“The Piper” / Memorable Fancies #183

[“What happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it.” – Eliot]

I saw that the New Masters Gallery was resplendent with freshly painted ceilings and newly washed windows. Droplights had been dusted for the first time in years. All this was in preparation for the opening of recent oils by Nicholas Hamelin, a hitherto unknown artist, “whose art is a new voice in the world of art,” as the publicity postcards ineptly proclaimed.

Well, the opening happened. Mediocre wine was drunk, the temperature in the crowded room increased, a few jackets came off. The oils, however, were barely noticed, and that with subtle derision. When the wine ran out, so did the gallery-goers.

The next day the Times ran a brief item. In elevated language the review said, in so many words, “don’t bother.” I had thought to buy one or two of the oils, but then I didn’t bother.

But a few days after the opening, there began a subtle shift in the art world. Colors that had been called “subtle” were now seen as “obscure”; “vivid,” as “tawdry.” Seventeenth-century masterpieces were re-evaluated, their status called in question. Others fell: Giotto, Angelico, da Vinci. Nineteenth-century German daubs now brought high prices.

I wasn’t the first to trace these changes back to the Nicholas Hamelin show, changes in the human perception of color and form now spreading from country to country, not only changing how we see art, but how we see ourselves: less clearly; perhaps more distanced.

We all follow Hamelin now, by choice or not. Where is he taking us?

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