Blake Gopnik weighs in on the newly unveiled portrait of Bill and Melinda Gates at The National Portrait Gallery, stating it's not "even close to significant art. It’s pretty much interchangeable with any of 10,000 other works of official portraiture":
No one could imagine this portrait, which is the gallery’s second nonpresidential commission, getting even a footnote in the art texts of the future. It couldn’t find a place even in the deepest vaults of the Museum of Modern Art or the National Gallery or any other serious art institution. If you didn’t recognize the celebrity sitters in Friedman’s painting, you wouldn’t spare it a glance. You’d expect to come across it in any corner suite on Wall Street or Capitol Hill—and to keep walking once you saw it.
Friedman says he was paid $75,000 for his expenses and his months of work on the painting. Those are the fees of a fine craftsman, rather than a payment for an object that has real value of its own, out on the open market. Major artworks by major artists fetch far more than that.
But here’s the thing: I think Friedman got his Gates portrait absolutely right. It doesn’t need to be good art, because it isn’t functioning as art at all, any more than the picture on your driver’s license is. It was commissioned by a history museum in honor of its subject—“someone of national significance, someone our audience is interested in,” as curator Brandon Fortune explained—not by an art museum to honor its artist. Speaking after the painting’s unveiling, Friedman said “I’m determined that it exist as fine art,” but he’s wrong to want that. The purpose of pictures like this is to pick out people of note in our culture and hold them up to our notice. And that means that, almost like that photo on your license, once it has picked out its subject its job is almost done. It is a placeholder for its sitter’s virtues, and it can’t hold that place if its own virtues stand out too much. Read on.
Quine on philosophy's "concern with knowledge of the world."
The June issue of Scientific American features an article on observable quantum effects in a growing number of macroscopic systems: