Offbeat 24 July 2015
From what I can gather on the web, there are a lot of questions about conceptual artists, but most particularly a guy called Damien Hirst who got really well-known when he started stuffing somewhat gruesome bisected animals in glass tanks full of formaldehyde, but also for a diamond encrusted skull and vast amounts of polka dots on huge canvasses.
The thing is that the critics are beginning to hate him, and reckon the prices that he gets for his work are way too high. Each piece of his work sells for many millions of pounds, and I read somewhere that he is personally worth about 350 million pounds. If you need a bunch of polka dots on a large canvas, get in touch with me immediately. I can do it for a couple of hundred thousand dollars, even on a wall if you want an immovable asset.
There are other artists who go at very high prices. Tracey Emin’s messy bed sold for a couple of million pounds, and Jeff Koonz’s balloon dog sold for over 58 million dollars, making him the most expensive living artist of all time. If you give me a million dollars, I will personally get training in how to blow balloons and twist them into animal shapes, though I am having a half price special on Namibian wurst shapes. Make me a decent cash offer on my bed and I may throw in the bedside table as well, undusted.
All of this wittily said, I refuse to contribute to the undertone of outrage, which I will proceed to riff on, with or without balloons.
No irony, sarcasm or ‘snark’ intended, I really need that sort of conceptual art in my life, even if I don’t fully understand it or can’t afford it even in my wildest dreams. My life, and I suppose yours, is a series of routines that often translate into unnoticeable ruts. When I look at something new by Koonz or Emin or Hirst, my routine thought processes are disrupted, almost like a slap to my head, reminding me that there are different things in the world. It’s sort of like an instant day off in a month full of dreary, repetitive tasks. One look also reminds me that I have a rut, and that I should at least be aware of the rut. That’s incredibly valuable, even if it is a quick glimpse of something on the web. If it comes with a photo of Tracey Emin smiling, that’s an added bonus, because she has one of those ones that remind me of sin.
One of the things that the critics gripe about is the shortage of painstaking technique. Apparently art should take time. I’m not sure about that at all. The first thing I can say is that there are plenty of houses filled with kitsch items in fake gilt frames that are mass produced in Asia. Don’t be fooled by the texture of the paint. That can be done by printer application.
I am not sure about the appropriateness of having teams doing the job, as directed by the artist, another gripe of the critics. I might appreciate the hand of the artist, but I am also aware that the practice of giving assistants creative heartburn stretches back at least to the old masters of the Renaissance.
The other thing that the critics gripe about is the element of showmanship. Critics obviously aren’t aware that salesmanship is extremely dependent on showmanship and that, perhaps, money in the pocket enables artists to do things like eat.
So what the whole complaint boils down to is that people are selling bizarre bits of art, produced by showmen who direct teams, for vast amounts of money. I really can’t say that I have a problem with that. Nations use teams of soldiers to deliver huge amounts of explosive power, and everybody takes a look at that as well. Artists don’t kill people, so they do a good job, with the possible exception of the guy who nailed his testicles to the cobblestones in Red Square. He might be classified as suicidal, but I doubt anyone will follow his example.
I’m a sensation seeker. I need new ideas in my head. If that is a balloon dog or a canvas full of polka dots, that is fine with me as well. I’m going to ignore the critics and enjoy my inner weirdness.