Saturday, April 23, 2011

"Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."

"Vanity of vanities, all is vanity"....meaning that all that is material will soon fall away and all that will be left is our immortal soul. All the things that give pleasure and sustain our egos and gluttony are fleeting. Easily gone in a flash. So what is an artist to do? We make entertainment. That too is fleeting. And I really cannot think of a more vain and self-centered line of work. With that said, how many times has the artist in history been the fortune teller of things that come to pass? Perhaps what we do is not so fleeting after all.

Vanitas,Jacques de Gheyn the Elder, 1603
Above is a Vanitas by de Gheyn the Elder painted in 1603. The tulip in this Vanitas cost 10 times the amount that a skilled craftsman would make in one year. But fast forward to 1637 and you could get this same tulip for the cost of an onion. From the cost of a house to the cost of an onion in just a blink of an eye. It all came crashing down in Febuary of 1637. Fortunes lost. Fortunes based on a flower.  But if you had told that to a Dutchman in 1603, he would have thought you a madman. Or an artist.

Vanitas, Georges Braque 1939
A work above by Georges Braque made in 1939.  I realize that in 1939 it was not such a leap for an artist to predict WWII.  Still, it gives one pause to see symbols of religion and mortality just before the Nazi Jackboots tore apart all that was taken for granted in life. And this from the artist, who with Picasso, his partner in the invention of Cubism, changed the face of art forever some thirty years before.

And now I end with a Vanitas by Damien Hirst made in 2007. This Vanitas is the mother of all Vanitas, made with more gluttony and greed than any 17th century Flemish painter could imagine. It's made of platinum and 8,601 perfect diamonds including a 6.5 million dollar pink diamond on it's forehead. The cost to make this pure and most perfect Vanitas was a mind blowing (especially for this humble artist) 30 million dollars. It was sold one year prior to the October 2008 crash of our global economy, in August of 2007, to a consortium of businessmen for 100 million dollars. It has been speculated that Hirst himself is one of those in the consortium so that he can retain exhibition rights.

For the Love of God, Damien Hirst 2007


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