A Van Gogh!

A Van Gogh!
From the artists at ArtWorks945

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Van Gogh at 24

What was Van Gogh like? How did he produce art like his?

Besides the obvious though uninformative answer – genius – it really is hard to say.

But maybe the answers to those two questions lay in Van Gogh’s mind. Maybe what he was like and his genius can be traced to some aspect of his psychology.

I only say ‘maybe’, because I am somewhat suspicious of the psychological in general. But skepticism about the psychological aside, the mind does seem to be an obvious place to look for answers.

Here is a picture of Van Gogh’s psychology at 24.

Van Gogh at 24 (From a letter to Theo)

The history of the Eighty Years' War is magnificent! Whoever should make such a good fight in his life, would do well. In truth, life is a battle, it is necessary to defend and protect ourselves, and we must plan and calculate with a cheerful and brave spirit in order to make progress.

What cannot be cured must be endured, and one must use the weapons within one's reach and the means at one's disposal to make the most of one's powers and gain advantage.

If we could make ourselves a crown of the thorns of life, wearing it before men and so that God may see us wearing it, we should do well.

At 24, Van Gogh liked war, saw the world as a Machiavellian struggle, and wanted to wear before God and man a crown of the thorns of life.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dora Maar, revisited

Yes. Yes. Yes.

I want to talk about Jeanette’s painting.

To begin, I’ll say the following: I’ve never seen any painting quite like it.

It is a representation of Dora Maar. But it contains pictures within pictures. Dora Maar’s face is littered with lines running through it. I have sat for hours looking at the patterns. Sometimes I feel as if I can put it all together; and then I can’t.

Jeanette's Dora is fractured. Her head tilts forward in resignation. It is the face of a woman who may have been fierce at one point but who now mostly just copes.

The reds in the painting pop out immediately. But they lead immediately to the blues and the tans, which oddly enough both recess into the background and extend forward beyond the reds. They recess because of their lightness compared to the reds and extend because of the shape of the face.

The total effect is really quite striking. And like all excellent paintings, it has a tangible presence in person that a picture of it cannot capture.

I wish I could be more articulate in describing Jeanette’s painting. But ultimately I can only keep staring at it.

I suppose that is one of the glorious aspects of art.

At times, one can only gape at it, speechless.

Thank you, Jeanette, for trading your painting.

I love it.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The OJ

As I was walking around campus the other day, I ran into my friend Robert E. Lee. (Yes, that’s his real name.)

I mentioned my new painting and the new unit of measurement that I wanted to introduce. Robert, being the mathematically gifted person he is, immediately saw a problem and then suggested a solution.

Let us suppose for the moment that a ‘cheap’ Van Gogh sells for around $4 Million. And suppose that it is 20” x 20”. Then it will be a 10,000J painting.

If I intend to trade up along the J scale, and if I trade up say 10J per painting, it will take me 1,000 trades to reach my goal. But surely that will take far too long.

What I need, Robert told me, is an exponential increase in the value of my trades. So I need another unit of measurement that will track that kind of increase. He suggested: 10 * log J.

If J = 10,000, then 10 * log J = 40. (For those who don’t remember this bit of math, logarithms track the number of zeros after a one in a number. So log 10 = 1; log 100 = 2; log 1000 = 3; and so on.) If I were to trade up by 2 of these new units per trade, I can reach my goal in twenty trades. And that, we both agreed, seems entirely reasonable.

So what to call this new unit? Well, exactly between ‘R’ and ‘L’ in the alphabet is the letter ‘O’. So in honor of Robert Lee, I will name the new unit of measurement: the OJ.

The OJ reveals an important fact about this project. 10 * log 1 J = 0. So, even though I have managed to trade up to a painting that equals 1 J, that painting has a value of 0 OJ. So on the scale I want to ascend, I have now really and truly just begun.

But will I be able to trade up along the OJ scale? That is the existentially pressing question that I now face. I have little doubt that I can continue to make incremental trades along the J scale. But to pull off this project I need to make incremental trades along the OJ scale.

Because I have only traded up to 0 OJ, however, I have zero evidence that I can do that.

And so, to put the point in somewhat dramatic philosophical language, I face an existentially angst-ridden moment: Will my next trades represent an increase in mere dollars, in J’s, or in OJ’s?

Only time will tell.

Of course, the Universe has helped me out before. So, why not ask again?


I want someone to trade a painting for Jeanette Jones’ Dora Maar that represents an increase along the OJ scale.
I want someone to trade a painting for Jeanette Jones’ Dora Maar that represents an increase along the OJ scale.
I want someone to trade a painting for Jeanette Jones’ Dora Maar that represents an increase along the OJ scale.

If anyone has a painting to trade (especially if it is worth 1 or 2 OJ), let me know.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The J

Jeanette Jones sells her paintings for $1 per square inch.

That strikes me as a very good way to measure the value of paintings, so good in fact that I will introduce a unit of measurement called, in honor of Jeanette, the J. From hereon 1 J equals one dollar per square inch.

When I have looked at various pieces of local art, I have noticed that bigger paintings tend to demand more money. There is a painting on sale at the local bar here that is selling for $800. But as far as I can see, all it has going for it that recommends such a price is its size. It really doesn’t strike me as very good. Nonetheless, it seems as if it must have some reasonable amount of quality, since the artist is asking $800 for it.

However, if one were to calculate the J value of that painting, it would not be all that high. I don’t know the painting’s exact dimensions, but it is much bigger than Jeanette’s painting. So if one were to divide its price by its area in square inches, the result would be a value much lower than 1 J, which strikes me as appropriate. Jeanette’s Dora Maar is a far more aesthetically appealing painting than it.

The importance of the J to valuing art, however, does not stop with local pieces hanging in bars. I looked on Wikipedia and found the following list of the highest priced paintings along with the inflation-adjusted price that was paid for them.

Pollock -- No. 5, 1948 -- $150 Million

De Kooning – Woman III -- $149.1 Million

Klimt – Portrait of Adelaide Bloch-Bauer I – $145.2 Million

Van Gogh – Portrait of Dr. Gachet -- $139.5 Million

Renoir -- Bal du moulin de la Galette – $132 Million

Picasso -- Garçon à la pipe – $120.3 Million

Picasso – Nude Green Leaves and Bust – $106.6 Million

Van Gogh – Potrait of Joseph Roulin – $101.7 Million

Picasso – Dora Maar au Chat – $102.7 Million

Van Gogh – Irises – $102 Million

When I saw this list, I was at first amazed by the amount of money people pay for art. But then I became a bit depressed. True, Van Gogh is on the list three times. But so too is Picasso. And three artists have paintings worth more than Van Gogh’s. Call me petty, but I want Van Gogh to be at the top, especially if I am going to spend a considerable amount of time and effort trying to get one of his paintings.

But then I calculated the J amount for each painting, which of course depends not just on the dollar amount paid for it but also on the painting’s size. And this is the result.

Van Gogh – Portrait of Dr. Gachet 23.4” x 22” -- 270,979 J

Van Gogh – Potrait of Joseph Roulin – 25.35" x 21.73" -- 184,621 J

Van Gogh – Irises – 28” x 36.635” -- 99,436 J

Picasso -- Garçon à la pipe – 39.4” x 32” -- 95,415 J

Klimt – Portrait of Adelaide Bloch-Bauer I – 54” x 54” -- 66,165 J

Picasso – Dora Maar au Chat – 50.5” x 37.5” -- 54,231 J

De Kooning – Woman III -- 68” x 48.5” -- 45,209 J

Renoir -- Bal du moulin de la Galette – 52” x 69” -- 36, 789 J

Picasso – Nude Green Leaves and Bust – 64” x 51” -- 32,659 J

Pollock -- No. 5 -- 8’ x 4’ -- 32,552 J

Calculated in terms of the J, Van Gogh ends up having the top three paintings ever sold. And his top three are each approximately three times the J value of Picasso’s top three respectively. If the Money Thesis is true, (if monetary value tends to track aesthetic value), and if monetary value is calculated in terms of the J, then Van Gogh not only produced the three best paintings ever, but his paintings are three times as good as his closest competitor, Picasso. (I should point out that this calculation ignores the value of the great masters -- Da Vinci, Michelangelo, etc. -- since their paintings are owned by museums and are never put on the market.)

Yes, I very much like the J as a unit of measurement, since it yields the right results for ranking great artists (at least for my purposes).

I also like the J because it represents an interesting conceptual moment in this project.

Jeanette Jones sells her paintings for 1 J. Dominic, on the other hand, doesn’t sell his art for any J at all. Hence, I have traded up to a painting that has allowed me to introduce the unit of measurement by which I can now judge my future progress. And that, at least to my mind, is conceptually rather pleasing.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dora Maar

My new painting is called ‘Dora Maar’. What a work of art! I love it.

It is by Jeanette Jones and is 30’ x 40’.

Jeanette has many other paintings. Here is a link to her work:


I could try to describe Jeanette and her art. But my description could not improve upon her artist’s statement, which is one of the best I’ve ever read.

Jeanette Jones

Please excuse me, I suffer from verbal constipation.

Most of the time I make decisions based on intuition and don't realize until after the fact just what the significance was.

Case in point, I was so struck by Dora Maar, the fact that she was so intelligent and fiery when Picasso met her, yet he broke her down and she was never the same.

I was moved by empathy to paint the portraits of Picasso's women.

The only portrait I treated differently was Francoise Gilot, because she was never broken.

I think I like underdogs, not taking something for face value.

Ok, here is the part I am really bad at... selling myself

I've shown in galleries in Florida & Seattle.

For a year I actually ran a gallery. I've been featured in a few magazines.

I was featured on a local public art showcase.

Here are links to videos that my work is in



Crazy, huh. I know. I am a bit unbalanced.

It's horrible.

Thank you so much for reading.

I have so much to say about Jeanette and her art I can barely take it. But for now I will restrain myself and instead be content to note the convergence of factors that in my experience hardly ever align: the conceptual, the existential, and the astrological.

The astrological factor should be clear: yesterday at 11:23, the Earth's axis was inclined neither away from nor toward the sun. Ahhhh...I just love the equinox. And getting this painting on a day whose beginning was a mere seven minutes removed from that point surely bodes well. It is as if the Universe has blessed the painting, given it the significance of a new beginning.

And from a conceptual and existential level, this project is indeed, at least in some sense, at a new beginning. To explain why, however, will take some time; and so I will postpone the explanation until a future post.

I will, however, mention a fact that is of interest in its own right and is also crucial in understanding just how the conceptual and the existential have aligned.

In addition to creating such brilliant works of art and having such an awesome artist’s statement, Jeanette also has a characteristic that is terribly significant for this project. She has a precise description of the economic value of her art. She sells her paintings for $1 per square inch.

Ok. Enough for now. Except to say: if anyone wants to trade a painting for Jeanette Jones' Dora Maar, let me know.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


My next trade is on the way.

I shipped Take Me Home Toto on Saturday to an artist in Seattle, who shipped me one of her paintings on Friday. It is supposed to arrive in three days. I cannot wait.

Philosophers are often accused of not paying enough attention to emotion. Their critics contend: Reason -- that is all philosophers want to talk about; they completely overlook emotion.

I must admit to being somewhat guilty of such a charge. I sometimes think that with an appropriate amount of reason any problem can be solved. In my more reflective moments, I am willing to admit that such an attitude may be some sort of affliction. But it persists nonetheless.

So I found it interesting that I was emotionally affected when I shipped off Monika’s Take Me Home Toto. As I talked to the UPS agent who was about to package it, I could not help but feel sad at seeing it go. That sadness, then, turned into an exuberant pride, which led me to blurt out to the agent and two of his coworkers: this painting might be famous one day.

Will it be famous? Well, who knows? But I couldn’t help making that claim anyway. And I couldn’t help but be overcome by a feeling of loss when I saw the UPS agent remove the painting from my sight. For the brief time that painting hung on my wall, I loved it.

(Just as an aside, I will say that UPS has been absolutely fantastic so far in arranging the packing and shipping of the paintings involved in this process. So I would heartily recommend their services to anyone thinking about shipping a painting.)

The fact that I became so emotionally attached to Monika’s Take Me Home Toto made me think that I had perhaps isolated a source of the irrationality involved in art. If art stimulates emotion, and if emotion is fundamentally irrational, then of course the art world will be rife with irrationality.

But then I couldn't help but think about a view put forward by Franz Brentano according to which emotions are what track value in the world. According to Brentano, emotions stand to value as sight stands to features of physical objects. If Brentano is right, perhaps emotional experience, far from causing irrationality, in fact injects reason into the art world.

But I didn’t think about any of that for too long, since I was too excited by the prospect of receiving my next painting.


I am once again pleased with the Universe.

So once again: Thank you. Universe.

Thank you.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Some news: I may have another trade lined up.

I want to thank everyone who has approached me about trading since my last trade and apologize to those I haven’t contacted. This damn thing called a job has kept me too busy to respond to everyone. So thank you.

I won’t say much about my next potential trade, lest I jinx it. But I will say that I am very excited: the conceptual, the existential and the astrological are all lining up very nicely.

I have been thinking about the nature of art lately and have been inclining to some bizarre form of Kantianism.

Kant’s view can be understood best by considering a peculiar claim he makes about genius: genius only occurs in art.

Kant’s view strikes many as strange, since most people would readily apply the ‘genius’ label to a scientist like Einstein or a mathematician like Kurt Gödel.

But according to Kant, a true genius makes the rule according to which others are judged. Mathematicians and scientists, though they can be intellectually extraordinarily gifted, nonetheless must at the end of the day respond to some set of objective facts that, so to speak, force their hands.

Artists, on the other hand, are not so constrained. That is partly the result of the elusive nature of beauty: there is no actual specification of artistic beauty that demands our assent as beautiful apart from some standard that results from artists producing their art.

That sounds fairly abstract, I know. Here is a way to think about it. Until Van Gogh painted Starry Night, nothing in the world would have recommended that he paint his painting in quite the way he did. But once produced, Starry Night itself becomes some kind of standard that defines beauty, so much so that one is inclined to think: of course that’s the way Van Gogh painted Starry Night.

Well, at least Kant’s view starts to sound good to me if I say it enough times. But then, most views of beauty are like that.

That beauty; that damn, damn beauty!