remember the old fable about the Emperor’s “new” clothes:
Some con men convinced the Emperor that they could create a
beautiful suit of clothes for him that would be seen only by
those with purity of heart. He fell for the idea, but when
they arrived with the finished product, he saw only their
bare hands pretending to carefully carry the marvelous suit.
If he said, “Where is it? I don’t see anything,” he was
afraid they would think he was not pure of heart.
Accordingly, he faked it and pretended to put on the
invisible suit and admire its beauty.
him in a parade before his loyal subjects, his people, too,
failed to see the non-existent suit. But, like the emperor,
they did not want to admit the truth for fear of being
accused of a lack of purity of heart. So they applauded
appreciatively and made appropriate comments about the
beauty of the suit and the elegance of the Emperor. At last
a little boy observing this spectacle blurted out from the
crowd, “The Emperor has no clothes!” The truth broke the
spell, and the spectators broke into uproarious laughter as
the Emperor shamefully rushed off to hide his nakedness.
story have a familiar ring to it? Does it sound like what is
happening in the world of “contemporary” art today? Can we
see a parallel between the con men who sold the Emperor the
invisible suit and the art dealers who sold the public on
the exquisite beauty and high monetary value of
non-objective art? Now at last, the public and belatedly the
collectors are beginning to laugh. The auction prices of
squiggly line paintings and found object sculpture are
presently falling at a precipitous rate despite the devious
art dealer’s futile attempts to stop the plunge.
Emperor has no clothes on at all. And meaningless doodles on
canvas or aimless piles of third dimensional objects are
worthy only of derision. Enough of invisible clothes. The
Emperor is naked, let us all laugh.
this situation does again raise the age-old question, “What
is art?” Dictionary definitions are usually so all
encompassing as to be nearly useless. To me, art is a form
of communication directly between the artist and the viewer.
Art can transcend hundreds of years and thousands of miles.
If the art is created well, the artist, living or dead, can
speak directly to a viewer with no intermediary. If the
artist mumbles visually and the work is not understood, it
is meaningless; conversely, if the work is understood it is
new definition of visual art is in order: True visual art is
a meaningful communication between two people utilizing
paint, stone or bronze, to carry a message over time and
space. The key words here are, “meaningful communication.”
test this out ourselves. When next looking at a work of art,
see if the artist communicates to you. Do you understand
what the painter or sculptor is trying to say to you? This
is a pass or fail test. If you “get” it, the artist has
succeeded; if not, the work of art is a failure. Rely on
your own judgment. Do not be misled by so-called art
critics, misguided museum shows or someone trying to sell
you something. Remember the Emperor’s “no” new clothes.
Joseph Veach Noble is Chairman of the Board
of Trustees of Brookgreen Gardens of American Sculpture,
Director Emeritus of the Museum of the City of New York and
former Vice Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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