Sunday, December 13, 2009

What is quality?

Last week I looked at “What Should I Collect”. So the next obvious question is how do I know that what I am buying is good or, looking at it another way, how do I learn to develop my eye to recognize quality when I see it.

If you have only seen one Monet it will be both the best one you have ever seen and the worst. It is only when you see the second that you begin to discern. You may be reacting to the subject matter or the colors, but comparison between two examples is the beginning of the educational process. Expertise does not come overnight: it is developed through a long process much like mastering a foreign language. Every related work of art that you see adds to your education. This is the essence of developing connoisseurship.

Books (or the internet) are not substitutes for looking at original works of art. They add to your information and give an understanding of what others before you have appreciated in your area of interest. It is important not to take what you read as gospel, but rather add it to your library of knowledge,--all so that you can make up your own mind about what you are looking at.

This allows me to digress for a moment. When you see an exhibition please please do not take the audio guide the first time through. Thirty years ago the chief art critic for the New York Times told me in an incredulous tone that the Metropolitan Museum had encouraged the art writers to use the audio guides for the exhibition that they were previewing. He felt this was insulting. He believed that as a professional he should be able to make up his own mind of what good was and not be led to what the museum thought were the best works of art in the show.

Audio guides are now more sophisticated offering random programming for more of the works of art (but not all) so you can decide where to stop. Still it is counterproductive for you to be told what is important before you have the chance to form your own opinions.

If you are interested in the exhibition, do go through it again (maybe on another day) with the audio guide to amplify or modify your initial reactions. This way you will build your own powers of discernment and you will be the judge as to how well you are being guided by your chosen mentors, be they dealers, curators….or headphones.

It is by honing your personal reactions through viewing, reading, listening and looking some more that you can become a true connoisseur. The process won’t be quick but I can promise you that it will be infinitely rewarding.

No comments:

Post a Comment