Friday, November 19, 2004

Sellling out

When you do creative work for others, for money, how much of yourself are you selling? Rembrandt van Rijn had to deal with this question back in 1653 at a time when he was in deep financial trouble. He took a commission from a rich Sicilian, whose assignment was a painting of a phillosopher. Rembrandt seems not to have had much trouble coming up with Aristotle as the philosopher. And he set him in a scene in which he is pondering a bust of another famous Greek, Homer. So in the painting, we have a well-fed, well-clothed Aristotle, with gold dope rope, perhaps not unlike the patron who commissioned Rembrandt. And Aristotle seems to be asking himself whether he might have sold out when he accepted the patronage of his famous pupil, Alexander the Great. I mean, how many of us have done freelance for somebody called "The Great?" So Aristotle looks well-fed, and the bust of Homer looks....well, lean. Homer played harp at parties and got a pittance for it. But he didn't particular care whether he got rich. He was happy doing his thing, which was poetry. So Aristotle in Remembrandt's painting seems to be asking a question that maybe Rembrandt himself was asking as he did the project. What do you think?

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