By Romina Monaco

The monetary value placed on artwork is mind-boggling to me. So, I really don't pay much attention to critics. They tell us that an artist is the dernier cris because he or she demonstrates excellent usage of lines, light, shape and texture. We see these assessments as gospel truth. Then, if possible, we spend an enormous amount of money on the painting hoping its value will increase, especially after the artist kicks the bucket. Over the centuries art has become big business and its spiritual foundation has been lost.

I had an amusing experience back in the summer of 2003 when Tony and I visited my godfather, Fulvio, in the outskirts of Milan. Fulvio took us to an art exhibit at the Castello Sforzesco in the centre of the city. The exhibit featured works from several world renowned artists of the past five centuries.

'I'm only going for you and Fulvio. I really couldn't care less', Tony said flatly. 'I don't get how a piece of canvas could be worth so much'.

Although I differ in opinion and do not refer to a painting as a piece of canvas, I could understand his point of view. We observed several works from Bellini, Mantegna, Lippi and Picasso. Pablo Picasso, one of the greatest artists of the last century, pioneered the Cubism style. Rather than the standard artistic expression of fluid movement throughout a painting, this style presents the image in a collage of funky squares of all sizes. I would never hang a Picasso in my home, even if I had Bill Gates’ bank account and could actually afford one. It does not stir any profound emotion within me nor does it reflect my taste. However, I do appreciate his work and consider it absolute genius.
Regardless of Tony’s banality concerning this topic, he viewed this particular artist as a legend of his own time, a rarity in the world of art. This sparked some sort of interest. As Tony observed one of the paintings, I asked if it stirred any sort of sentiment or memory.

'It’s not a real Picasso’, he stated.

I laughed and said, 'Do you think we're at a print sale at the flea market!?'.

It was in that precise moment that I saw his finger rise up in the air. ‘Don’t do it’, I said firmly.

I looked around and saw my godfather in the distance in animated conversation with one of the curators. Security guards were all around us. Was Tony going to do what I thought he was going to and was he crazy? I had no intention of being incarcerated in an Italian prison for the rest of my holiday.

Well, he did it. That finger slowly rose and moved toward the Picasso, scratching the surface with its nail. I was both stunned and frozen in fear. My mouth was hanging open, so much so that you could have put a soccer ball in it.

‘Signore!! DON’T TOUCH THE PICASSO!’ roared a voice from across the room.

I looked and saw three panic-stricken security guards running towards us. Fulvio, clearly mortified, yelled, ‘Tawwwwnnny! Noooooo!’

Yes, we were definitely going to jail. After many apologies on my part, explaining that my husband had left his medication at home, they did not incarcerate us after all. We were actually permitted to remain in the museum, followed of course, by a big Italian security guard named, Fabrizio.
This particular incident put things into perspective for me; I have an appreciation for all art, whether it be of a personal preference or otherwise. Through a painting I feel the spirit of the individual who created it. I do not give it a psychological analysis nor do I extend my appreciation because of its popularity or ticket value. I quietly observe and consciously become aware of how that painting makes me feel. The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck (1434) is one of my all-time favourites and I absolutely adore it. Equally, so is a watercolour hanging in my living room, which I purchased for twenty Euro from an artist I met on my travels in Spain.

The price placed on art in our materialistic world is based on who takes an interest in it. If a person of wealth and status shows a liking to a particular artist then their work has taken a giant leap in value. Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin, imprisoned artist, Kasimir Malevich, for his Black Box painting. It is a simple canvas painted entirely black. Stalin feared that this new abstract movement would encourage free thinking. Today the Black Box is worth over a million British pounds. The exploitation of art has become a disturbing social phenomenon. Ultimately, all that really matters is what that painting means to you.

Kasemir Malevich "Black Box" Painting


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