Before I start posting on matters my readers voted for here, let me entertain you with a story that – while grounded in a taboo territory – is not, actually, obscene. I wrote it commenting to one of comedy posts long ago, but the Daily Prompt today revived that memory. The art-related question that I would love you to consider follows this story in the postscriptum note.
A young, talented but penniless composer gets a phone call from a film director, a chance acquaintance from long ago. “Can you write some nice music for the credits part?”, asks the director. “My movie is out in two weeks, and the composer I’d signed up was snitched away by Coppola!”
“Sure!” says the excited composer (due to pay his rent in a week). “Just give me an idea about the movie”.
“Well, it is pretty simple. At the beginning I show a yellow leaf struggling against the autumn wind. Then I have all the action and at the end, I show the leaf again, but this time it gets torn off the branch, and then it spirals down to the pavement. Close up on the leaf, and then the credits start rolling down, accompanied by your music”.
In a week the composer sends out his music, a piece that he is proud of, because it is a celestially beautiful, wrenching-your-heart-out kind of music. Oscar quality. Art always gets out better if the artist is hungry.
The film director calls back. “Hi, dude, that was Oscar quality piece! Thank you! Please come to the premiere show, I’ve just mailed your invitation!”
A week later the composer dresses up (rented tuxedo, and everything) and goes to the cinema. Strangely, there’s almost no one, but an elderly couple in the theatre. Perhaps, they all are stuck at a drinks reception somewhere, thinks the composer and takes his chair.
The movie begins with the close-up on a yellow leaf struggling against the wind. The camera pans out to show an autumn park. Then a boy and a girl walk into the scene, and start having sex. Then another couple joins them and they have sex with each other. Then a dog runs into the frame and they all have sex with the dog, and then the dog has sex with them all.
Then, there comes a close-up on the yellow leaf, which spirals down to the pavement, and final credits start rolling down, accompanied by the Oscar-quality, celestially beautiful, wrenching-your-heart-out music.
The light is on, the composer is red in the face, absolutely humiliated, thinking “oh god, oh god, oh god, what I do I tell my friends, my family?!” – he stands up and walks to the exit, trying not to be seen.
The elderly couple doesn’t move, petrified. They are sitting deep in their chairs with absolutely white, shocked, stoned faces, and saucer eyes. They look up at the composer when he scuffles past them. He gets redder in the face and stammers, “it was, you know, music. My music. The music was mine. Just the music!!!”.
“And the dog was ours”, says the old man in hollow voice. “just the dog…”
P.S. This is a portrait of a 54-year-old German composer (Carl Friedrich Abel) painted by 50-year-old Gainsborough. Carl F.Abel had a few gigs with Bach in London, and Goethe thought him to be the best performed on that big musical instrument that you see in the painting. You had to have a dog in your portrait in the 18th century. Preferably, one of the royal kind of dogs.
P.P.S. Many artists create something that is spoiled by the vulgar context within which their art is seen or heard. Or nor? Does the context spoil or enhance an artwork? Was Mona Lisa spoiled when it was on the wall of a room in which the king’s morning toilet was taking place? I’D LOVE TO HEAR YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS.
Don’t think the context can really spoil any true things. It’s just a context, the context of today. It can spoil somebody’s impression, that’s also important, but will not spoil the piece. And it will hardly spoil the impression of someone who can really see/feel true things. I think about an experiment – putting some great and ordinary pieces into two different context) I think most of the audience will follow the context (I’m afraid I can be one of them…), some others will follow the piece itself)
The context always impacts out perception because we can’t “order” our brain to shut it out. Perhaps, the simplest and easiest example is the colour of walls in a gallery. Through trial and error (as well as colour theory research) it has been established that the best colour is light grey which the most neutral colour. All other colours tend to cancel out some of the colours in the paintings themselves )) So, usually the context impacts but doesn’t kill a good work of art. But can it kill a great piece? I mean, I am curious about extreme cases )
I have a personal experience: Once I gave a framed drawing of mine to a friend, owner of a bar. He seemed very satisfied of it and he hang it on the wall. After a few months I saw it above the cuisine of the bar, the glass of the frame was dirty, greasy and dull… And it is now hanging on the wall in the storeroom of his house, above the furniture in where he puts his shoes… still in the same condition.
I often visit him but I never ask why. Like Francis Bacon said, if you decide to become a painter, you also have to decide that you will not be afraid to be ridiculed. (The brutality of fact, interviews with Francis Bacon. Interview 9, by David Sylvester)
Thank you for your warm welcome and sharing this experience! I don’t think this is ridicule – this is just the famous case of an artist who – upon giving away his “baby” – loses any control of its life. This is why artists often are afraid to sell or gift some of the paintings or drawings they especially love. But this is life, and just like kids who grow up, paintings chose their own destiny.That friend of yours probably values you more as a friend than an artist, which is not a bad thing in itself. He just doesn’t really understand that you feel the drawing is mistreated and abused by the dirty glass)