Monday, 28 July 2008

Take Art?

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?


Anonymous said...

Yes, perhaps it is. But I will take it further and say that the real artists should be campaigning to make their work the real forefront of art and not the frivolous pieces of s*** like the ones I'm about to name:

A little while ago, a co-worker explained to me that there was an exhibit in some museum in Manhattan that was simply 2 basketballs in a fish tank. The artist was paid millions.

And years before that, some guy put a whole bunch of scratches with his pen on a piece of paper and also sold that for millions.

Maybe everyone should just quit their jobs, do something random on some form of canvas and get money this way.

Lydia said...

You've presented a really interesting discussion here and have introduced me to some names that I must research online so I can get an idea of the examples you've cited. I love the art that comes from the classrooms and the sidewalks. At least when a kid shows you a drawing and you say, "Very good!" it comes from the heart, whereas paying millions for some junk heap comes from the ego.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Samurai - the basketballs in the fish tank is exactly what i'm talking about. Pretentious nonsense.

Lydia - i agree, most of the pretentiousness of art is about making the critic look good. You should look up Beryl Cook's work. She was an amateur who built up a following in the UK. I guess i'd name (American) Hopper as one of my favourite artists, just because theres a simple, almost reportage element. But Rolf Harris is always king!

Honour said...

Hear, hear. I agree - the best art of all.

I have a hard time with "high" art. I like it when it's on the streets and I'm allowed to be an expert on it, just because I'm human and I like things and I don't like things.

I like art when it means something to the creator. Not because the creator is *trying* to be an artist. Does that make sense?

Honour said...

p.s. A poet from Canada (Poet at Large) posted an interesting quote she found in April. It was about poetry - but said that we should not do "art for art's sake" but "art for spirit's sake".

Check it out - it's hilarious.
Here is my favorite quote: "When art becomes enamored with itself, it can become a form of masturbation."

for the Paul Lonely's Full Article see:

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Honour - i know exactly what you mean about the difference between making something that means something to you and making something just to be arty.

Thanks for the link - i will have a look

Michael said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael said...

I'll speak for the artists.


There has always been a leading edge of art that was rejected when new. And artists, young ones especially, always want to do something that no one else has done. Rejection is inevitable and perhaps expected. Also, it is perpetuated by critics. When I was in art school (20 years ago) the two famous criticisms were, "my paraplegic Grandma could paint that with her eyes closed" or "I'm not an artist, but I know what I like, and that's crap."

I heard those lines dozens of times, but the one time that I saw an art history prof look at one of my paintings with a colleague, nod wisely and smile, I felt completely validated. I was safe and reinforced within the walls of the university, but as soon as I stepped outside, I had to get a real job and let the painting go. No reinforcement and no money and no self-esteem to persist despite.

Ah, the good old days.

There's a whole culture in art that encourages an intellectual elitism and doesn't care to help the audience understand or worse, seeks to alienate, for the sake of art: "I knew you were going to hate this. That was my intent."

There really is a reason for the basketballs in the fish tank or "The Woman in a Hairnet," (Picasso), but if the artist doesn't or can't explain the long route of art history that lead to the piece then he has to expect a little negative feedback. And if he's really lucky, the patrons of the artworld elite (i.e., the ones with the money) will buy his work and keep the fire burning. Also, if he's really lucky, someone from outside the "trained" circle with get what he's trying to say, or make an effort to learn.

By the way, Picasso was a wonderful artist in the classical sense and could have done whatever he wanted. Luckily for us, he had the ego to follow his heart.

One last thought: There are parallels in music and fashion. Take fashion (please). How many times have you seen someone walking around with their ass-crack hanging out for the sake of fashion and wanted to mock them? I know I do. But, I don't because our culture gives us choice and I'm OK if someone wears something that I think is retarded or if I wear something that makes someone else sneer in derision.

I should take up painting again. I think I'm ready to persist!

Excuse the ramble,