It’s kind of a loaded question, isn’t it? There are a lot of factors. How well known the artist was. If he had backers that chose to endorse him (or her!). If he got a lot of commissions. If his work was preserved well enough. If he had a lot of friends or a lot of money. Even trivial things like what city he worked out of, whether or not he was a menace to society, or if he had powerful enemies.
But, then again, all of that could be thrown out the window. Van Gogh was never quite in line with the other painters of his time. Michelangelo and da Vinci hated each other. Marcel Duchamp is quite widely hated by those that don’t appreciate modern art, and yet he is one of the most recognizable names of that period.
I guess my question is more based on opinion and less based on fact. Why do certain artists and works speak to us after all this time? Some of them are no longer immediately relevant, like Picasso’s La Guernica. And it takes someone who has studied art to understand what is being depicted in this particular painting. It isn’t exactly for the layman.
And yet people flock to museums every day. They enjoy looking at these works, even if they don’t necessarily understand them. I have a B.A. in Art History, but I wouldn’t even begin to know the meanings of half the paintings I’ve seen. But they still speak to me. I still appreciate them. I still find them beautiful.
Is it because we’re meant to? Is it because we know that Michelangelo was an incredible artist? Or that da Vinci was a brilliant inventor? Or that Gauguin was truly ahead of his time? Is it based on fact, or is it based on opinion?
If you were to look at a painting by Botticelli, without any preconceived biases or notions, would you still enjoy it? Would you still appreciate its beauty? Or, compared to what we can do with computers these days, would you find it primitive? Say it was The Birth of Venus. Could you still relate to its story? Could you understand the meaning?
I guess the notion is a morbid one. Do we appreciate art because we were told to? Because certain people in history, due to influence or money, preserved the works they liked the best? They say that history is told by the winning side. Can the same principle be applied here?
What do you think? Do we appreciate the Greats because we were told they are great, or do we appreciate them because we still connect to their artwork? If it’s the latter, what makes them still relevant to our modern world?