Several months ago I took a picture of this graffiti and spent a lot of time thinking about what I’d like to say about it. Where should I even begin? Should I say that it’s interesting because animal iconography seems to be pretty rare in graffiti? Well, I just did. That’s all, folks!
But wait–there really is more. Some, particularly fans of the literary movement known as New Criticism would say the work can only be judged in itself without any reference to outside influences or the artist’s background or intent. And that’s pretty much all I can do since I don’t know anything about the artist. But what if I found something that shed a little light on it and meant I didn’t have to wrap up quite so soon? That’s where this helps.
From this I think the camel is the artist’s tag–essentially their name. What’s a name, after all, than a symbol? Sure, most names are symbols made up of letters–there are some exceptions, such as that thing Prince used as his name for a while–and letters themselves are symbols that we’ve mostly agreed all make the same sounds, although I did have an uncle who wouldn’t spell anything with the letter Y because he was convinced it would sneak onto his farm at night and tell dirty stories to his cows, but that’s another stor.
Anyway that reminded me of the Dutch aristocrat, art historian, and dealer Jan Six–who is actually the descendant of ten previous aristocrats with the same name, making him the eleventh Six. The first Jan Six (born (January 14, 1618, died May 28, 1700) was painted by Rembrandt and amassed a considerable art collection. The current Jan Six continues to collect with a particular emphasis on Rembrandt and in the past few years discovered what he and some scholars think are two previously unknown Rembrandt paintings at auctions. And keep in mind that a painting by a lesser known Dutch master–say, one of the guys from the cigar box–can sell for thousands but a Rembrandt can be worth millions, and if they are legit he got them at bargain rates because the auction houses didn’t know what they had. Even with a decline in the study and even collecting of older paintings–the prices on modern works are rising while the old ones aren’t–there’s enough interest in them generally to make them, especially the ones done by well-known artists, valuable. Although further complicating all this is the fact that, with his many pupils and large studio, it’s almost impossible to know whether Rembrandt himself painted a painting alone or whether he had help, or whether it was just one of his students copying his techniques.
That difference can also seriously affect the value of a painting, but shouldn’t it be the work itself and not just the name that matters?