Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Ignorance isn’t always bliss. Educate yourself you damn heathen!

Ignore the title. It’s an exaggeration of sorts. It’s an exaggeration in that I wouldn’t say it to someone but thoughts of the same effect have crossed my mind when talking to someone who is not part of the art world.
Since the yBas in the 1990s triggered a boom in public interest of the fine art world, it has given a voice to the general masses in which was once a very exclusive and elitist section of culture. This is NOT a bad thing. This is fantastic. Art should be for everyone, everyone should have a voice and an opinion. Whether that person does research and reading into the art world, keeps abreast with current news and trends and gains a knowledge and understanding of the context and history surrounding artists and works or just stands on the sidelines shouting “advice” in a similar way to how I shout at the television when watching football, is up to the individual.

One thing I thought coming to art school would help me with is handling the typical argument of “Joe-I don’t get modern art-Bloggs”. That argument being, “is that art? I could do that. A four year old could do that!” You know the score. “An unmade bed? I’ve got one lying around at home, is that art?” NO IT ISN’T!
The counter argument is simple, taking Tracey Emin’s “My Bed” as an example. Her’s is art because she thought about taking that bed into the context of a gallery space. She took it into the art world, with a concept behind it. The concept in this case being deeply personal. She was taking a step back and looking at her lifestyle, then baring the most personal of her possessions and affectations for all to view and judge, allowing the bed to tell its own story. It highlights the imperfections and insecurities of the artist.

Your bed however, Mr. Bloggs, isn’t art because you didn’t think of it. You’ve thought of it now having seen Emin’s bed.

There was a BBC series last year called “School of Saatchi”. It was essentially an art world X-factor, starring Emin and eternal suck-up Matthew Collings as well as some other art world non-entities as “the panel”. There were also a group of contesants, a mixture of annoyingly cocky, arrogant, eccentric, idiotic and slimey. There were at least a couple of contesants who seemed genuinely talented and had interesting ideas and concepts driving their work. The whole premise of the series was to impress the panel of Saatchi’s minions and to ultimately get Saatchi to purchase or show a contestant’s work. It was annoyingly entertaining in the way that style of programme always is. It was infuriating to watch, but you couldn’t stop.
My main problem with is was that it showed a group of artists who were not representative of the art world, who were making deliberately controversial work to impress Saatchi. Airing to the masses, this did not portray contemporary art in a good light.
How can we argue about the values of true art when rubbish like that is put on a pedestal as examples of contemporary British art?

The next stage of Mr. Bloggs’ argument is; “Okay, I can’t do the bed, how about if I make something new? What if I put my toaster on top of my TV? Is that art?”
Yes Mr. Bloggs, if you can justify your concept behind it and take it into an artistic context (not necessarily a gallery), it is art.

This is the line we must walk, however painful. It must also be highlighted that there is a difference between what is art and what is good art. The individual (and not just monetary) value  of a piece is another argument altogether!

What adds to my infuriation with this argument is that it was won nearly a century ago. Marcel Duchamp and the Dadaists showed that art wasn’t just paintings and sculpture and that other objects, such as Duchamp’s  readymades, could be art when taken into that context. Manzoni did a similar thing later on with much of his work.
Another dimension to this argument is the one surrounding the economics of art. This is often hard to justify and being honest, I don’t always like to, especially in the current economic climate, I believe money needs to be spent wisely. The way I do try to justify it though, is by grouping artists with professional athletes such as footballers and with Hollywood movie stars. People will always pick holes in this and there’s only so much you can do to argue the point. I tend not to.

What does annoy me is the exaggeration or ignorance when it comes to the real value of individual pieces of work. I talked to someone this week who was appalled at the thought that spin paintings made by Damien Hirst and David Dimbleby on the BBCs “Seven Ages of Britain” would sell for “a million each”, for what was thirty seconds of easy work. I’d highly doubt whether these pieces would ever sell, I think Hirst would probably give them to Dimbleby otherwise they would have been destroyed. It’s the belief that artists have a license to sell anything they touch for millions. Yes the prices are high, especially when it comes to the likes of Hirst et al but Mr. Bloggs does have a tendency to exaggerate the prices of individual pieces.
It’s a difficult position to be in, having to justify the work of others in an effort to protect the integrity of what you do. It seems though, that it’s a position we, in the art world, look unlikely to escape from anytime soon.

I looked at every other word when writing that and wondered, “is that a word?” It’s obviously been a while since I’ve written anything of importance.


paula said...

i dont get the sense you care if you get comments...but i wanted to say i enjoyed your thoughts and writing here. well put.

Tim Hodge said...

Sorry if it comes across like that. I should really turn on email notifications for comments. I don't often realise I get them.

All comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Thank you. It's nice to get some feedback on it. I'm often not sure whether what I'm writing makes sense to other people at all!

paula said...

thanks for the reponse tim.
and to me, you make a lot of sense. i like that you have done the art school thing and i haven't, what you share helps connect what i deem some missing 'gap' between artists like me vs artists like you (schooled). i'm enjoying it all, the video's, struggles, thoughts, etc. keep it up. i'm sending people your way, good blog!

Tim Hodge said...

Thank you!
I'm really glad it makes sense and you're getting something out of it.
I appreciate the feedback! :)