Before a work of art, any refined person would be embarrassed to give a superficial and subjective opinion, an echo of opinions of others, even if it means missing great works by denigrating them, or to shower praise on works without a future. The situation is not very rewarding if the person is in the presence of other people who would have taken the trouble to build a personal judgment, the fruit of their sensitivity and a real artistic culture.
Joukhadar, in his conversations on art, invites us, first and foremost, to become aware of the sources of subjectivity which are so many obstacles between us and the work of art, and in particular not to confuse Work of art with Objet d’art.
The scale of the work
When a person buys a painting on canvas 2 m high by 3 m wide, he becomes the owner of an unusual “object”, regardless of its quality. Similarly, unlike paper, the canvas is linked in our memory to excellence. Paper was always the scapegoat in our own academic experiences in art: torn up, scribbled on, crumpled up, thrown away, trampled upon. Doesn’t one say “masterpiece” about a renowned painting on canvas?
Might we be the toy of our subconscious at this point? For Joukhadar, the confusion between work of art and objet d’art arises from a lack of lucidity. He takes as an example a work of Miro, about 6 meters high, a renowned work in the East Wing National Gallery, commissioned by the museum and accomplished with textile materials especially designed in Washington. The same work done on an A4 paper, exposed among all sorts of watercolours, gouaches and oils, would leave the public rather indifferent, whether it consists of amateurs or connoisseurs.
The monumental fingers sculpted by César in the eighties would be totally insignificant in the eyes of the public if they were only 2 cm high. Similarly for the Statue of Liberty, whose original in Paris is hardly noticed. If France had offered the original, it would have been completely unnoticed at the entrance to Rockefeller Centre or Central Park, even though this work of art might be at the level of the David of Michelangelo.
A work of art created in large scale has an undeniable influence; it triggers a fundamental and elementary mechanism in the human mind, the same primitive and instinctive reflex that governs a number of situations in the animal kingdom, where the biggest always has the upper hand.
For Joukhadar, it is important to become aware of these mechanisms in our appreciation of art and to learn how to make allowances for them. This question of scale preoccupied him during his first productions. He saw the work of art only in its essence and was puzzled in the course of his aesthetic research by observing the powerful involvement of the scale on the appreciation of a work by the public. He tried to demonstrate this absurdity by showing images of tiny works on a large screen.
But finally, understanding, he resigned himself to submit his own production to considerations of scale, for the sake of communication. He understands that a person, having paid dearly for an object of art, wants to expose it and look at it comfortably. He becomes supportive of the removal of any factor that would impede communication with the public and reduce any emotions involved, without, however, harming the artistic essence of the work. Since the artist exhibits, this means that he communicates with others and must be intelligible.
In spite of this, the scale of a work must not mislead our appreciation. The scale is only important in the relationship between the work, its purpose and the components surrounding it. The scale is involved only in the emphasis of one component in relation to the whole.
The value of the physical medium
Similarly, the physical medium of a work of art should also not interfere with its appreciation. Even Leonardo pointed out, with a touch of bitterness, that it was neither the gold nor the precious azure of lapis lazuli that determined the artistic value of a painting.
If there existed a double in solid gold of a terra cotta of Rodin, cast by goldsmiths, would it have more artistic value and emotional charge than the clay fashioned by the hands of Rodin? The magnificent sculptured frame of Rembrandt’s Self-portrait at the Louvre distorts the interpretation of the masterpiece by its overloaded and devastating massiveness. A simple and no-frills ebony frame would have been ideal.
Joukhadar remembers that he never stopped in front of the gigantic Coronation of Napoleon at the Louvre: “If I would do it one day, it would not be to enjoy the art, but to identify the characters and to discover any ‘wink of the eye’ by the artist. But I could spend hours immersing myself in the magic of Leonardo’s drawing, the Madonna Litta, and studying its subtleties.
For him, it is a revealing statement of the tyranny of the value of the medium: the Coronation of Napoleon is inevitable in the obligatory route through the Louvre, while the drawing of Leonardo is completely off circuit; it is simply not exhibited! It takes a whole process to get the single (and non-renewable) authorization to see the drawing, as well as the other masterpieces in the same exhibition room, mysteriously re-baptised ‘exhibition room for graphic arts’. Sign of the times: the old exhibition room for drawings was open to the public of la Belle Époque, in contrast to the present exhibition room for graphic arts.
Although a watercolour is far more refined and artistic than an oil painting, Joukhadar observes that the latter enjoys all respect and all the honours. In the same way, a sanguine, with its essential part in art, or a pastel, with its unique visual qualities, will generally be underestimated compared to an oil painting.
Even so, is a master drawing less valuable than a refined painting made by the same master, solely because of the pigment and the medium? Artistic genius certainly does not reside in the dimensions of the work, nor in the value of the chosen medium, which belong to artistic craftsmanship. The work of art should be appreciated in its essence.