Painting Blog > Artist-Art, Painting > Excellence vs. Not Cheating

Excellence vs. Not Cheating

Originally posted on July, 29, 2007

What do painting and sports have to do with each other you ask? Writers, or, at least people used to write about painting. Not much anymore. You can only beat dead horses for so long. Today, people do write tons about sports. Of course, there are plenty of problems in the sport world. There always has been. You have to ask the question: “How much the writers contribute to the proliferation of these problems?

Very serious questions of ethics are the rule rather than the exception. In the US, it is absolutely crazy. All of the major sports: football, baseball, and basketball are in trouble to the point of their survival being seriously questioned. Two days ago, in France, the news paper “Liberation” called for a moratorium of several years on the tour de France so that it could be cleaned up. We have problems in Formula F1 racing with the apparent stealing of technological secrets. And so it goes.

Okay, so it has always been about competition and winning. For that reason I’ve never been a sports fan. But it has struck me recently that there are similarities with some of the sport, journalism and much of the writing by art critics during the 19th century. This started me to thinking about what is going on here. Many of the sports, for a lot of people, are becoming a decisive issue. Not too long ago these sports were a pastime and a pleasure for many people. Likewise, there was a time, a long, long time ago when many people derived much pleasure from painting. Then people began creating controversy through their writing. Today they are called art critics. Soon the public was arguing and ridiculing rather than enjoying. The appreciation of painting has been going downhill ever since. This is obviously hugely simplified.

I think I see the crux of the problem. It has been said that people end up with the government they deserve. They also end up with the art and painting they deserve. And sports. In other words, it is a two way street this relationship between the values of a society and the health of their creative expression. Correct? So it seems to me. The relationship is central. This relationship between the great mass of people, the society and the creative (and, in sports, also competing) individuals shapes our sense of fair play, honesty, integrity and so forth. If this is a healthy relationship we hold clear an ideal of excellence. If it is unhealthy, we have witch-hunts for cheaters; we have painters and artists who are plagiarists.

So what has changed to bring these two dramatically different results about? The relationship. In the first case, there is mutual respect between the society and its creative individualistic members. It takes a strongly motivated and dedicated person to get on a bicycle and go as fast as possible more than 150 km each day much of it up and down big mountains for two weeks. Likewise, it takes an incredible amount of fortitude as a painter to arrive at a point where creative expression begins to meet expectations and desired results. It is a dismay [sic] to talk about starving artists up in their garret. It was and is however tremendously serious for the person driven for the last drop of the sake of their creativity. Excellence. This innate drive for truth, beauty – excellence. Society needs to respect that.

The second resulting reward for a strained broken relationship? In this case the creative individual is boxed into a corner. Many are attempting an escape from impoverished conditions. Guess what? If the going gets rough enough they will cheat. Surprise of surprises! In many cases they have been lead into cheating, directly or indirectly, by their management or sponsors. I’m not suggesting that the cheating is okay. But in all cases we need not rush to judgement. This is quite complex. In any case, today’s athlete is quickly losing what integrity he/she had left. It did not happen in a vacuum.

As for the painter today? I can remember the days when painters were subsidised to exhibit their work. Often they were advanced money contingent on sales. The gallery paid for the framing, all the advertising, and promotional materials, the cost of the opening and so on. Compared to the situation today they were treated like royalties. Many painters today are “sharing the risks”, as the gallery owner puts it. The exhibition can be quite expensive. And there is the problem of getting the work back and in good condition after the exhibit. It is not a pretty scenario for today’s painter. (I will write more on this in a future article.)

To make a long story short, both the painter and the athlete have today lost much of their integrity. The painter lost his or hers a long time ago. We can observe the athletes losing theirs today. Society loses also. They have allowed another wedge to further divide them from each other. So, who wins? Cheaters or the quest for excellence. This is a life or death struggle and at the moment it is not looking good for the home team.

Published in french as Excellence vs. Pas de triche

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