Apparently, Peter Lik is the guy who claims to have sold the world’s most expensive photo (see $6.5 Million Landscape Is World’s Most Expensive Photo). Lik sells his work through 15 of his own branded galleries, the kind you find in touristy hot spots where the Nouveau Riche tend to congregate. He claims to have sold over 100,000 photographs for more than $440 million. The New York Times, however, is questioning his claims. At auction, the most his photos have sold for is $15,860, and that is his only verifiable sale that has brought in more than $3,000. Hucksterism, anyone?
On a related note, I found this nugget on Mr. Lik’s blog, Exposed (!). Apparently he’s not a “Leica Guy”:
Austrian artist and photographer Ernst Haas once said, “Leica, schmeica. The camera doesn’t make a bit of difference. All of them can record what you are seeing. But, you have to SEE.” It is important for photographers not to get discouraged by the standard of their equipment (or lack thereof). So if you don’t have top-of-the-line equipment, don’t sweat it. It’s the talent and tenacity of the person clicking the shutter that is the most critical ingredient in getting great shots.
And he is right, although he may not be the most believable of messengers given his technologically driven creations, but that doesn’t make the message any less true.
And as for his art, well, ‘Art’ is what people say it is, and clearly, he’s selling enough of his to rightfully claim that many people see his work as ‘Art.’ Is it something I’d buy? No. But aesthetic sensibilities vary, and the majority of folks don’t understand critically acclaimed creations that require an aesthetic, cultural or intellectual context, as attested by the fact that Steven Speilberg movies have a much larger audience than something by Györgi Feher.
Frankly, you can argue that most ‘Art’ today is a confidence game, defined by a power structure of curators and dealers with little criteria other than what will make them money. In photography, Cindy Sherman comes to mind. But its been that way since the mid 1800’s, when the rise of bourgeois wealth created a demand that the new vocation of art dealer arose to meet. With it came the self-promoting Artist, whether it be Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray or Thomas Kincaide and Peter Lik. And with it came the art enthusiast who waits for others to say “this is Beautiful art” before he can say the same. It’s just the way it is.
Which is not to say there ultimately isn’t any objective standard one can use to define great Art. If you’ve ever visited the Vatican and stood in awe in the Sistine Chapel, or sat in a church in Mississippi and listened to a gospel choir sing Amazing Grace, or listened to John Coltrane interpreting a blues standard, you know transcendent Art exists. And Mr. Lik is correct: it’s got nothing to do with equipment and sterile technique. It’s about vision, about an idiosyncratic conversation with the otherwise unobserved.