Excerpt from interview with German painter Markus Lüpertz

What is the role of art in today’s society?

Art is part of society. As artists we belong to society, because a society is judged by the art it produces. The present can’t judge art. It can love or reject art, but nobody can say what great art is at this moment.

History has taught  us what great painting is. During Hans Makart’s time in Vienna, the people wanted to be like Makart. They dressed like Makart, they lived like Makart. Everyone had to have a Makart. And today nobody remembers him.

The present is often wrong. It can be right in error, but it can also be wrong. There is no truth in the present, only affection, love, and rejection. Artists fight for this love to sustain themselves, but they also live with rejection.

The present is like a marriage. I don’t think an artist, a gallerist, or  acollector can understand the art made during his time, he can only love or hate it. Unfortunately, I attract more hate than love, but that’s probably for other reasons.

Do you think that Germany has a special relationship to painting?

It did, up until the 1970s. People used to automatically speak of art as sculpture and painting, and of nothing else—but that was long ago.

How has that change come about?

Because of the media. We live in a world that is preoccupied with hysteria, there’s no more time for painting. For painting you need independent creativity, and that doesn’t exist anymore. If somebody tells you something that’s no longer good enough, people take out their phones and have to show you.

A man no longer tells his friend “my wife is so beautiful, her hair shines, and her eyes glow, and her lips are like a chalice from which I drink.” People don’t say that anymore. He’ll say, “I bagged this great woman, wanna see?” And turn on his phone.

This generation doesn’t have the imagination to perceive something unless they’ve photographed it. If you go to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre the people all have they’re phones out—they don’t even look at the picture.

In fairness it’s not that special, there’s much better portraits, like Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring; that’s a wonderful picture. I think about that every time they hype the Mona Lisa, with her stupid grin. It’s incredibly annoying. But that that Girl With the Pearl Earring—my god that’s a wonderful picture. Captivating. It makes me weep when I look at it.

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