How artistic idolatry stops us from learning from the arts

A while ago I was watching a documentary on the great masterpieces of the art, in this episode the star was A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat. Mainly this documentary was about the birth of the painting and how the artist came about it. It ended with its significance in present time, illustrated by the many imitations and remakes that have been made since in honour of this masterpiece. Interesting to see was that none of these imitations were using the characteristic pointillism style which is so characteristic for this painting and the style of Georges Seurat, but the key element that the imitations did use was its composition, mainly the way the main characters were placed.

Artistic Idolatry is how the somewhat eccentric novelist and critic Marcel Proust would have described this way of dealing with art. Whereas idolatry is a term for a rather one-sided worshipping of a (religious) aspect, i.e. a god, specific article or book, Proust considers artistic idolatry as the literal worshipping of the objects depicted in the work of art while at the same neglecting the spirit of that same art piece. Instead of putting their focus on the aesthetic principle of the work of art, in the case of la Grande Jatte this could be the innovative pointillism style, the imitators were focussing on the objects (or the lay-out of the painting, elements that we were already familiar with).

I believe this mistake, even non-intentionally, is made many times and is not only limited to the imitation of paintings. Resulting in objects that lack the soul of the original and therefore missing the point. In order to truly honour the artist or the artists work we should [quoting Alain de Botton] look through his eyes at our world and not through our eyes at his world. That way we can truly take lessons from the way art focusses its attention and gain new insights of the world around us.

Remake of "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte"

The painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”. Above a remake (artist unknown), below the original by Georges Seurat.