Happy Monday; the Art World – I think its eating itself.

Everyday we are assailed by countless images often validated by some kind of celebrity and this perverts our ability to place our own value on an image. This value distortion effects everything – it demotes genuinely great art and promotes the dross.

Here’s a quote I picked almost at random from the website of the Ludwig Museum in Koblenz, Germany about a 2005 group show called Personal Structures. The quote talks of the responsibilities of the participating artists to the exhibition.

…What is crucial here is that they express their intentions of adopting their own minimal language of forms, as well as their tendency towards emotionalizing the work and towards creating installations which define space. This especially applies to instances where painterly or sculptural positions are defined as material- or process-oriented and the boundaries between the genres are critically and experimentally expanded. It becomes very clear here that subjectivity and per­sonality do not necessarily have to manifest themselves in an expressive language of forms and in a rhetoric of gesture, but may rather very subtly unfold, in an interplay between subjective decisions, conceptualizations and the self-dynamics of materials and working processes, putting themselves into question, if necessary.

Ask yourself what the purpose of this explanationation is. The words are little more than a carefully arranged series of vowels, consonants and spaces designed to confuse the uninitiated and appeal to the pretentious who sport lumps of plasticine where their hearts ought to be.

There is a common thread amongst art academics that the public (or unanointed) aren’t able to grasp the concepts of high brow conceptual art, that this art is pertinent only to those in the art world. If that is the case then why is so much money spent on promoting it to the public? The answer to that question lies somewhere in the commoditisation of that art world and the way in which it is a business like any else with curators, artists and gallerists colluding to retain and enhance the value of the product they sell.  In one important way the art world is less honest than banking – banking is regulated and stock brokers will divest themselves of devalued stock whereas gallerists will artificially rig the price.

Damien Hirst’s two day sale at Sotheby’s in 2008, Beautiful Inside my Head Foreverwhich took place on the day Lehman Brothers collapsed was criticised by several arts writers on two grounds: first that many of the artworks were purchased by galleries which already held large stocks of his work and needed to prop up the value even at the expense of their bank accounts and, secondly, that despite the huge sums reported it is not known how many of the transactions were concluded as the banking system was collapsing and many purchases may not have completed. If a stunt like this was pulled in banking then it would be against every FSA rule but in the art world this is permissible.

We are now at the stage where the word ‘value’ when applied to art can mean either its intrinsic artistic worth or its price in the market. The artworld pretends that it places money low down the priorities of what constitutes good art (how many times have you heard the parable about the impoverished artist?) – but in reality the true value of art is how much it is worth in auction.

The addiction of the gallery system to monetary value  has a deadening effect on the photography and art being taught in art schools. The most successful schools will steer their students towards producing work that is relevant to the art market and guide them to their first shows – in each year’s cohort there are some truly remarkable talents but there is an awful lot of mediocrity too. The art market, like any other economic organism, needs to feed demand in order to achieve year on year growth and will mould the less prepossessing work into a form fit for consumption hence the drivel written by academics justifying why we should care about another boring, production line installation.

As Oscar Wilde said,

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

Well, Oscar, you didn’t know how right you were. We’re ALL looking at the stars although many of us are looking at the kind that don’t so much twinkle as sprinkle if you know what I mean. The art business can only survive if its main beneficiaries achieve the kind of sales growth that would impress a property tycoon. Because of this academics are in thrall to the businessmen and the artists are, in turn, in the thrall of the academics. This can make the early twenty first century an uncomfortable place to make art because, in the back of your mind is the constant nagging question, “how relevant is this piece to the art world?”

So what’s the point of this post? Firstly to figure out what I really think and secondly to see if it strikes a chord with you.

I thank you.

Please let the 450 people who read this blog know what you think.

  1. How do you manage to keep your eyes open to the fresh without venerating all that is new nor honouring all that is old just because it is so?
  2. If you are a photographer/painter/writer etc how does the world feel to you right now and where does your work sit in it? If you enjoy art what is your relationship with it?
  3. Tell me, who’s work makes your heart flutter and your head spin. Which pictures make you cry? Which picture/book/series would you have lost an arm to have shot or written yourself? To own which picture would you sell parents/children/soul?

Please tell me and the other readers about the art you really LOVE. And perhaps a bit about the work you hate.


6 thoughts on “Happy Monday; the Art World – I think its eating itself.”

  1. But it is gobbledegook is in’t it! I know that you can unpick the words and and work out what they mean without too much trouble the problem is that curators feel that the words are needed to justify what they know is a fairly thin subject.

  2. I enjoyed this post, particularly the choice of quotes. You’ve found one of the most egregious examples of artistic self-agrandising, self-justification I’ve ever seen. Mind you, there are literally millions of words-worth of this stuff out there, and clearly not penned by a Wordsworth. Not to mention a Wilde.

    I’d like to have a go at answering your three questions.

    1. Unpopular is I guess this may be, I think the key to this is the development of faith. In my case religious faith. We’re not the first to have got here. Many if not every generation find themselves despairing of the decaying priorities of civilisation. And yet, the world goes on, and seemingly in many ways things actually get better! In my defence, I proffer a quote of my own, this time from Socrates: “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.” For Socrates, the future must have looked pretty desparate, but I reckon he would have been happy with the moderate progress that we have made, and maybe surprised that we’re even still here at all.

    2. In contrast to my optimistic view of the future, I have to say the present looks quite dreadful. If you want to literally puke your guts up at the dire state of affairs we face, have a look at this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvQBUccxBr4 which is for me, the most frightening example to date of how bad things can be. This short performance moved me to tears. No, not that way, I wept for a mass of humanity so disenfranchised from their critical faculties that the image of a palm tree and a camel with a man shooting a rifle could actually come to represent the horror and complexity of the Iraq war (Afghanistan is famed for its apricots, Iraq, and particularly Basra for its dates). If you foolishly clicked that link and actually watched the history of western military incursion in the middle east reduced to 6 minutes and 45 seconds of schmaltz, then I thoroughly recommend you look at this for a few moments: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guernica_%28painting%29#mediaviewer/File:PicassoGuernica.jpg

    3. This one changes from day to day, this week it’s Adi Nes, who has a show here in Stockholm at the moment.

    1. Excellent Eiran. In a way your Socrates quote says that it was ever thus and that ‘stuckists’ like me ought to shut up. But you agree that it’s ok to criticise the bullshit I think. I’ll need a bit of time to consider your comment in full, though. Very good to hear from you. A

    1. I don’t know much about him but from what I’ve read and seen he was an excellent art historian and great presenter. No bullshit there.

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