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  • Writer's pictureDr. S

Mystery Artist(s)

Still loving to travel. We recently took a short trip to Savannah to see a Bon Jovi concert. While there we were able to get out and see the sights. It was confirmed for me that Savannah is full of art. I of course knew this, but what I did not realize is that Savannah has art without artists. It seemed as though this was the case. Everywhere we went, walls were displaying eye catching artworks. Most framed and well displayed. However, no signature from the artist. No label providing artist names, creation year, and not even the media and support. Were they oil paintings? Were they prints of original works? The history and origin of the art was a complete mystery.

I pondered this mystery and asked myself, "Would I be willing to allow an organization such as a hotel, restaurant, gift store, social event venue to display my artwork without acknowledging me?" The answer I came up with is, "Yes, yes I would." Why, may you ask? Well, I think it is as simple as the fact that art is a heart area for most artists. Art most certainly is a heart area for me. Art is a way to express thoughts and emotions about the beauty around our world. Often, artists will use their works as a platform for political statements or to increase awareness regarding a social cause of which they are passionate and want to support. Whatever the reason an artist creates a specific work, the work is useless if it sets dormant inside a person's studio, basement, garage, or attic. The artwork cannot speak to people as it is meant to speak to people if it is not seen. The artist can not make the statement he/she is attempting to creatively speak unless the work is shown. For me, it is not about needing to be acknowledged. No, it is about letting the art speak the message that is embedded in the media.

The great business minds in the art world may or may not agree with my opinion. I am confident the sales pitchers and the propaganda trend pushers on social media who convince artists they will become millionaires by selling their art on those platforms would growl at this opinion. After all, you cannot sell artwork on social media platforms without selling yourself and your story as well. The art can not simply speak for itself. Now, no shame should be assigned to those ventures. After all, some artists are indeed quite successful in this business plan. I personally have not met the millionaires who the propaganda pushers report have accomplished this level of income status through selling their works on social media platforms alone. Alone, without any other means of income. That does not mean they do not exist. My point is simple. I wonder if the beauty of the artwork alone is dimmed through the ad on(s) of putting the artist instead of the art in spotlight. I wonder if the art’s beauty is not dimmed through the other ad-ons that social media platforms require.

This question possibly found an answer. As we continued our adventure in Savannah, we visited quite a few historical homes. One particular home exhibited an exciting art collection. Most of the paintings appeared to have a circa of about 1910, and some were older. Most paintings were oil paintings and most had the artist's signature on the painting and/or name plate at the bottom of the frames. The texture of the paints, condition of the canvases, and style of the painting (that is me showing off my appraisal experience and training) gave an idea of correct circa. I did find two treasures with no signature. And the plaque on the frame simply read "artist unknown".

This mystery of the unknown artists continued to intrigue me. So many other artists in this historical home were sure to be acknowledged, but two paintings equal in skill, equal in value, and equal in fine art criteria, were without artist information. The artists were a mystery. Perhaps the artists were a female artist, who at that time would not have been recognized? Perhaps the artists were someone who did not have upper class social connections so he or she was not recognized? Regardless of the reason, the artwork still spoke a beautiful message, and the owners of this estate found it worthy to join their collection. The art spoke for itself and now the beautiful painting with the mysterious origin hangs in a historical landmark next to multiple other recognizable works. The artwork speaks for itself without the artist’s information or story and is perceived to be valuable standing alone.

So, should art speak for itself without relying on the artist or artist's story to be loved? Or should art only be valued through the artist's story or societal / social media popularity? Could the latter cause artists to inflate their ego (as social media has affected us all) which may also cause the artist to lose the humbleness that we all as humans should maintain? In my first profession, I have seen inflated egos cause serious problems in careers, marriages, parenting styles, friendships, financial choices, and over all mental well-being. However, this question must be answered by each individual buyer and/or each individual artist. And I would offer that I truly believe the answer is subjective and relative. I truly believe that the answer is neither right nor wrong, moral nor immoral. It simply warms my heart to know that art, even as it has evolved over the years, still has the ability to relay messages of beauty to the viewer with minimal human bias or influence. A work of art that stands alone without any connecting information to the artist, is speaking its own pure message. After all, you truly can not view a Van Gogh painting without seeing the message imposed by art history and recent immersive experiences of his mental health and color blindness in the work. This most likely is not what Van Gogh wanted you to receive from his works. He wanted you to see a message that spoke about his experience in his world. A message separate from his disabilities.

The next time you have the opportunity to view and/or purchase a beautiful piece of artwork, I challenge you to clear your mind of the artist's story, and simply allow the message the artwork is speaking to you to be heard.

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