Digital technologies push and pull. The technical infrastructure now exists to create a single world database of all the world’s art works (or at least pictures of them). This could be organised so that users could search by date, theme, artist, genre and much else. It would be possible to study the iconography of angel wings, the appearance of tools and windmills.
In the absence of a global database I’ve been creating my own and was surprised this evening to discover that many of my favourite paintings are from around 1420 – 1440. It’s only a period of twenty years, but as the small selection below shows, of immense variety.
I find the chronological sequence of art fascinating. What was produced in 1420 and how does the art of 1440 change and differ? But the art is in physical locations all over the world. Some of the art is in ‘private collections’. It cannot even be seen on the existing internet. Sometimes it may be loaned to an exhibition but there are strong caveats that it cannot be reproduced.
The global rich gained over $3 trillion during the global pandemic. But it’s still not enough. Psychologically they just won’t let go. We can see some, but not all. We can reproduce, but with limitations.
Digital systems enable complex databases to be created and powerful search tools. But private property stops this process from fully developing. We have a unique opportunity here. None of the art critics of the past had anything like the digital reproduction that now exists, and yet still it cannot be truly liberated and free. One might talk about capitalism and private property becoming fetters on the further development of the productive forces.
Which is worth considering because the transition out of feudalism was a consequence of exactly such forces of development, fetters on that development and class forces.
1420 – Tebaide – Beato Angelico – Uffizi, Florence
1423 – Adoration of the Magi – Gentile de Fabriano (section) Uffizi, Florence
1425 – Madonna in the Garden of Roses – Stefano de Verona – Castelvecchio, Verona
1425 Steinigung des Hl Stephanus, Gentile de Fabriano – Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien
1425 – The Annunciation – Fra Angelico, Prado, Madrid
1433 – Jan van Eyck, Jan; Portrait of a Man (Self Portrait?); The National Gallery, London
1434 – Jan van Eyck, Jan; Portrait of Giovanni(?) Arnolfini and his Wife; The National Gallery
1435 – A Woman, Robert Campin, The National Gallery, London
1435 – Adoration of the Magi, Stefano Verona, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan
1435 – The Virgin and Child with Saints Anthony Abbot and George – Pisanello – National Gallery, London
1435 – Verkundigung – Fra Angelico, Dresden
1438 ? The Vision of Saint Eustace, Pisanello, The National Gallery, London
If such a database was to be built, perhaps some principles would be useful:
Open to everyone
No involvement of Gruggle or any big tech companies
No commercial interests
It’s art we want, not commodification, monetization and financialization. We get that in every other aspect of life. A space is needed to see art without the corrosive impact of money and private property.