Re: Damian Hurst artist or CON artist
I think one thing that helps is to try to get a sense of the general morality of the time periods involved. Renaissance Italy was extraordinarily different from our period. particularly in how they saw the "natural order" of power in society. Trying to get into that would be an interesting thread, but I think it should be a separate one.
The obvious difference between the culture and concepts of class during the Italian Renaissance and the 19th century (as well as our time) was the concept of "aristocracy". Aristocracy was something one was born with... and as a result "class" was something one was born with. I was going to say that one could not buy aristocracy... but there were any number of instances in which aristocratic titles were bought and sold... conferred on those for the right price... or purchased through marriage in return for an exchange of wealth. Still, this was not the same as the idea that the 19th century steel baron or the 20th century could buy "class" by buying art and patronizing cultural events. Or rather this was different that the Renaissance "ideal" as outlined in Castiglione's Book of the Courtier. Castiglione suggested that class... or rather nobility was something that need to be earned. According to his idea, the great military leader, the writer, the artist, the master-craftsman earned a degree of "nobility" as a result of his achievements. The aristocrat... born into wealth... could not be considered as having achieved anything... of having nobility. To achieve such, the aristocrat needed to put his free time to good use... become educated in the arts and music and politics and theology. He would then put his wealth to use for the benefits of others (beside himself) through the patronage of the arts, educational institutions, political issues, and the church. This is different from the wealthy 19th or 20th century patron who buys art for himself. But then we must admit that few Renaissance patrons fit Castiglione's ideal. Many of the most powerful patrons were as shallow and self centered... and far more blood-thirsty... as any 19th or 20th century billionaire.
Where I suspect that there is a greater shift is in the artist/patron relationship and in the concept of the "cult of personality". Let's start with the latter. Prior to the Renaissance, a great majority of the art was created by anonymous masters. The patron was buying a Madonna or a Crucifixion or a Book of Hours... not a Raphael, a Titian, or a Leonardo. Even as demand for certain artists evolved during the Renaissance, the patron was still specifying a specific theme or goal: a Madonna, a Crucifixion, etc... and the work was valued for how successful it was at conveying the theme... not for the artist's name brand.
The real shift took place with the Dutch Protestants. The Dutch Burghers had no time or inclination for learning about art, and so they relied upon the middle-man: the art dealer or art buyer. The middle-men soon struck upon the idea of showing finished paintings from which a buyer may pick and choose as opposed to commissioning art. The buyer imagined that he had participated in the selection process... even though he only chose from the works selected by the dealer. The dealers established themselves as having special knowledge of insight into what was good... which meant pretty much whatever they were selling.
This brings us to the second point... the relationship between the artist and patron. Up to... and in most instances through the Renaissance the artist was but a skilled laborer... a craftsman. His goal was to please the patron to whom he was but a humble servant. With the arrival of artists such as Leonardo, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Raphael, Durer, etc... artists also became intellectual's... scholars... with who the patrons could engage in discussion. There was almost something of a collaborative nature to the commission of art.
With the shift wrought by the Dutch and the introduction of the middle-man, the artist became no more than a small businessman... well beneath the bourgeois or burgher (who had aspirations of grandeur and aristocracy). Unless one was commissioning a portrait, there was not need to deal with directly with the artist. Is it not surprising that from this time there's a growing antagonism or hostility between the artist and bourgeois? At the same time... art increasingly loses its public value. I becomes ever more the luxury product of the wealthy.
Undoubtedly, we could delve deep into the reasons for the shift in art into expensive baubles intended do little more than to entertain a bored and jaded wealthy class.
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know." - John Keats
"Modern art is what happens when painters stop looking at girls and persuade themselves that they have a better idea."- John Ciardi