“Science has its protocols and scientific protocol requires that there is a method to investigate and, precisely, the ‘eye’ is the denial of the same, and here it is consensus” (sic).
Against the eye as a gift, the method is discussion and consensus, sensibly argued by Jesusa Vega and Julián Vidal in the ‘Proceedings of the Conference Memory and Meaning. The use and receipt of vestiges from the past’, published by the department of History of Art of the University of Valencia (Spain).
Specialists complain that it has been revitalizing myths that were believed to be overmatched in the science of art as the ‘good eye’. “This method to practice attributions, based on praise of the eye which observes and certifies what sees, has left a noxious imprint. Those who practice call it visual experience; others, ‘good eye’ or ‘clinical eye’, and for those who do not have it, ‘glass eye’, and was the justification appeared in the middle of the 19th century”. The eye prioritizes even over the documentation of painting which is under investigation. And is used either to challenge authorship as to discover new authorship… of Goya. The fixed one since the beginning, who is always in the ‘eye’ of a hurricane, is… Goya.
In my opinion, another thing that should be very different is the attribution. For such, it will be necessary, even though not essential, something more than a trained look. I mean. ‘Fled to Egypt’ and ‘Death of San Alberto of Jerusalem’, two canvases that have been allegedly hidden in a convent of the Carmelites in Cuenca (Spain), have been awarded last month to the early work of Francisco de Goya. What method has been followed in this case?
The paintings are displayed in an exhibition organized by the nuns of Cuenca and it is recklessly affirmed that remained hidden. So if hidden, how are in exhibition? And, coinciding with this – despite of being hidden – they are discovered and showed. But how can this be? How does it explain? Cuenca is just 160 km away from the Prado Museum, the largest collection of Goya’s in the world… or from the Museum of the Academy of San Fernando and the National Chalcography, and no one were aware of this.
Indeed yes, there is an expert who attributes them to Goya “although has not done any scientific study to verify the authorship of both canvases” but, to add even something missing, “has not consulted any expert of the Prado Museum in the desire of owning his own opinion”.
On the other hand, the director of the magazine that publishes the news of the discovery and attribution, has said that normally when someone attributes a work to some classic of art always ask for second opinions, although on this occasion it has not done so to the first ‘criteria’ of the expert that concerns us, “who has shown on many occasions that it is a good researcher”.
As we see, this figure of the expert, inevitably, is present also in the world of arts and not even say in the vicinity of Goya and his work. This title of expert I do not truly know how can get access, because it includes conditions that I suspect inscrutable even for the own experts, who eager to learn, deep down, it would say that even suspect of their weakness as experts.
It is known that the artist draws a feeling and slight dress up in a wall at good looking. Or that the internist medical, not mentioning the classic general practitioner, diagnosed in a way that today practically is not exercised in the West. And what is clear today is that issued the opinion of the expert automatically comes near or far another expert who believes radically opposite, because like in this case can argue that still scientific data has not demonstrate the new attribution. And because so few objective arguments are given, and everything is so light and hurried, anyone with a minimum common sense is authorized to question what we have been told, and to think that if we will not be at another bizarre vision of Goya, because one suspects if it will not be many of these expert assessments what in the rich Spanish continues to be a more or less sudden hunch, a nose stinging or, simply, appetite to take position before another expert overtakes and publish it first. Because the arguments put forward in this case may give rise to this and other interpretations possibly as pilgrims as the expert’s.
Perhaps due to all this is the reason why the impact has been limited and like “about what is not documented we cannot talk”, the academic world has received it in its usual line, dedicating a charity silence. Possibly because they are no longer the times for these things, more or less unusual and seemingly improvised, but instead today are used up to the limit rigorous work systems that treats, usually successfully, to meet exactly all of the favourable and unfavourable aspects of each question, assaying up to details and most trivial strokes.
Then well, this comprehensive way of working is also the regularly use for the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world. Reason why I do personally, and as an interesting method to build an opinion about a picture, take the super Decalogue -which actually comprising twelve sections- of ‘L’affaire Velázquez’, the attractive novel by Thomas Hoving, former Conservative Chief of the Metropolitan in New York, published 25 years ago (French Edition by Silvie Messinger. Paris, 1989).
It reads as follows:
1. – Write down the first impression.
2. – Describe the work in its minor details, to force you to see it all.
3. – To determine the condition of the object, its flaws, its age.
4. – Does it have a specific use?
5. – The style.
6. – The subject, the matter, the topic.
7. – The iconography.
8. – What is historic.
9. – The bibliography.
10. – Ask for an outside opinion.
11. – Scientific analysis. Write down the results of all investigations (microscope, chemical test, x-ray, infrared, ultraviolet, spectrograph, thermo luminescence, etc.).
12. – Back to the first impression, and if still held, say therein.
In regard with what is said above, is not less interesting point 10 of this method. To me, both that point as the full Dodecalogue seems to me to be more honest, what does the reader want me to tell. Especially at a time in which advanced techniques of scanners, microscopes and touch screens are used, codes are decoded and at some universities, such as Dartmouth, are seeking all kind of compelling evidences and digital images and complex statistical calculations are used to authenticate works of art.
Gonzalo de Diego
El lector dice, apreciado Gonzalo, que la ironía de Vd. es comprensible. Incluso más allá de lo que finalmente pudiera ser ratificado por segundas valoraciones, caso que constituiría excepción a la norma. Porque lo normal, a lo que venimos acostumbrados, es que de repente algún “experto” vea la luz y gracias a su “buen ojo” rápidamente atribuya o niege lo que muchos mortales de “buen mirar” no veían o concedían.
¿Quizá sea aquello que dijo Anatole France? “La reflexión es una enfermedad que padecen algunos hombres y que acabaría con la especie humana en caso de propagarse”. Quizá.