4 thoughts on “Day of the Dead”

  1. Ah, I just finished reading this laudatory article (er, conversion story) over at the Guardian! I take it you’re not a fan of Hirst? I’ve waffled a few times, but I generally dislike his vibe and his factory quality product. Hughes made me laugh a few times.

  2. Hi AH. I found Hirst to be the most interesting of the British artists who emerged in the early Nineties but that turned out to be more to do with his novelty value than anything else. His macabre taste tickled mine for a while yet what he does isn’t a patch on the truly macabre, disturbing and, yes, beautiful photo tableaux produced by Joel-Peter Witkin. As for decorating a human skull, I did that myself in 1995 (something I’ve not shown online) and, as has been documented elsewhere, I’m not the only one.

    Any complaint about Hirst for me becomes a complaint about the wider art world, some of which I’ve stated elsewhere. The following can be considered notes around my feelings on this subject which I may as well set down here since I do get asked to comment on this stuff now and then.

    First point is to acknowledge that the small percentage of highly-visible artwork, of which Hirst is a prime example, has nothing to do any more with Francis Bacon’s idea (Bacon being a favourite of DH) of 20th century art being a very elaborate intellectual game. These people don’t have the intellect to even begin doing that. What they are doing is making very expensive, unique objects for the very rich. I’ve no complaint if that’s what they want to do and that’s what they state they’re doing. Just don’t try and gild it (so to speak) with spurious meaning. Hirst’s paintings are fatuous (I don’t care whether he makes them or not), produced out of a need to be selling flat, wall-sized works to those who expect them. Since nothing can be said about their value beyond their inflated cost, you end up with statements like this:

    Tim Marlow, director of exhibitions at White Cube, defended the spot paintings. “They’re incredibly original and counterbalance the decline of originality in the history of painting,” he said. “It’s taking something that looks machine produced but is actually painted by hand. What we see is not what we see.”

    Those are the words of a fool but the very rich are happy to lap up that kind of drivel then they have a justification for their purchase. They’re not simply making an investment and adding to their horde, they’re collecting a work which says that “What we see is not what we see.”

    Don’t take my word for it. Here’s Jonathan Jones in The Guardian for December 20 2007:

    Art has succeeded by selling its soul: it mirrors the vacuities of the mass media instead of offering an alternative. It basks in its own commodification and, worst of all, offers fake, instant humanism. In the end, it’s easier to visit an exhibition and feel clever than to sit down and read a book. Even reading an art review doesn’t take long.

    The other point is one that Robert Hughes made at the end of The Shock of the New and which is even more relevant now: there are too many artists, producing too much work. It can’t all be vastly important and challenging yet the White Cube drones seem unwilling to ever admit that anything is bad at all. (And why would they? They might lose a sale.) Ubiquity leads to a problem for younger artists who need to find an unexplored niche and stay there, hence the phenomenon of artists being defined by the one thing they do which isn’t like anyone else. Perhaps we should start looking at this kind of highly-visible, art-for-the-rich as being a new genre, like paintings of animals were in the 19th century.

    There’s a lot of thoughtful, imaginative worthwhile art being produced, some of which I try to document here. I always advise people to ignore the stuff which makes headlines and look for work which says something to them. If art doesn’t connect with something inside us, if it doesn’t stimulate our minds or fire our curiosity, then it’s nothing more than decoration. And don’t be talked down to by gallery owners with vested interests and an eye on the cash register.

  3. An addendum to the above:

    He is selling batches of autographs at $200m a throw–with the added pleasure of knowing that a dead cow will soon be stinking out some plutocrat’s palace.

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