WNYC’s Sara Fishko has a story this morning about Arnold Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead, the 19th Century Symbolist painting that became a 20th Century phenomenon when middle class Europeans filled their homes with prints of the work.
To explore this, Fishko talked to Steven Heller who is a historian of visual arts and teaches at New York’s School of Visual Arts:
People love stock images because they are multiples. They create a community. We talk now about social media and all of this stuff where people get together in this great digital commons. But having the same image on the wall meant you were part of some sort of society, some sort of group. You were one with other people. The idea of belonging. It’s quite different from being elitist where you have this one Picasso on your walls that is worth millions of dollars.
Heller’s more right than he realizes. The success of art since the turn of the 21st Century has been about sharing and belonging for a global class of very wealthy persons. Having a Picasso on your wall now means more than that you have millions of dollars. If you’re a Gulf State, Russian, Asian or Brasilian collector, it means you belong to the global—not regional—elite.