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The Inner Economist goes to the museum

Post #1057 • September 19, 2007, 3:17 PM • 11 Comments

I've been greatly enjoying Discover Your Inner Economist by Tyler Cowen. The book has a chapter entitled "Possess All the Great Art Ever Made," in which he explains how to appreciate art, music and literature based on the reality of our finite attentions. Here he offers four suggestions regarding a visit to the museum. But rather than list them in one overlong post, I'll put them up one at a time for discussion.

1. In every room ask yourself which picture you would take home - if you could take just one - and why.

This forces us to keep thinking critically about the displays. If the alarm system was shut down and the guards went away, should I carry home the Cezanne, the Manet, or the Renoir? in a room of Egyptian antiquities, which one caught my eye? And why? We should discuss the question with our companion.

To put it crudely, we must force ourselves to keep on paying attention. Ranking the pictures focuses our attention on our favorites. It also focuses our attention on ourselves, which is in fact our favorite topic. Me,me, me. It sounds crude, doesn't it? But if the "Me Factor," as I will call it, is operating against the art rather than working with it, our love affair with museums won't last very long.

Finally, it is fun to imagine ourselves as thieves. Theft is exciting, and we value objects more highly when we can think of ourselves as owning them. That is also part of the Me Factor.

Of course, we must ignore the carping of the sophisticates. Well-educated critics may claim that pictures cannot be ranked, value is multidimensional or subjective, or that such talk represents a totalizing, colonizing, possessive, postcapitalist [I think he means "capitalist" - F.], hegemonic Western imperialist approach. All of those missives are beside the point. When it comes to the arts, dealing with the scarcity of our attention is more important than anything, including respecting the artists.




September 19, 2007, 3:44 PM

Ranking pictures is fun and makes you look harder and see better.



September 19, 2007, 4:37 PM

take the cezanne



September 19, 2007, 5:16 PM

Of the Cezanne's you might only take one, 1, but there isn't a one that I've seen I wouldn't take. Of Renoir and Manet, I'd have to be a shade more choosy.


Marc Country

September 19, 2007, 5:25 PM

Yeah, picking favorites is always good to do. What's harder, picking your favorite Manet, or your favorite self-created work?...



September 19, 2007, 5:56 PM

I don't know, but I would pick the Manet real fast so I could get out before the owner came to his senses.



September 19, 2007, 7:28 PM

[Idiot. - F.]


john Kobeck

September 19, 2007, 8:39 PM

Bravo !



September 20, 2007, 6:56 AM

of the the 3 artists mentioned i'd rank them in this order cezanne, manet and then renoir. of course all 3 are great, but cezanne to me should be included among a handful of painters as the best of all time.

ahab i agree with you, manet's iconic pictures to name just a few, like olympia, the bar and others less familiar like monk in prayer would definitely be taken before many cezannes, but overall, if i could only choose one it would be cezanne.

in addition to being the bridge to modern painting, cezanne's color to me is also some of the best of all-time. although, he seems to have painted primarily in a variation on 3 shades, green, blue and an ochre earth variant. when he ventured outside of these he was still off the charts good. opie had previously mentioned how he thought green was difficult for many painters, but cezanne is probably the all time king of green. hofmann being another who used it often and well. in terms of color in general titian and noland seem to be 2 others with a gift like cezannes.

i think cezanne's peers during his later years after they digested what he was doing also were inclined to give him the nod as someone special among the other greats.



September 20, 2007, 8:03 AM

"The King of Green"? Oh, to be known to posterity as the King of Green!

Renoir is a a distant third. He was ok early on, but even looking at the "La Grenouillere"
Renoir & Monet painted side by side in 1869 you see that Renoir is already decidedly inferior.



September 20, 2007, 11:45 AM

another interesting side by side comparison is rubens copy of titians "adam and eve". both are in the prado and excellent, but titian definitely took it to a higher level.

opie, can you think of anyone else to claim the title "king of green"?



September 20, 2007, 2:04 PM

Off the top of my head Hofmann did the most with green I think, eg. in "Jardin D"Amour", 1959, and in some of those glowing green late rectangles. Ludwig Sander is one of the few who did all-green paintings. There are probably a lot of others I can't think of.

Green is seldom the dominant color in a contemporary painting, and when you get back to the landscape painters it's a free-for-all, and certainly Cezanne is right up there.



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