Friday, 27 November 2009

But is it Art?

When I went to Art School about 40 years ago, we used to laugh - albeit nervously - at people who came out with the classic statement, "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like". I now have the greatest respect for those modest people, and I have pangs of guilt whenever I think of the youthful arrogance that allowed me to mock them for their honesty.

I don't know when the mission-statement 'Art is for Everybody' first came into usage, but I know that it wasn't long after that when it was misinterpreted to mean 'Art can be made by Everybody, then Immediately put on Public Display'. Anyone who believes that ought to also say, 'Glass-blowing is for Everybody', then try drinking out of a vessel made by a librarian in his lunchtime, and see how they get on.

Making real art is bloody hard work - even for those to whom it comes 'naturally'. The people who make it look easy are simply displaying their knowledge and experience, distilled into the one piece that you happen to be looking at, and the leaner and more economic it is, the greater the distillation process - in some cases. 'Abstract' (or non-figurative art) ought to be an intense form of this distillation, but is instead the form most hi-jacked by charlatans since it was experimented with in the early 20th century, and it is those very charlatans who continually defend themselves by accusing others of ignorance and illiteracy. I very much doubt if they could succinctly point out the abstract qualities in the best figurative painting by masters like Velasquez, or convincingly explain the difference in quality between a Rothko and one of Damien Hirst's appalling 2009 paintings.

Because the international gallery system has turned 'Art' into a speculative commodity, the value placed on 'fine art' has veered away from aesthetic, and is now virtually 100% monetary. The confidence that the average person had in being able to make informed and correct judgments between the good and the bad, has been deliberately undermined by the very people who exploit the 'Art is for Everybody' hoax. That is why there is so much bad art around.

You really cannot blame businessmen like Hirst for exploiting the situation, and I'm not even sure if you can blame P.R. men Like Charles Saatchi either, but I'm pretty sure you can blame the corporations and galleries that buy this junk because they are told to by their accountants.

Meanwhile, generations of adult students attend life-classes in their spare time, purely in order to learn how to 'see' like they used to when they were children, before they were cruelly told by 'experts' that they did not understand what they were looking at (see the above post - it even brought tears to John Major's eyes). Pretty much all of them have no intention to exhibit their work, and are more than satisfied with the feedback from their peers and positive criticism from their teachers.

Why is this stuff so important? Because we are surrounded by it. Pretty much everything we touch - every artifact, domestic appliance, automobile, article of clothing, building, etc. etc. - has been made by some sort of artist, and that's just the 3-D world. We are all confident in recognising bad design, but somehow that doesn't stop bad designers from selling their products through the P.R. system.

We were also all born with the innate ability to tell the difference between bad art and good art. Don't let some talentless and bitter intellectual tell you otherwise.


  1. Vision, thought, aesthetics, skill, and time. I have always considered these as essential in 'good art'. Sadly we live in an age when 'originality' has surpased talent. But, fear not, it won't last!