The Broader Picture
On Tuesday, February 10, a world-renowned artist paid a visit to an Ogden Honors College classroom. Michael Triegel, a German painter best known for his portraits—including, perhaps most famously, the official portrait of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI—visited the students of Art & Its Markets, a small discussion-based Honors seminar taught by Professor of Art History Dr. Darius Spieth.
Triegel was visiting LSU to attend a reception for an exhibit of his work at the Glassell Gallery in Baton Rouge and give a lecture at the LSU College of Art + Design, but made a special stop to visit with Honors students. “I traveled 10,000 miles from Lepzig basically just to talk to you,” Triegel said.
In HNRS 2021: Art & Its Markets, Honors students explore the structures and mechanisms of art markets both historically and in the present day. “We explore what happens to art after it is produced, how the taste for certain types of artworks has changed over time, and how art markets reflect and relate to what is happening in the general economy or in its financial markets,” Dr. Spieth explained. “We do a lot of economic and statistical analysis—not just of art markets but of financial markets and of the everyday, practical market situations students may encounter in their lives.”
Art & Its Markets students begin by studying the private-patronage business model of the Renaissance and the origins of the modern-day art market in seventeenth-century Netherlands. They then examine various iterations of art markets throughout history, such as the 20th century postwar American market, the media-savvy 1980s art-market boom, and the internet’s continuing impact on art valuation.”
Throughout the course, Dr. Spieth invites working artists to class discussions to grant students insight into how artists interact with art markets. This semester, students were given the opportunity to interact with Michael Triegel and the artist SHAG (also know as Josh Aigle), who work in Leipzig, Germany, and California, respectively. “We examine how different artists develop different strategies,” Dr. Spieth explained. “We talk with artists about how they philosophically position themselves with regard to the market, and how they resolve some of the dilemmas associated with the clash between economic and artistic activity—such as, can I strike a balance between the demands of the market and my artistic vision?”
“But the course content also transcends discussions of art,” Dr. Spieth noted. “Our exploration of the nature of markets is applicable to many other disciplines. This year we have students in the class who are majoring in business, accounting, psychology, pre-med, and I strive to make sure that what we cover is relevant for them.”
Michael Triegel’s visit to the class was one of the highlights in this semester. Triegel is best known for his portraiture, but the majority of his paintings feature religious themes, still-lifes, and landscapes. The artist spoke candidly about the joys and challenges of building a career as an artist, and engaged in a lively discussion with Honors students. He discussed challenging portrait commissions, finding a gallery that fits his needs, and his own very time-consuming artistic process, in which he employs techniques of the Old Masters such as underpainting in grisaille and oil glazing.
“My paintings take a long time, so I have lower production,” Triegel explained. “But this leads to higher cost. Because I am rare, I am interesting to the market.”
Students asked Triegel a number of questions about his business relationship with his gallery, and how marketing or financial considerations might influence his artistic work. “The art market can be dangerous,” Triegel said. “Sometimes the gallery directors become more important than the artists. The question for the artist becomes: do you produce work for the market? Or, what is my idea of art? What do I want to say, regardless of saleability?"
Triegel explained that driving up costs was not the motivation behind his distinctive painting style. “I believe art should have more to do with the people, society, religion, than the market,” Triegel said. “The artist must do what he must do. If the galleries like it, then, good. If not—you must drive a taxi.”
“The most important thing is to work, is to paint, and don’t think about where it takes you.”
Triegel was also able to give students a view into a world without a functioning art market; he described his experiences growing up and training to become an artist in East Germany. “The so-called 'German Democratic Republic' was democratic only in name,” Triegel recalled. “Of course, its marching directions came from Moscow, but when you are a child, you do not realize this.” There was no market of any kind. No advertising. No brands, except for one brand of each consumer good, which was government-produced.”
“Communist art was socialist realism,” he continued. “This is not actual realism but the dream of a reality created by the government. It’s propaganda. Happy workers, glowing landscapes. Showing actual reality was dangerous, but some East German artists, such as Wolfgang Mattheuer, tried to show this in a coded form.”
“After the wall fell, no one knew our East German artists,” Triegel said. “There was no market for their work, and it was kind of too late for them to start over. It’s really a lost generation of artists.”
Dr. Spieth noted that artist classroom visits usually result in rich discussion and analysis. “One of the great thing about teaching Honors students is that they know how to engage with art,” he said. “They know how to look, how to process visual information and analyze it, how to place it into a larger historical and social context. And they’re open-minded.”
“There are all sorts of ways to make art history applicable to a student’s interest,” Dr. Spieth continued. “When they write their research papers, I encourage them to explore a topic related to their major. So we have a pre-med student is investigating the market for anatomical illustrations. Another student who is involved in racing is studying vintage car auctions.”
Triegel’s visit thus was not only an opportunity for Ogden Honors students to learn about art directly from an artist; it was also a chance for students to hear from a professional on how he had turned his passion into a career.
“Whatever it is you do in life,” he concluded, “you need to find your own niche—your specialty. What it is you are really good at? This lesson transcends my Honors class, and I try to work with all my students toward that goal.