The work of art that rocked Shakespeare’s Globe theatre on Friday was not a painting – it was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Yet it was created in precisely the same era as the paintings the market is apparently falling out of love with. Why is the visual art of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries losing favour when drama from that age can still pack ’em in?
The New York Times asks if old master art can regain its “relevance.” Watching Shakespeare at the Globe offers a couple of answers. Make it new: productions of the Bard are popular because theatre is so good at revealing his contemporary pertinence. In fact, the Globe’s Dream goes as far as I’d ever want a theatre to do in that direction, including, ahem, changing some of Shakespeare’s words. This brings me to the second suggestion: make it democratic.
The reported crisis in the old master market is the inevitable result of the snobbery and elitism that has suffocated paintings for far too long. The very term “old master” is a horrible, destructive piece of pretension – what does it even mean? The custodians of oil paintings often seem to revel in the obscurity of their taste, putting on exhibitions that flaunt erudite connoisseurship and have little to say to the general public.