We look at old pictures through a double frame. The solid gilt frame which isolates it from its surroundings and creates for it a hole in space; and the period frame in our minds which creates for it a hole in time and assigns its place on the stage of history. Each time we think we are making a purely aesthetic judgement according to our lights, the stage lights interfere. When we contemplate the Gothic wall paintings in the church of Lubeck for the first time, believing them to be authentic, and then a second time knowing they were made b Lothar Malskat, master forger, our experience will indeed be completely changed, although the frescoes remain the same. The period frame has been changed, and with it the stage lights.
Apart from being unavoidable, the relativism of aesthetic judgement has its positive side. By entering into the spirit and climate of the period, we automatically make allowances for its crudities of technique, and for its conventions and blind spots. There is a bending over the past with a tender antiquarian stoop. But, this gesture degenerates into antiquarian snobbery at the point where the period frame becomes more important in the picture, and perverts the scale of values. The mechanism responsible for these perversions provides us with a handy definition. Sobbery, being the result of a mix-up between two frames of reference, A and B, having different standards of value, and the consequent misapplication of standard A to value judgements referring to B.
The art snob’s pleasures are derived not from the picture but from the catalogue; the social snob,s choice of company is not guided by human value but by rank or celebrity value catalogued in the pages of a personal ”Who’s Who”. The confusion may even affect biological drives, taste and smell preferences and sexual inclinations. There was a time in the 1800’s , when fresh oysters were the diet of the poor, at which time the snob,s taste buds functioned in a different manner. Snobbery does not seem like a trivial phenomenon. It is a cnfusion of values which, in various forms, permeates all strata of civilized societies, present and past, and it is in many respects a negation of the principle of creativity.
Snobbery is the application of the rules of one game to another game. It uses a clock to measure weight and a thermometer to measure distance. The creative mind perceives things in a new light, the snob in a borrowed light. The snob’s pursuits are sterile, and his satisfactions of a vicarious nature. What they admire in public would bore them when alone, but they are not aware of it. Their emotions do not derive from the object, but from extraneous sources associated with it. The satisfactions are pseudo-satisfactions, part of a triumph of self-delusion. They have never travelled in the belly of the whale; they have opted for the comforts of sterility against the pangs of creativity.
Snobbery is a poor word with too specifically modern connotations for that benightedness, due to confusion of values, which is one of the leitmotifs of the history of humankind. We are always groping through a labyrinthine world, armed with a compass which always points in the wrong direction. The symbol of creativity is the magic wand that Moses used to make water come out of a rock. Its reverse is the faulty yardstick that turns everything it touches into dust.
”Lothar Malskat was a restorer who was commissioned to work on deteriorating Medieval frescoes in two European cathedrals. Instead of restoring the existing works, he found it easier to simply whitewash over the existing paintings and repaint completely new works on the walls. The project was carried out under the utmost secrecy, and managed to defy detection by the most notable art experts and government officials for years.
State-wide celebrations were held in his honor, and his fraud was only discovered after it was noticed that he had incorporated certain historical inconsistencies into his newly created “Medieval” works. These included an image of a turkey, a fowl which had not been introduced into Europe until much later in history, and images of both his sister and of a contemporary film actress into his compositions.”
”Some exposed forgers have later sold their reproductions honestly, by attributing them as copies, and some have actually gained enough notoriety to become famous in their own right. Forgeries painted by the late Elmyr de Ногу, featured in the film F for Fake directed by Orson Welles, have become so valuable that forged de Horys have appeared on the market. Many forgeries still escape detection; Han van Meegeren, possibly the most famous forger of the 20th century, used historical canvasses for his Vermeer forgeries and created his own pigments to ensure that they were authentic. He confessed to creating the forgeries only after he was charged with treason, an offense which carried the death penalty. So masterful were his forgeries that van Meergeren was forced to create another “Vermeer” while under police guard, to prove himself innocent of the treason charges. In 1945, and in the presence of reporters and court-appointed witnesses, Van Meegeren painted his last forgery, Jesus among the Doctors, also called Young Christ in the Temple. ( Maria Kravtsova )