Lost in the giftshop
Is art about owning?
Is the mere act of looking somehow acquisitive? As predators, when we look at something, we are tracking it, stalking it. “Just looking” can actually be an act of aggression. Is drawing even more invasive? Why do we worry that people will resent us for drawing them on the subway? We all know the cliché of the primitive societies that feared that cameras would steal their souls. When we do a good drawing, why do people say “you’ve really captured it”?
Is drawing also stealing?
Why does every single museum have a gift shop? Why do we feel drawn to shop in them?
When we have just seen the originals, why do we want postcards, tea mugs, coffee table books of the same images?
Why do people walk through museums snapping photos of every piece on the wall? Are they just adding them to their own collections?
Are museums themselves just giant closets full of acquisitions on display?
Much of the history of art has dictated by those who would own the art, the clients, the patrons. They set the theme, dictated many of the choices for the artist.
Museums are filled with portraits of the rich and powerful. The artists didn’t choose these subjects by chance, the market dictated them. And they have survived because their various owners preserved them. The pieces that were most valuable have become what we call ‘art history’. So buying and selling and choices about importance are all bound up together.
Can art be valuable — if it’s never bought or sold?