There’s a chap – don’t ask me his name: I’ve never been any good with names. Twelve months on in my job and there’s still people I see every day that I would struggle to name if my life depended on it. In my last job four people all started at the same time and for the first month or so I couldn’t even tell them apart (considering one of them had Ginger hair, this was pretty bad)
Anyway – this chap: most of the time he repairs cars with those airguns that spray paint in controlled bursts onto a surface. Only in his spare time he creates portraits in the same way, working mostly from photographs. These portraits are so good and so detailed as to make them practically indistinguishable from photographs.
And the thing is that the Art World, in its infinite wisdom, has dismissed this man’s works as “a mere display of skill” and not art, on the grounds that there is no artistic interpretation or statement going on.
This is the same Art World that lauds people for displaying their Unmade Bed (Tracy Emin) and filming themselves wondering around an empty hangar dressed as a bear (Mark Wallinger). This is, presumably, the same Art World that dismissed LS Lowry and Beryl Cook as being “too popularist” during their lifetimes, but couldn’t wait to laud them when they were dead.
Now – I have to be honest here and say I don’t completely get Modern Art. The first time I went around Tate Modern in London was just after they’d opened and there was a room with a pasting table and lots of paints and brushes – I wasn’t sure if it was an exhibit or just work in progress. Don’t get me wrong, Salvador Dali was clearly a genius (admittedly a barking mad genius, but still a genius) and some of Andy Warhol’s work was deliberately provoking and interesting as a result, but I like to see something that requires a bit of effort and I’m sorry to say this, but if you take a pile of bricks and put them in an exhibition they are still, at the end of the day, a pile of bricks and not suddenly worth millions of pounds.
I like to look at a piece of art and think “that required skill; that person clearly had to work, train and think hard to create that” and tend to think that anyone who rips out the urinal from their local pub and puts it on display is, quite literally, taking the piss.
But then I quite admire those Japanese Performance Artists who sneak into the Tate and have a pillow fight on Tracy Emin’s bed – arguably an artistic statement 100 times more relevant than the original piece.
Damien Hurst may have made his millions and be the flavour of the moment, but TV artists like Tony Hart and Rolf Harris did 100% more to inspire me by taking the everyday and showing how anyone can create art. I used to love watching Rolf take his huge house brush and, with a few seemingly random jabs create something stunning whilst singing a song about a Jolly Swagman (whatever one of those may be)
What seems more important these days is the ability to explain away what you have created and justify it – I actually read about an “artist” who claimed to have canned his own excrement and put it on display. It was later found out that the cans were empty and now the big argument is – are they worth more or less as a result?
Often Art is only art because we say it is, or is it arguable that everything is, eventually, art? If I hand a paintbrush and some paints to an elephant and let it slap about on a piece of canvas will it create an intricate artwork or a random splash of colour? (Either way – can you make money out of it if you happen to have paint, canvas and a bloody great elephant to hand?)
I think the real art is out there in the streets and the classes, hidden away in hot rooms on summer days where enthusiastic amateurs gather to create and learn something new: not for fame or glory, not to make any great statement – just to have fun and exchange ideas. Perhaps that is the greatest form of art after all?