As I said yesterday, the deadline for the Baker's Dozen "It Must Be Color" feature is Tuesday night at 11:59 p.m. I've already received enough submissions to build the feature.
I'm having a bit of a conceptual mindlock about the concept, though. Many people are simply sending in pictures that are of strong colors. I'm not sure that's the same thing as a picture that needs to be in color in order to work.
Pictures that are purely of colors or a color are descendants of things like Eggleston's seminal "Red Ceiling," simplistic advertising and photo-magazine clichés, and the American hard edge / color field painter Ellsworth Kelly. Of course they "must be in color," though, because the color is the point and without the color they lose all trace of meaning or attractiveness. So I will include some photographs of that type in the set. But you're unlikely to do it better than people who have committed their creative lives to it, such as Pete Turner or Harald Mante.
But consider the difference between Ellsworth Kelly and Mark Rothko:
Mark Rothko, Untitled (yellow and blue), 1954
Very similar motifs, but to me, the Rothko painting is art and the Kelly print is just colors. (I've never cared for Kelly. I hope his fans will pardon me.)
I'm aware that color affects people differently, and although I'm sensitive to it, I have suspicions of it and misgivings about it. There's something knee-jerk about it, a potential toward some base animal instinctual trigger that I don't trust.
Consider what the English composer Benjamin Britten said of Beethoven, in an interview:
A certain rot, if that isn't too strong a word, set in with Beethoven. Before Beethoven, music served things greater than itself. For example, the glory of God, the greatest glory of all. Or the glory of the state. Or the composer's social environment. After Beethoven the composer became the center of his own universe. Hence the Romantic school.
I think you could say the same thing about Eggleston's "The Red Ceiling." A great deal of reverent verbiage has been piled up at the foot of that photograph, but really, the idea became debased, morphing into the cliché that if you want to be sure of appealing to viewers, "make it big and make it red."
And then consider (in light of the Rothko and the Kelly) this photograph by John Crowley of Clonmel, Ireland:
Human beings are intensely sensitive to hierarchies of status, and I'm well aware that all Rothkos and most Kellys are "better" or "worth more" than any photograph and you're not supposed to (perhaps not even allowed to) think otherwise. (Ve haff experts.) But I think it's instructive to try to set aside received hierarchies of status and received assumptions about value once in a while, just as a mental exercise; and in that sense I'd say John Crowley's photograph is better and worth more than either the Kelly or the Rothko, as outrageous and contrary as such a claim might be. (At least when all three are democratized to small JPEGs—Rothkos have real presence in person that almost no photograph can match. You can't make a one-of-a-kind photograph, even if you do.) It's just that there's a certain rot in modern art's addiction to color for its own sake. Yeah, yeah, blue and yellow are opposites, wow, and putting them next to each other strikes a certain emotional chord down in the lizard-brain, the amygdala down by the brain stem. We geddit. The Crowley has blue and yellow too, but does more with it, plays with it more, certainly than that simplistic thought-free Kelly print. It gives you a real sense of place and light, and isn't even less lovely.
I've no doubt that most people are going to love the next Baker's Dozen. The submission count is up to 205, approximately. That's going to make it a whole lot easier to edit than the black-and-white set was!
Although I don't think I've received one single "bad" photograph yet.
P.S. Here's a great photo of Ellsworth Kelly by Sebastian Kim. (Heh.)
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Featured Comments from:
scott kirkpatrick: "That's a powerful Ellsworth Kelly picture. It didn't need color."
Ellsworth Kelly, Yellow over Dark Blue, 1964–5 (original in color)
Tex Andrews: "I kinda felt the same way about Kelly (although I loved his drawings), until I saw a works on paper show of his at the National Gallery sometime back in the late '80s or early '90s. It was revelatory—and he was doing it in the '40s, which surprised the heck out of me. I've thought a lot more of him since. That said, I can see why you seem...'suspicious'? But there really is a zen to his work. The challenge to the viewer is sort of seeing beyond that first smack of color."
Eolake: "Funny, I had the opposite reaction to the two paintings. I love the Ellsworth Kelly one, it really moves me. But of course art is subjective, and the more abstract it is, the more subjective it is, surely."
Mark: "Here’s a true story. Husband and wife buy a Rothko painting many years ago and loan it to a museum. I won’t identify it precisely as I was an ancillary part of the litigation later surrounding it. Husband takes ill and dies. Widow discovers soon thereafter their liquid cash for living was nowhere near what she thought it was and needed money. Gets the Rothko back from the museum to sell. But being embarrassed about her financial position, does this on the QT. She’s advised auction will bring the best return, but she just can’t allow her high society friends to know she’s in difficult straits requiring this sale. So she contacts the art dealer they originally bought it from. He finds a buyer who signs a non-disclosure agreement and an agreement not to resell, all of which is probably not worth the paper it’s printed on, so it turned out. He paid her $9 million for it. Within a year or two he places it up for auction and it sells for $29 million. She then sues the art dealer and the buyer/seller. That was my intro to Rothko, never having heard or seen anything of his before. The photo you display above is much nicer. The fact anyone feels a square or rectangle or two can possibly be worth that kind of dough boggles my simple mind."
Mike relies: What happened with the suit? Seems to me like it was her own fault; she could have put it up for auction herself. It was her own desire to keep it quiet that cost her the extra $20 million. If you want the best price for something, you have to make the product available to the greatest number of potential buyers. Or was she just angry that by having it put up for auction, her own financial position was advertised to her social connections, despite her intentions?
As for the agreement not to resell, I think it's difficult to a.) control events from beyond the grave, b.) control events past your own ownership. I have an acquaintance, a childhood friend who is very wealthy, who bought a large farm property north of Milwaukee on which to build a house and use as a private estate. The farmer had been having a bitter battle as he wished to keep the land out of the grasp of developers. She apparently made him some assurance that she would not resell the land for some period of time—under what exact conditions I do not know; or else he just assumed she would not. I don't know the details. She then found a nicer piece of property not far away, bought that, and sold the first. The farmer was apoplectic. My feeling at the time is, if he wanted to control the land, he shouldn't have sold it. Once it belongs to someone else, he and his demands are out of the picture.
Robin Dreyer: "Although I love representational art as much as anyone (I'm a photographer, after all), it was a room full of Rothkos at the National Gallery that produced one of the strongest emotional responses I've ever had in the presence of art. No JPEG on a screen or even a well-printed image in a large-format book can reproduce the effect of being in the presence of those paintings—especially if they are arranged and lit as well as the were in that room."
Mike replies: I'll second that. I find Rothko's best work very moving in person, almost ineffably so.
William Langford: "To me Art is never a thing hanging on a wall. Art is what happens between the thing and the viewer. As seen in reproductions a Rothko painting is not very interesting. The real thing, seen under the prescribed lighting, with limited seating, and cordoned off for a personal experience...now that is when Art can happen."
Mike replies: I agree with that, but for devil's advocacy, there is John Berger's Marxist critique of the "aura" of the original object in his four-part documentary "Ways of Seeing." "If Sister Wendy Beckett is the kindly grandmother who takes you by the hand, and leads you, beatifically, through the wonders of art history," writes Carolina A. Miranda, "John Berger was the hippie-Marxist uncle who gave you the red pill and told you it was all a mirage." ("Art's red pill: An appreciation of critic John Berger," L.A. Times, Jan. 5, 2017.)