was reminded of this just a little today when I was standing in line in a camera shop. The lady in front of me was buying a digital camera, and she was anxious to be reassured that the model she was buying ‘took photos of 12 million pixels’. It soon became clear to the shop assistant that he was on to a good thing here. The customer had no idea what 12 million pixels were, and had merely been told by someone (who was not as helpful as they may have thought) that this was the state of the art and that she needed it. This suited the assistant very well, and he was in the middle of trying to sell her a top-of-the-range camera when I could bear it no longer and intervened to ask her what she wanted it for. Well, she wanted it for taking photos of her dogs, which she would print out and put in an album. She has absolutely no need to 12 million pixels, nor did she need to spend the small fortune that was being suggested to her. The sales assistant and I did not become good friends.

Photography is also an art form. Like all other art, there is good stuff and bad stuff. But if you are going to do a primitive drawing of a tree and a house, you don’t need Picasso’s studio and collection of oil paints; and if you are taking snapshots of your dog, you don’t need too many millions of pixels. But why should we believe that art is a minority pursuit? As she left, I suggested to the lady that she might look at some photography books and see if she might find it interesting to vary her output and try something more unusual; or even to take photos of her dogs with more planning and artistic potential. Even with just 6 million pixels (which is what she took).

The ultimate lesson is that the man with his knife at the ready to cut the inch off the painting, and the woman in her quest to find many millions of pixels, could easily be persuaded to look again at what art really is and what its potential is. Better in the end than laughing at them. Though it’s tempting.

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2 Comments on “Artistic imagery”

  1. Omar Modesto Says:

    It’s a bit sad that people don’t know better than to look for cameras with as many pixels as humanly technically possible, and nothing else. I don’t think I’ll ever need to take images with 12 million of those (unless I’m wanting molecular-level detail).
    As for the painting thing … I don’t know what to say. I can see how that can be dispiriting. Probably the most unexpected answers an art gallery owner can get.

  2. Jilly Says:

    I’ll admit to having had a little smirk at the expense of the customer who wanted to cut down the painting to fit an alcove. But at the same time, that customer has history on his/her side.

    In the days when most art was produced on commission for wealthy patrons, it was frequently commissioned ‘by the yard’, and that was the accepted relationship between artist and patron. And if you think of medieval cathedrals, the murals, stone-carving, wood-carving and stained-glass windows were all produced ‘to fit’. And more importantly, the men (it was usually men, after all) who produced them didn’t experience professional anguish over doing this. They saw themselves as craftsmen, bringing their phenomenal technical skills to bear on the challenge of making art-work which met the required specifications: not as ‘artists’ whose work was the unique expression of their own specific genius and imagination. That idea of unique creativity is actually a very modern concept of both art and artists.

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