Monday, August 23, 2010

Marcel Broodthaers's "Daguerre's Soup," 1974

Larry Thomas, best know for his role as the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld signs can of soup at the Ramada Plaza Hotel O'Hare. (Tribune photo by Peter Thompson / May 1, 2003)

What would happen if Vincent van Gogh had died an utter unknown, without any of his paintings ever having been seen or saved. A hundred years later "The Starry Night" turns up at a yard sale, a grimy orphan. Would it be recognized as a masterpiece? The answer is, regrettably, probably no. Even so, it isn't unreasonable to put so much stock in the reputations of artists, says Jonathan Gilmore, an art critic who teaches philosophy at Yale: "If we don't have enough time or attention to look at every painting, it's better to invest what time and attention we have in considering the work of recognized masters." To that practical reason he adds an aesthetic one: "Our interest in the work by a great artist reflects a relatively justified approach by which we deal with our uncertainty about what is a great work of art." Given that uncertainty, we might want to be more open-minded when we encounter art of dubious provenance, allowing ourselves to judge and appreciate works for their quality rather than their attribution. Who knows, maybe Uncle Earl was an artist with something to say. -ERIC FELTEN, The Wall Street Journal

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