Why Art Can’t Exist Without Entertainment . . .

Whistler’s Mother, one of the most well-known works of the 1800s, means different things to different people. For some it is an exploration of a grave sentiment of mourning. For others it is a slap in the face of painting styles as this artwork contains no narrative structure in a time when narrative expression was the norm. And for anyone under the age of 30, this painting stands for one of the funniest scenes in the first Mr. Bean movie.

Whistlers Mother

Whistler’s Mother has arrived at the NGV for a strictly limited three month swap with Paris’ Museé d’Orsay. It will be displayed in its own exhibition which chronicles the dramatic impact this work had on society from its volatile reception through to its iconic status in the modern era and the impact it has had on the art world in between. Is that why I will be going to see it?

No.

I will be checking out this exhibition, and so will many other people under 30, to see the real-life version of a painting which Mr. Bean ruined and replaced with a poster in Bean, the first Mr. Bean movie.

Without this tremendously hilarious take off which saturated pop culture in the 90’s, this painting wouldn’t have the lasting impact with younger generations. In fact, it is due to its inclusion in this comedy movie that this work of art continues to have relevance for a certain audience.

Some devout art appreciators seem to take offence at my relationship with this painting. Why should something so commercial enhance my appreciation of a work that is so artistic? Doesn’t that go against the historical impact of a work of art?

In this case, it actually doesn’t.

Whistler’s Mother was well ahead of its time when it came to marketing. When it was first painted in 1871 it defied the painting conventions of the day where artworks were based in their ability to convey a narrative – much like the phrase ‘A picture tells a thousand words’. However this work, on its own, certainly does not write an essay let alone create a paragraph. It wasn’t until it received an international celebrity endorsement from US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934 when he placed it on a special stamp for Mother’s Day that the painting became a household name.

So to those people who dismiss any appreciation of this painting from the Mr. Bean movie, the only reason you know of this painting today is because someone liked it enough to endorse it through a stamp. You can’t escape the power of clever marketing and Whistler’s Mother certainly won’t escape this as it continues to be used in comedic parody after comedic parody leading to an international impact for many years to come!

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