Damien Hirst – Fish and a Failed Painter?

The following is part of a recent debate on facebook about Hirst’s Fish piece:
Matthew Collings included it in a ‘Design’ album then contested its meaning especially with Paul Gladston. I joined in at this point.

hirst_swimming
Isolated Elements Swimming in the Same Direction for the Purpose of Understanding: 1992

I would like to put to one side the contest between ‘modernistic’ thinking and the ‘deconstructive’ approach ( I simplifying here but a brief read through the blurb for Mr Gladston’s book ‘Art History after Deconstruction’ suggests he believes that it a false dichotomy and that deconstruction is essential to all art history (I am sure he will put me right if that a glib analysis). If we are looking at formal principles only then the most striking element for me is that firstly this piece is a reworking of the shark (1991-2) with smaller items which also echoes pharmacy and secondly that the fish selected are not native British species at all which suggests they imported. Lacking definitive knowledge of this ( the Gordon Burn book doesn’t tell) suggests that there is no order or meaning in the fish of themselves apart from a slightly exotic selection.

The Burn book shows that Hirst basically failed as a painter (he exhibited cardboard boxes covered in household paint at Freeze in docklands before he switched tack entirely)- the spot paintings revamped a Schwitters influenced colour collage phase he went through on Goldsmiths M.A. before leaping into the contained sculptures specifically the head and flies.

lekaythisismybody-1987

 

John LeKay. This is my body, this is my blood. 1987

John LeKay who Hirst finally met in 1992 had been doing similar work throughout mid- eighties and from then on Hirst pretty much apprenticed himself to LeKay in intellectual terms. A quick look through LeKay’s catalogue shows a far more interesting and thought out set of works. Indeed Hirst interviews LeKay in PIG magazine (LeKay’s magazine) and it master and pupil in tone. Hirst himself describes the change as ‘putting a fucking box round everything’ after Cornell ( which where ‘pharmacy’ taken from) .

Seen through the lens of a painter who influenced by Patrick Heron who was berated at Goldsmiths one can see that Hirst has never really succeeded in that area and that the spot paintings and swirls come from that and his lack of confidence as a painter…ending in the farcical Courtauld show which pretty much showed his ability starkly. However as a barrow boy he was ‘fly’ enough to see that spectacle was required and he would fail with the paint/collage approach.. also those around him were succeeding in sculpture not painting and that what he provided. I agree with Matthew’s take on exhibitionism and display…he tapped into a spectacular increase in office and retail space – the Thatcher legacy of service and supply…to me Hirst is a perfect analogy for an economy going through final post-empire convulsions. Just like his ‘fucking boxes’ the docklands he used for Freeze was contained and shipped and finally empty… again LeKay and Hirst in that interview in Pig …..

  • Damien Hirst: “The work seems on the one hand to be very chaotic and on another level very organized”…
  • John LeKay replies “Well there is a definite order in chaos and an indefinite chaos comes out of order, is that what you mean?”…PIG 1993

Alone Yet Together containing 100 fish  was created in 1993….and to me is a perfect example of organized chaos…there is no order but that is presented in an ordered way…hence the same direction. It could have been worms or birds..I even suspect that visual readings are irrelevant and that Hirst may have placed dark against light..etc but in the end does that really matter as the fish were probably sourced randomly…even random placement can create harmonies….just like collage.. It my belief that without Thatcherism….Saatchi and Craig Martin Hirst would be a provincial colourist of minor repute now but he surfed in on a flood of post Hong Kong money and power shifts. He will never be able to paint ….he could however put stuff in boxes….

Parts of the piece were broken up and sold individually so that to me negates any more profound structural approach and fits with his ‘minimalist’ approach to effort.. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/news/hirst-hopes-to-revolutionise-art-market-with-golden-calf-851034.html?action=Gallery&ino=3

Hirst himself from Idler..

  • “HIRST: What I really like is minimum effort for maximum effect. Like with Picasso’s Bull’s Head – a bike seat and handlebars making up the bull’s head. Such a brilliant thing because it takes that tiny amount of effort to create .”..

Hirst gave a fish shop in Leeds a fish “It was two years before Damien won the Turner Prize [in 1995] when he was just beginning to be a bit known.
“We saw some publicity about a work of his, a whole lot of fish titled Isolated Elements Swimming in the Same Direction and we joked that it would be nice to get something like that for the shop.”

That was a Trevally.. a Pacific predator…..the unusual thing about the collection is they not the usual tropical fish ..has anybody analysed their types and reason he used them? The Shark was ordered and caught probably through Joplin maybe these were ordered too.

There were two cabinets…source art newspaper online: –

  • “In 1991, the same year in which he made his original shark, Hirst did a series of sister works of fish in formaldehyde, which are amongst his most elegant “natures mortes”
  • Isolated Elements Swimming in the Same Direction for the Purpose of Understanding, for example, consists of six rows of individually encased fish in two cabinets and was once described as a “static ballet in an absurd movement toward nowhere.” The first formaldehyde work to be shown in London (in a group show at the Serpentine), it too was purchased by Saatchi, travelled with “Sensation”, and then was bought back by Hirst in a £6m-for-12-works deal in 2004.
  • Hirst continues to produce exquisite works of suspended fish. One of the most dignified pieces in the “Beautiful” sale was a cruciform stainless steel cabinet containing fish skeletons on one side and fish in formaldehyde on the other. However, the “Beautiful” sale also contained a near replica of the iconic Isolated Elements wall-piece titled Can’t Live With You, Can’t Live Without You. It had 12 shelves rather than six and the fish were smaller but, formally, it was the same work.”

barnum.jpg

again Hirst puts it beautifully

  • “Am I a sculptor who wants to be a painter,” he asks, “or a cynical artist who thinks painting is now reduced to nothing more than a logo?”…..

Sorry Matthew but I firmly believe in the second statement :-)

 

 

source: Sarah Thornton http://www.theartnewspaper.com/article.asp?id=16269

In and out of love with Damien Hirst | The Art Newspaper

www.theartnewspaper.com

The long slow death of visuality…responses to Matthew Collings

On Facebook ( that noted art history forum:-)
Matthew Collings posted the following:I have highlighted what seems to me the key lines. The second paragraph is his introduction to the set of photos which even I,as someone accused of convoluted and dense and unreadable sentences,found hard to fathom and only after several re-readings did I get a sense (I think) of what he on about. My interpretation is he is concerned that at a time when we surrounded by a tsunami of visuality (more artists,more imagery than ever) that there is no coherent ‘ethical’and ‘aesthetic’agreement of what is ‘good’or ‘right’. i.e. that we live in immoral times and that affects judgement too. This chimes with the ‘Rediscovering Aesthetics‘standpoint. I do not know to what degree he agrees/disagrees with their views. The idea of visual achievement V visual success may be contrasting actual artistic creation with visual success i.e. cheap fame….low artistic worth..I am not sure. Below my response on facebook and a continuation of my ‘objective argument’which I apparently regularly fall short on …woof woof:-)

Matthew Collings: On some very visual and recent art
If there is celebrating it’s celebrating the visual dimension,but the reason to post the album (and others) is not “let’s party”but to look at the possibility of visual substance,depth,richness in art, because in the general idea of what contemporary art “is”that operates at the moment this visual dimension is virtually either actually absent or else unseeable (and consequently undiscussuable or unappreciatable).

Some very visual current and recent art:

Reassurance of pre-modern and even modern art no longer available —universal Rembrandtian Shakespearean etc greatness out now —meantime fragmentary but very visual art does exist. Problem in heads is to get visual to connect with ethical. Many steps. First is to be visually observant. Then questioning. What is all this visuality for? How can we make it be for something else,something better? (That is not for wrong ideology,wrong life dictated by consumerism etc,as exemplified horribly by contexts in which this art is actually usually seen.) And is a visual system aiming at high visual achievement,or visual success —and which therefore has the possibility of failure —and therefore entails some kind of judging —is it connectable to moral and ethical dimensions,political dimensions etc? (Nazis judging good notes in symphony,still chuck victims in ovens etc.) Or do we have to accept visually abject art that has moral excellent credentials? Plus accept visual abjection that has excruciating pseudo thoughtful credentials (idiotic pretence at engaging with history society etc while remaining in-crowd smugness only)?

My response:Part one ( from facebook)

Ironically my period of intense engagement with painting coincided with the publishing of artscribe which was my bible in mid eighties. I stopped any meaningful production of art in 1992 and am now trying to begin again. So in some ways I am heavily influenced by the artscribe ethos and coming back to the art world I acutely aware of the marginalisation of visuality and the lack of a coherant and representative forum/magazine for that visuality. Both Modern Painters and Frieze seem to be ad driven fashion mags and art monthly is simply art monthly…long on theory short on images. My feeling (I will expand later) is we are at a watershed moment and that all this visuality is not looking,making and time based to the same extant it once was in the artscribe era. Fragmentation is an aspect of globalisation and the rise of the internet which may also mean a fragmentation of values as you hint at. Could artscribe exist now at all in the same ‘moral’and ‘tightknit’ way it did in the 1980′s when it ring-fenced not only a seriousness about painting etc but also a relatively coherent worldview and small set of tuned in artists? We live in a ‘bigger’artworld but not necessarily a more serious or a more productive one. Was artscribe a magazine dedicated to ‘visuality’?
My response: Part two
ARTSCRIBE

I have written about artscribe as part of a longer piece called Beyond the crisis in art ‘Making and Doing’which covers the ‘artscribe years’.

http://belcheresque.wordpress.com/2009/11/16/beyond-the-crisis-in-art-making-and-doing/

Whatever it was (for those too young or unaware of the magazine) artscribe was the most important magazine in the period 1976 -1985 after that it became Artscribe International and I felt lost its way and became a precursor of the fashionista art mags we have now. early artscribes were ad free tomes of high-seriousness where you could enjoy lengthy,erudite articles on painting especially from the likes of James Faure Walker,Matthew Collings and Adrian Searle. Collings himself is representative of the gradual change and led to the ‘Internationalisation’of the magazine. My feeling has been that the success and failure of Collings’s internationalisation is a smaller model of the sea change in British Art at this point i.e. Sensation et al. Ironically Collings left the magazine in 1987 after which it went downhill fast and disappeared totally in 1993. My only surviving copy is ironically from Collings time as editor because I feature in it albeit in a very minor role as a model in a Gilbert and George painting called Gateway which featured in an article on them. That was about as close as I ever got to the International Art World. So any discussion of artscribe and visuality and its apparent ‘demise’cuts heavily into my own artistic history or ‘suicide’depending on your viewpoint. Now this is where things get interesting –in searching for the artscribe image I came across Matthew’s ‘Rant’from the saatchi magazine.

http://magazine.saatchionline.com/magazine-articles/reports-from-new-zealand/put_downs_and_suck_ups_matthew_14

In it he discusses Peter Fuller. Ironically I was interviewed for Goldsmiths course in 1987 and 1988. The first time of interview I had recently completed a black empty canvas for painting and sat bewildered as Mary Kelly and Nick De Ville pontificated about it for what seemed hours (I too shy to point out it just a ground!) before telling me I ‘interesting’and they would come back next year. Sadly my studio was demolished and penniless the next interview was in my legalised squat in Arnos Grove and a disaster…
Basically I uttered the name ‘Peter Fuller’and it was if I had shat all over the assembled interviewers (and a postgrad student who hung bing bags on hooks who ignored me and spent whole time staring at out coathooks). Now reading the Collings piece I understand how evil I had been…Collings explains

“When Modern Painters began in 1988 it was the brainchild of an art writer called Peter Fuller,a man loved by fogeys and philistines,and middle class people who kidded themselves they were into art,while the art world as such couldn’t bear him. I couldn’t bear him either,at least not what he wrote. It always seemed so off the mark.”

My Response:Part three

In contrast I had actually read and re-read Fuller intensely ( especially Beyond the Crisis in Art)and loved him and Modern Painters under his editorship. He seemed then and seems now to have been way ahead of the YBA pack. Ironically Matthew seems to have revised his opinion somewhat…

“The bits I like are,mainly,his raving on (positively) about Ruskin,who in those days I didn’t know anything about and didn’t care to learn anything about. Now of course I think Ruskin’s great and in fact I believe only an idiot wouldn’t think the same. As a personality,Peter (who I got to know fairly well) was great too.”

So I was victim of an almost Stalinist rejection of a certain way of looking at art. The Goldsmiths tutors gave me short shrift refusing to even ‘look’at my Bacon and Sutherland influenced self-portraiture. I was a rank conservative..an amateur who did not understand the mission that Goldsmiths and YBA about to launch…( obviously the offer of a place at the Royal College for painting by Peter de Francia in 1981 was a figment of my imagination….sadly I was scuppered by Thatcher’s plan to give working class children a place at public school..guess what she took the money from the R.C. ensuring a foreign student took my place and this working class boy ended up on the dole). Forgive me if the International Art World leaves me a little sarcastic..wouldn’t you feel the same? ….Goldsmiths or Thatcher it all the same to me.

I ran out of critical road and ended up back in my parent’s council house in Didcot and immediately spent a year drawing the hills around my hometown in charcoal on location and effectively became as conservative as possible in reaction to the Goldsmiths debacle. My art career effectively over I went to ground just as Hirst and Emin won the art lottery. I continued to read Fuller and Ruskin and to ignore the London art scene for the next 20 years and pretty much still do. My artistic career petered to a halt with some etchings at Edinburgh College of Art in 1994 and that was that…until Moogee in 2005. So that was then but what about now and what about this contested ‘visuality’ everybody banging on about?…..continues below….in it I hope to link the processes at play in 1988….Goldsmiths, internationalisation, YBA’s to my own career crash and the birth of Satchi Land which more than anything both created and destroyed the ‘visuality’ bubble.

 

My Response: Part Four

VISUALITY?

THINGNESS?
Responding to internet representations of art.

Interesting point here is you probably encountered both works (Stella and Morrris ) in reality whereas I think I only ever seen one actual Stella and no Morris so have no idea of scale or construction of Morris so how could I really compare which brings us back to key point re. visuality..whose visuality?….we engulfed in a pervasive media which displays versions of reality..how many dscourses based on actual seeing any more..perhaps we need an institute of looking?

If we could assemble all the paintings you have here and make people actually look the responses may be very different. What we have here is a virtual gallery that lacks the essential ‘thingness’ of objecthood…..if one not responding to that essential object but only a virtual mis-representation then we are always on dodgy ground. What I find infuriating about contemporary theorists of the virtual is they discount the essential veracity of constructed artworks…to them and their students (and NTU has its fair share) they are continually avoiding the real by dancing spectacularly in clouds of theory and networks…..never touching the ground and certainly never needing to look at all..Ruskin would be appalled.

Conversation re; Artscribe with Matthew Collings: from facebook June 2011
SDB
Has ‘visuality’ disappeared as much as you say across the board. I thought it just a Nottingham thing…..it almost eradicated from the fine art course because of all those elements I been ranting about for years….I didn’t even attend the PV of my own School as seen one blackboard with a Wittgenstein quote on and a screaming performance artist you probably seen them all;-) Really enjoyed selection could this not make a great ‘Art Commentary’stand alone website…..or interactive TV show.
Ironically my period of intense engagement with painting coincided with the publishing of artscribe which was my bible in mid eighties. I stopped any meaningful production of art in 1992 and am now trying to begin again. So in some ways I am heavily influenced by the artscribe ethos and coming back to the art world I acutely aware of the marginalisation of visuality and the lack of a coherant and representative forum/magazine for that visuality. Both Modern Painters and Frieze seem to be ad driven fashion mags and art monthly is simply art monthly…long on theory short on images. My feeling (I will expand later) is we are at a watershed moment and that all this visuality is not looking,making and time based to the same extant it once was in the artscribe era. Fragmentation is an aspect of globalisation and the rise of the internet may also mean a fragmentation of values as you hint at. Could artscribe exist now at all in the same ‘moral’and ‘tightknit’way it did in the 1980′s when it ringfenced not only a seriousness about painting etc but also a relatively coherant worldview and small set of tuned in artists? We live in a ‘bigger’artworld but not necessarily a more serious or a more productive one. Was artscribe a magazine dedicated to ‘visuality’?
MC
Well ironically Artscribe was very much a visual celebrating mag under the editorship of its founder James Faure Walker,but when I took over,in early 80s,it became much more oriented to bringing news to UK of international trendy developments,and ultimately to airing info about those developments back to places where they originally came from —I wouldn’t say ethos of mag in my time was at all like ethos of these FB threads,which is because my true interests,while they were always there,were a bit buried in those days beneath my drive to make the mag buzzing and powerful.

That is really interesting Matthew ..so you are more naturally attuned to JFW content than your own in hindsight? Do you think there a current magazine that caters for ‘visuality’and here I using term loosely to denote contemporary visual art where the emphasis on ‘objecthood’….I struggling to put it more clearly maybe in sense defined by Abigail Diamond here …

The role of the art object in contemporary art –http://sitem.herts.ac.uk/artdes_research/papers/wpades/vol3/adfull.html

i.e. are we talking about art that reveals itself primarily as an object..in which case ‘OBJECT’would be perfect title for such a magazine :-)

This conversation was extended into a full article for MATTER magazine availabel on Scribd HERE:

Death by a thousand cuts how fine art killed itself

The latest figures are spine-chilling. Cloaked in a fake Liberal shroud the right-wing zealots behind Cameron and Osborne’s ‘realignment’ of British politics are systematically closing down the founts of opposition. Its a tactic worthy of sixties France but because the arts fraternity are trapped like rabbits in the headlights nobody seems to be able to respond. A well aimed boot at Millbank does not change the agenda one iota.

In the Telegraph’s list of most affected humanities Universities Nottingham Trent is near the top. Along with Falmouth, Goldsmiths and Norwich it one of those ‘arts-based’ Universities ( pace old Polytechnics) singled out for attack. The reason simple. A right-wing government will not fund centres of excellence however well or badly run that career to close to a left-wing perspective. Despite years of market-driven forces and business orientated management that all but driven the Marxists to the wall the arts colleges are the last bastion of free-thinking leftism. As Stewart Lee rightly points out this is worse than Thatcherism. She would have loved to have destroyed the ‘luxury’ of such institutions. Now before she slips into history her bidding being done by her political spawn.

Does this matter? Well yes because alongside a direct attack on the fundamentals of a liberal society e.g. education for all is a direct attack on the ideological foundations of that society. You can now express any opinion as long as it free-market.

The long road to the present car-crash is a minefield of good intentions but contemporary art and its institutions and apologists has paved the way for their own slaughter. When a modern University can respond to students with the message ‘we do not want your life-drawing’ we do not ‘do’ painting’ we know we in a sorry state. Justifying further funding against a backdrop of nepotism, slack intellectual foundations and clearly lacklustre and befuddled cohorts no wonder the rightists having a feld day culling the weak and unnecessary.This is not just one institution it has crept virus like into the whole body from the Goldsmiths injection point.

It is almost impossible to defend a system that grew fat on easy money and gorged on flatulent theory. Even a smattering of old-school rigour and skills based training…you know all that messy drawing and painting would have stood us in good stead now. But a lame conceptualist blowing bubbles and chanting Kant is probably as good as it gets. It has been a slow artistic suicide that all conived in to further and feather their own nests and lo and behold now the whole tree being chopped down.

There will be no last-minute reprieves and most if not all fine art courses as we have presently configured will shrink or disappear. We are back in Royal Academy pre Pop-Art territory with only the most cushioned able to learn and create. In the new landscape only commercially viable artists will survive. We will see a rise in conventional conservative buying and creating and curating habits it comes with the ‘new reality’. The Arts Council is finished and only the most partisan advocates of its waste and confusion will miss it (i.e. those most rewarded by its skewed sense of smug righteousness..we are saving art darlinks…yes well done ACE … like the Vietnamese Village that was destroyed to save it.).

I take no pleasure in watching the corpse shudder and leak unto its last breath but unless the leftist arts-world coheres and starts building a coherent and skills-based response it game over. Deader than Marysas we will be left with nothing but the skin of the conceptualists to wonder at. Did we ever really fund their flaky musings?

Craft V Concept 2: In conversation with Wayne Burrows and Jezz Noond

SDB
The Goldsmiths show was too painful to watch all way through – did any of them show a high level of thinking and making? I doubt it….a bad idea (e.g.rainbow jumpers) however well made remains a bad idea but a genius concept badly executed is equally dodgy…a certain shark and tank come to mind….( only that wasn’t genius just advertising).

WB

The thing that gets forgotten (on both sides) is that an idea, a concept, is itself something that requires a high level of craft to produce: look at the elegance in the work of Duchamp, Joseph Kosuth or Sarah Lucas, for example, or the craft that goes into something like Spiral Jetty. An idea is something that needs to be *made* in exactly the same way a pot or painting is.

SDB

Indeed there is internal ‘elegance’ just as there is in say a beautiful theorem..or passage of music..however the point I trying to make is that in my opinion it is ‘honed’ through contact with its formal ‘construction’…the elegance of the Duchamp (apart from readymades?), Lucas and Smithson occurs in its creation? Ideas free of these constraints… See more are swimming around us in the artworld these days and the constraint has gone….thus inelegant and in some cases just poor and flabby….my thesis is it is the contest between thought and form that creates beauty..back to aesthetics…away from pure immature philosophising…

how many ‘great ideas’ badly made have we seen lately….how many bad ideas well made probably even less 🙁

Jez Noond

Spiral jetty is an elegant ‘concept’ and ‘thing’, but its construction will have been necessarily brutal.I think Cragg’s work kinda gets the balance right too.

SDB

will check but I was thinking there must have been quite a few drawings or blueprints? Then a lot of bulldozers you are right..see here http://www.robertsmithson.com/drawings/spiral_jetty_300.htm

JN

oh yeah – but the bulldozers are part of the elegant conception of the piece – the elegant thinking…
The relationship between Oldenburg’s maquettes, drawings, notes and final large pieces is interesting. Although, I think most of his final big pieces are failures. Batcolumn is about the best. With him, I think its all in the drawing anyway.
I have a tiny book of his drawings (Notes in Hand, 1971) – theres a page in there I’ve looking at for over … See more30 years (jesus!) – his design for the NYPD uniform – its basically a clowns outfit…heres a link to another page:
http://www.nqpaofu.com/2002imgs/oldenburg-notes2-386.jpg

WB

Maybe I think of it from the perspective of a writer, ie: the concept and the medium of language are materials in themselves, and shaping them into ideas is craft as much as hammering bronze or manipulating paint on canvas is. Hence an idea has form, shape and craft. I’d say Duchamp, Kosuth and Lucas all do this in the making as well as conception… See more… in Lucas, the way a thing is made supports the idea behind it perfectly, in Duchamp the level of craft in Etants Donee or Female Fig leaf is very high indeed. Where would you place folk arts or unconventional painters like Lowry or Dounier Rousseau? Does the failing in correct perspective and technique undermine the work, or become the source of its appeal? Where do you place someone like Tapies – amazing craftsmanship at the service of an illusion of complete informality…same thing with a fine painter using automatist methods, or a current trompe l’oeil artist like Susan Collis.

SDB

I’d class any naive artist as having intuitive craftsmanship…I wouldn’t use ‘failing’ to describe their art more a pre rennaisance sense of space.

Collis is a very interesting example though as she is using conventional notions of ‘craft’ to create objects that deny that craftmanship but surely the beauty there is in their actual precision despite their nondescript illusionism?

To me it similar to the exquisite beauty of the Blashka natural history exhibits which more than just illustrations but to me are art in their own right…….

http://www.ucd.ie/blaschka/dublin_coll.htm

WB

In that sense, then, the idea of craft as it’s usually defined (in a rather limited way) is as flexible as that of the ideas themselves…I agree on the Blashka glass pieces, scientific models, and art, at the same time. But what if I then took a ‘non-art’ object like a Blashka model (or an x-ray, or NASA mapping of the surface of Venus) and represented is as art, in some other context: does that nullify the craft of the object being shown? An example of someone who does this beautifully is Cornelia Parker – her craft is often in the matching of techniques to ideas and concepts (often philosophical or poetic rather than formal), and much lies in the way she frames and presents the objects she finds. This to me is where the idea that there’s an inherent distinction between craft and conceptualism comes apart – there are just good and bad examples of art using both (or neither), but rarely only one or the other.

SDB

I saw the silver pans piece by Parker at Tate and I’d say she fits neatly into the Cragg assemblage process methodology. i.e. she is using common implements, objects but assembles in a precise and ‘crafted’ way. I’d compare that with Mr Hirst’s really rather boring and aesthetically dull medicine cabinet where placement is immaterial…..might as well visit Boots…

Also Hirst’s ‘spun’ paintings show little craft as any fool ( and he employed people to be his fool) could and did do it….ditto Warhol….is he a craftsman?

He certainly came from a craft/design background which shows in what he ‘allowed’ others to print for him. There a degree of afore-thought there which some neo-conceptualists heaping there retro objects together haphazardly sadly lack…

Warhol is the defining moment for me in this debate. He instigated the Fordism model as he came from an advertising background. Look at a Ruscha, Dine, Johns etc and you still in fine art and craft tradition …after Warhol it’s hell in a handcart for that tradition despite people like Hoyland, Stella and Smithson et al hanging on for dear life.

p.s. Tapies……I visited his foundation in Barcelona and there not a drip or molecule of sand that isn’t crafted in that work. Like Bacon’s ‘accidents’ every slippage is selected/ processed and thought through…..hence its calm beauty.

My problem is with works that assemble, display with a complete disregard to these ‘aesthetics’ and I could name a lot of ‘contemporary’ work that slips into this category especially amongst the college leaver crowd and my contention is that to undo somethign one first has to understand how it can be done.

I saw the silver pans piece by Parker at Tate and I’d say she fits neatly into the Cragg assemblage process methodology. i.e. she is using common implements, objects but assembles in a precise and ‘crafted’ way. I’d compare that with Mr Hirst’s really rather boring and aesthetically dull medicine cabinet where placement is immaterial…..might as well visit Boots…

Also Hirst’s ‘spun’ paintings show little craft as any fool ( and he employed people to be his fool) could and did do it….ditto Warhol….is he a craftsman?

He certainly came from a craft/design background which shows in what he ‘allowed’ others to print for him. There a degree of afore-thought there which some neo-conceptualists heaping there retro objects together haphazardly sadly lack…. See more

Warhol is the defining moment for me in this debate. He instigated the Fordism model as he came from an advertising background. Look at a Ruscha, Dine, Johns etc and you still in fine art and craft tradition …after Warhol it’s hell in a handcart for that tradition despite people like Hoyland, Stella and Smithson et al hanging on for dear life.

p.s. Tapies……I visited his foundation in Barcelona and there not a drip or molecule of sand that isn’t crafted in that work. Like Bacon’s ‘accidents’ every slippage is selected/ processed and thought through…..hence its calm beauty.

My problem is with works that assemble, display with a complete disregard to these ‘aesthetics’ and I could name a lot of ‘contemporary’ work that slips into this category especially amongst the college leaver crowd and my contention is that to undo something one first has to understand how it can be done.

I saw the silver pans piece by Parker at Tate and I’d say she fits neatly into the Cragg assemblage process methodology. i.e. she is using common implements, objects but assembles in a precise and ‘crafted’ way. I’d compare that with Mr Hirst’s really rather boring and aesthetically dull medicine cabinet where placement is immaterial…..might as well visit Boots…

Also Hirst’s ‘spun’ paintings show little craft as any fool ( and he employed people to be his fool) could and did do it….ditto Warhol….is he a craftsman?

He certainly came from a craft/design background which shows in what he ‘allowed’ others to print for him. There a degree of afore-thought there which some neo-conceptualists heaping there retro objects together haphazardly sadly lack…. See more

Warhol is the defining moment for me in this debate. He instigated the Fordism model as he came from an advertising background. Look at a Ruscha, Dine, Johns etc and you still in fine art and craft tradition …after Warhol it’s hell in a handcart for that tradition despite people like Hoyland, Stella and Smithson et al hanging on for dear life.

p.s. Tapies……I visited his foundation in Barcelona and there not a drip or molecule of sand that isn’t crafted in that work. Like Bacon’s ‘accidents’ every slippage is selected/ processed and thought through…..hence its calm beauty.

My problem is with works that assemble, display with a complete disregard to these ‘aesthetics’ and I could name a lot of ‘contemporary’ work that slips into this category especially amongst the college leaver crowd and my contention is that to undo somethign one first has to understand how it can be done.

e.g. Picasso and Braque….

WB

Would tend to agree about the Warhol line, not because it’s ‘conceptual’ instead of ‘crafted’ (there is craft in the silkscreen process, just not Warhol’s own, by and large – and his 1950s illustration and advertising work is beautifully made in a very traditional sense) but because the concepts are usually fairly thin, and the work itself rather ‘… Seem more flat’, with no great physical presence (I’d except his early – late 60s films from this, to some extent, as these are genuinely original as films – not necessarily as ‘art’ – and more philosophically interesting than his paintings – Kitchen, Chelsea Girls, the Screen Tests etc). Similar feelings about Hirst – the craft is there, but he buys it in, and the finished works are hit and miss – in any room of 25 or 30 Hirsts, there’ll be 3 or 4 really good pieces, enough that you can’t completely dismiss him, not enough to suggest consistency or even a single ruling concept, of the kind you find in Warhol. Don’t agree that Warhol destroys that tradition of crafted making, though – whether you like their work or not, during the Britart years, for every Hirst there was a Glenn Brown or Jenny Saville, and for every bad conceptual, video and installation based work, there are others that are more interesting and much stronger – yes, not sure about some of the more obviously Warhol-influenced types who’ve been around, and the Pop Life show of post-Warhol stuff at Tate Modern demonstrated the weakness of much in that line – but draw up another list of concept-led artists like Jeremy Deller, Roger Hiorns, Anya Gallaccio, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Annette Messager, Susan Hiller, John Newling, David Hammons and even some of the better (Archimbolodo-influenced) work by Noble & Webster and you’ll find a lot more craft in both the ideas and the making than I think the simple distinction of ‘conceptual’ and ‘crafted’ tries to suggest. But crucially, maybe, it’s the work coming from the poetic and surrealist lines of descent within modernism, or those with strong links to full-strength philosophical investigation, that do this most consistently…
Wayne Burrows is editor of STAPLE magazine and a poet

http://wayneburrows.wordpress.com

Jezz Noond is a short short story writer currently on a creative writing course at Nottingham University he plays a mean bull fiddle

Craft V Concept 1: In conversation with S Mark Gubb

This discussion was prompted by the Goldsmiths TV debacle and the blog entry previous to this. I had suggested that the incumbent M.A. students couldn’t craft their way out of a paper bag basically….

SMG

Shaun, increasingly your blogs/rants are getting more and more like that character in the fast-show that’s been involved in everything anyone mentions; they all focus around you not quite being involved with, or rejecting, important groups/moments being written in to recent art history… I think what we all want to know is where exactly were you when Kennedy got shot?

SDB

Behind the trigger Mark….I was also behind Joe Meek on the landing and possibly in Apollo 13 too but my memory going now…I think Zelig was the figure you looking for? Maybe I could be your next art project? 🙂 I will respond to your appraisal…I have written about Goldsmiths before and it a response to other people’s response to the fatuous programme on TV last night….I regard Goldsmiths influence on Trent as part of the problem not part of the solution and held these views long before I got involved in academia.Your response shows you support Goldsmiths then?

SMG

I don’t specifically support Goldsmith’s – my experience of the place is limited to very much the same as yours – an interview and a rejection in the mid-90’s. I don’t, however, have a huge problem with it. I also don’t understand why there’s a TV programme about it right now (however, I didn’t see it, so can’t really comment). I just think arguments of craftmanship vs conceptualism are completely redundant. They are a denial of the situation as it is – a concept driven, narrative approach to the creation of work has become the dominant mode in a lot (most) art-schools.

That’s not to say it’s right, it’s just a fact. That’s how things shifted through the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. There’ll probably be another shift sometime soon, but I doubt it will be back to a (seemingly) purist position of skill and craft. There are also a hell of a lot successful artists who are incredibly, practically, skilled. The field is open to both. I wholeheartedly support the idea that an artist doesn’t need to be an artisan.

They can be, but not being so doesn’t , in my view, deny them the right to critical acclaim or to be involved in a profession that has no clear boundaries as to what it incorporates. This debate currently amounts to nothing more than a position of “this is shit, it was better, then.” That doesn’t change or help anything. It’s just moaning.

There are many art-worlds. Some are Hollywood, some are Ilkeston Community College and there is everything inbetween. People just need to figure out where they sit within these various worlds. There’s little point in a classically trained conductor moaning about the success of Girls Aloud. They all exist within the music industry but have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

SDB

Nice reply…as for the meat of your argument i.e…… I just think arguments of craftmanship vs conceptualism are completely redundant…..

I think you are wrong and I oppose that kind of attitude ..always have done…. and things are starting to tip in a new aesthetics direction but art schools like supertankers take a long time to turn…its about THINKING AND MAKING not either or….

As for coexistant artworlds this chimes with Gillick’s assumptions and I challenge the notion of separate artworlds I think they are intricately bound together in a way music is not. What happens at one end of the food chain affects the other. …

Nottingham Contemporary is providing propaganda for one view – a very Goldsmiths like view in my opinion. I am not asking people to join in a Ruskinian escapade of noble workers building roads again but it interesting that those who most divorced from tactile making are those most extreme in its denunciation.

Gillick represents the triumph in my eyes of a intellectualism divorced from reality that exists in a bubble of its own delusion and too many graduates think words alone can save them..to my mind they are usually the weakest students.

SMG

I think we share more common ground than is maybe apparent here. Yes, they are often the weakest students, and they mostly disappear very quickly in to the chasm of ‘no-longer practising’ soon enough.

I also believe that it’s about thinking AND making, but I also stand by the idea that if an artist acknowledges a lack in their own practical skill maybe they want a marble carved of a thalidomide victim – to realise that work through the employment of someone who has spent their entire professional life perfecting that craft, is perfectly acceptable. They don’t need to go and train for 20 years to make that one piece of work.

To continue the discussion about co-existant art worlds, setting the discussion up in terms of a food-chain, a clear and entirely linked pathway, is misleading. What Tracey Emin does has absolutely no relevance or effect on Mr Smith’s seascapes that he paints and sells through a High Street gallery in a Cornish town. They are entirely seperate things. I think the problem is that people labour under the misconception that they are not.

Using the word propaganda about NC’s programme is, again, too sinister. NC is providing one view or take on the art-world(s). The museum provides another. If you don’t like it, don’t go. Find the galleries that are pushing the propaganda you agree with. If you’re Tory you’re not going to go to the Labour Party conference.

People are way too quick to see things they don’t agree with as entirely negative when, in fact, they are simply delivering something they don’t agree with, but something with no less relevance or right to be there than anything else (and something which, ultimately, may even be positively feeding a much broader situation).

SDB

The Warholian ‘director’ stance as adopted by Hirst and Emin is a flaw not a boon in my opinion. If that student actually tried to take on board some of the craftsmanship required to carve marble instead of just creating ‘yellow pages’ art we’d all be better off. My complaint about most Brit Art is that factor..if you can’t ring someone who can is a copout stance. Most of them were technically cackhanded. This proven by Hirst’s hilarious attempt to paint…

I think there is more awareness of the amateur seascapes world than you give credit having taught at that level those people have the internet now and what happens at Tate is on the radar in a way it never was before – yours is a more traditionalist view for once…never underestimate your audience 🙂

As for NC I used the word propaganda in its correct form….NC is propagating a view which it believes the only and correct view and it has no time for opposition parties Tory or otherwise….in time this will be its undoing….

For your information I have never been near the building and probably never will until a change of regime or it becomes a nightclub.

As for labour or Tory I agree with neither and my party is only one member strong so far…in fact probably aways will be I am a natural outsider.. 🙂

SMG

Then this is where we must agree to disagree. You clearly believe in craft being integral to a works validity, whereas I do not (I would argue that Hirst merely dropped a bollock by fundamentally changing his working practices after so many years i.e. making the paintings himself). I still don’t understand exactly WHY we would all be better off if everyone stopped having things fabricated…

I also don’t believe that NC is propagating a view which it believes to be the only correct one, it’s just propagating a view which reflects the interests of the current director and curators. As and when these people change, it will reflect a different view again.

..and just to clarify, my point about Emin and the seascapes was in no way a judgement of my imaginary painters awareness or interest in other areas of visual art, it was more an economic and theoretical assessment of the situation, whereby for every neon or bedsheet that Emin sells for £1m to (questionable) critical ovation, this has absolutely no effect or impact on the others love, ability or desire to paint the sea and sell them for £45 in a High Street gallery….

Right, I’m off in to the studios to handout some Gillick writings. You’ve caught me on the one day a week I get paid to de-skill the next generation of the curatoriat (we’ve taken most of their’s ability to tie their laces – have you seen the amount of slip-ons around these days? That’s art schools fault. We’re just working on how to take their ability to use a knife and fork, then we’ll be really rocking).

SDB

No I believe a knowledge of craftsmanship and an awareness of tactile elements is fundamental to an artists growth. How that artist ‘deploys’ is up to them..some conceptual art valid e.g. Stephen Willets, Conrad Atkinson but all had some traditional training…as for propogation which sounds better than propaganda…..you defined it in way that supports what I saying at this particular time …it’s just propagating a view which reflects the interests of the current director and curators.

I just not keen on the seeds it sowing…

As for seascapes…You are switching to a Gillickesque socio-economic analysis…I talking about visual awareness….not giving a neo-marxist analysis…as for Gillick handouts I presume they more like biblical texts……which makes you the Curatorial Moses 🙂

How Goldsmiths destroyed British Art: But is it art?

Up front I will declare my position. In 1986-7 I was interviewed twice by the great and the then good at Goldsmiths.

The interviewers in first instance included Nick De Ville (Graphic Designer responsible for Roxy Music covers who had done a fine art degrees at Derby and Newcastle hence Roxy link and he still at Goldsmiths in charge of MA’s….god help us) and Mary (Post-partum Document) Kelly – her of the feacal stains etc….not promising and guess what it didn’t go well. However because I had a studio and looked serious they tried again a year later when I didn’t have a studio.

My abiding memory of that first interview was their combined excitement about a black canvas I was about to paint on as they riffed on its ‘potential’ ignoring virtually everything I had to say. They completely missed every reference to painting and Francis Bacon I was making..maybe they thought after another year I’d come to my postmodernist senses and toe their line.

A year later I’d scraped by in a crap job and lost two studios in rapid succession so had to do interview in my housing association house on the north circular (not as pleasant as leafy Sarf London) I forget the interviewers (different) but I do remember a prat of a female MA student whose latest work was a row of binbags …tremendous stuff….She was so rude she didn’t even enter the room where my paintings were…maybe they scared her….all that formalism..naked…..

Within seconds of the interview commencing I’d been rejected on basis that mentioning Peter Fuller was tantamount to joining the Nazi Party. You see I hadn’t realised that being a working class student from a council estate was good but thinking in a non-Goldsmiths way was bad. Make no mistake there was a clearly delineated ‘party line’ at Goldsmiths…despite appearances (i.e. white rich middle class tossers) these people from Craig-Martin down were ushering in a new era where one could have it all..marxist left-wing views and right-wing travel and pay packets. Its called the hipocracy my friends.

Looking back it was the defining moment in my entire artistic life. It was us and them and I pretty much been of same opinion ever since. My ’self-portraits’ (a tradition extending back several hundred years darlinks) were too closed off and personal and used too much paint and chalk..yes I dared to actually draw…. I referred to the OLD GARDE…Graham Sutherland,  Henry Moore and John Piper who were now in the Stalinist ‘new age’ considered patriarchal monsters and worst of all I mentioned Fuller….a reactionary traitor who had started on their side but had fled their camp. Hence the squealing antipathy.

What Goldsmiths led the way in every other Art College has aped as they stumbled on that stamp of authority…CASH…oodles of it following Craig-Martin and Hirst’s great scam (enabled by the true joker in the pack Jopling…no Jopling and Goldsmiths would have crumbled to insignificance by now). Instead it went stratospheric and is still living off that moment 25 years later..no matter that virtually none of its graduates has anything like the gravity or talent of a Moore or Sutherland..they had reaped the new money from the Thatcherist experiment….and as good socialists they weren’t going to give it back….oh no this was all part of the irony as was my background…I was just an unenlightened member of the working classes deluded by notions of craftsmanship and talent…so very passe darlinks….only the feeble still dealt in actual mark making and daubing this was the brave new world of ideas not craft.

Twenty-five years on and every other art college has either directly imitated or followed jealously in the Goldsmiths experiment wake. It will be interesting to see in an era of falling revenues and a hostile government (right or left) how much of it survives the next twenty-five years. My prediction is that we have seen the last of this ‘low dishonest two decades and a half’ (to paraphrase Auden) of peurile postmodernism and that we in for a bumpy ride across the whole arts…especially fine art.

There is a glut of badly trained,  intellectually impoverished ‘post conceptualists’ students littering our streets and all the indicators are we in for a downturn in numbers…imposed or through natural selection…..mummy and daddy won’t take kindly to funding a career that doesn’t ‘pay-off’ like in the 1990’s. The Art Star is on the point of burnout and nobody has a replacement hence the desperate angling for attention (see link below). I thought I was right in 1986 and I think exactly the same now…..we must turn back to craftsmanship..to Fuller and rebuild the system from below as Goldsmiths and other ‘Ozymandias’ institutions sink in the sands of recession and the new reality.

Advert for Goldsmiths courtesy of the BBC

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00s01xm/Goldsmiths_But_Is_It_Art_Episode_1/

AXIS RANT #2: Alice and the Curious Curatoriat?

When did it happen? When did the power structure in the arts shift so fundamentally away from the practicing artist and into the hands of a new breed of art school trained curators or as I have re-designated them ‘curatoriat’? The growth industry in ‘curatorial’ courses like the MA at the Royal College of Art reflects a far wider shift and a worrying one for us poor artists at the bottom of the arts funding pecking order. Read the rest on axisweb.orgShaun Belcher: Alice and the Curious Curatoriat, here Feb 2010

You should read the whole article.

HERE: http://www.axisweb.org/archive/news-and-views/the-rant/rant-31/

Musing on Modernism

The reflective nature of Facebook means I can post short links then muse upon responses..I then cut and paste here as a kind of ‘sketchbook’ for later theorising….a work in progress..in turn it automatically feeds back onto my facebook wall..a complete loop…

Momus
Altermodern Week 2: What’s it all about, Nicolas? | NoiseLoop
http://www.noiseloop.com
Welcome back to Altermodern Week here on Click Opera. I very much liked how yesterday’s conversations went — in the wee small hours people were exchanging recommendations for Chinese pop videos. Today I want to round up definitions of the Altermodern, from its inventor, curator Nicolas Bourriaud, but also via the Chinese Whispers about the idea that have percolated through the press and the web since the Altermodern show opened at Tate Britain last month. In a way I’m just as interested in the misconceptions as the official version, and I think Bourriaud — eager not to overdetermine the idea in advance — has kept things tactically vague

Wayne Burrows
Altermodernism is yet another attempt to build a cack-handed theory that ignores the fact that Modernism contained every single aspect of Postmodernism at its own inception, including the irony and superficiality, alongside everything else it did (read Edith Sitwell’s Facade (1923) or Eliot’s Prufrock (1917) if you doubt it). And Surrealism was pushing post-colonial positions in the 1930s, hence its influence in places like Martinique and Francophone Africa (again, look at Aime Cesaire and Leopold Senghor for evidence). Much of the art theory of the past 50 years seems to have been one big concerted effort to ignore the grey areas and complexities that have made art interesting…but I’m guessing Bourriaud wouldn’t make the waves he does if he didn’t keep manufacturing a straw version of Modernism (which contained its own opposition) to gloss the present against…

Shaun Belcher
interestingly this set of articles written by one Momus and I believe it the ex Creation singer…good reports..there is something below the hysteria though …and it looks like modernism to me.

Shaun Belcher
check out stephen hicks below which a calmer analysis of what basically a end of the frippery of postmodernism..

Shaun Belcher

Hicks says…..My second theme will be that postmodern art does not represent much of a break with modernism. Despite the variations that postmodernism represents, the postmodern art world has never challenged fundamentally the framework that modernism adopted at the end of the nineteenth century. There is more fundamental continuity between them than discontinuity. Postmodernism has simply become an increasingly narrow set of variations upon a narrow modernist set of themes. To see this, let us rehearse the main lines of development.

Or your argument entirely?

Wayne Burrows
My favourite quote (can’t remember who said it, but it stuck in my mind) was to the effect that ‘postmodernism is the mannerist strain of modernism’, which I felt then (late 1980s/early 90s?) struck the proverbial nail squarely on its head, and still does…

Shaun Belcher
I like that a Postmodern Fin De Siecle Yellow Book era seems apposite..Hirst as the Wilde, Emin as Beardsley?

Which leaves us where..pre WW1 and Bourriaud as a new Roger Fry?

I dislike the ‘tie-in’ nature of much contemporary curation…even NC guilty with its spurious and completely facile aping of 1968 recently…one of reasons I think curation at NC ‘trendy’….

Bourriaud well aware of the echoing of ‘classic’ modenism and Altermodern. Can we see a pattern maybe?

Shaun Belcher
There was an excellent radio 4 (yes I must be 50 as I finally listening to radio 4!) on Frankfurt School and it struck me that much of what modern(post/alter)ism drew in terms of its ‘terroir’ was from this particular soil..Adorno, Benjamin etc..fatalistic, nihilistic, etc etc…the shock of WW2 led to its virtual manifesto being adhered across the art world….ending in Beuys and Richter..we can only fail..someone like Fuller with his positivist message was ridiculed by its followers….so we end up with Hirst’s mock religiosity..ironically..

Wayne Burrows
Fuller’s promotion of Ruskin was taken, I think, as part of the wider (big and small C) conservatism of the time, as in Thatcher’s comment on Victorian Values, the promotion (and frequent misconstruing) of Samuel Smiles’ ‘Self Help’ and the rest – somewhat wrongly, although many of his favoured contemporary artists weren’t much help in making his case either (eg: Robert Natkin).

There also seemed to be a bit of Oedipal revolt against Berger in there that led him to move from one extreme (ex-SWP Left) to the other (books like Left High and Dry: the Posturing of the Left Establishment) so his positions didn’t seem as nuanced or ever quite convincing (I talked to Christopher le Brun last year, and he mentioned that while he felt his painting was linked to the kind of Ruskin ideas Fuller promoted in Modern Painters, Fuller didn’t like his work largely because it was linked to the neo-Expressionism Norman Rosenthal was pushing, and NR was the enemy…). So I’m not sure Fuller ever made his case as well as he might have done, really…certainly less convincing on the UK turf than someone like Robert Hughes in the US, maybe…

Shaun Belcher
Interestingly there an article published in Modern Painters after his death where he cites ‘landscape painters’ much more convincingly (including Terry Shave! *Professor of Fine Art Nottingham Trent University)..I think the ‘High Church aura’ skewed his argument as did writing for Telegraph however a lot of the good stuff he did was thrown out too especially by the Goldsmiths crowd …

I would have thought Le Brun closer to Fuller than Rosenthal’s Neo Brutalists…in long term but then Fuller didn’t have long term..wonder how he’d react to present set up?

Shaun Belcher
I was interviewed by Goldsmiths twice in 1987 then again in 1988 on second occasion I referenced Fuller and they started screeching like hoot owls! To them he was the anti-marxist traitor…pivotal moment for me I thought they clowns…was year Hirst arrived and the rest is history. Still support Fuller not Craig Martin any day.

Shaun Belcher
Ah Ruskin as exemplar of a fake Victorianism Conservatism instead of the Ruskin of the Working Man’s College??….to this day there a fundamental clouding of his name and meaning…especially in Oxford …Ruskin School of Art V Ruskin College….two sides of a coin maybe?

Shaun Belcher
Ironically Berger the winner in short term. His Ways of Seeing in a pile in Waterstones (Foundation text) whilst no Fuller to be seen let alone read..I can see how Berger fits into the altermodern scenario and his Peasant Culture texts were ahead of their time. I feel Bourriaud has condensed essential traits of the post 1968 left..anti-colonialism…eco politics and anti-capitalism into a neat construct but once it examined in detail it does seem to fall apart.

Theorists seem agreed that postmodernism shot its metaphorical bolt but nobody seems quite sure where we are now…that indecision has been cleverly built into the altermodern ‘anti-theory’ positioning.

I like Momus’s idea of it merely being a ‘placeholder’ for whatever comes next. Hopefully it won’t be generated as before by cataclysmic war…but then maybe we already in that phase it simply, in an Orwellian sense, being kept beyond the borders of our comprehension. Haiti, Kabul, Baghdad..all becomes digital chaff…we are not receiving truth so what price artistic truth anyway? Seems like a vain posturing to even care..

The New Modernism

12607w_blastpink
“We cannot obscure the creative phenomenon independently of the form in which it is made manifest. Every formal process proceeds from a principle, and the study of this principle requires precisely what we call dogma. In other words, the need that we feel to bring order out of chaos, to extricate the straight line of our operation from the tangle of possibilities and from the indecision of vague thoughts, presupposes the necessity of some sort of dogmatism”.

Igor Stravinsky “Poetics of Music” 1

“….knowing must therefore be accompanied by an equal and equivalent capacity to forget knowing.”
Lapique by Jean Lescure 2

“I believe that art is the interpretation of emotion and consequently of the idea. I recognize that the discipline of the technique is necessary to this emotion, and at present I feel that the simpler the technique and more limited, the better the idea emerges.”

Henri-Gaudier Brzeska – Letter to Sophie Brzeska 3

“As I squeezed out everything that smacked of literature…I was so naturally a painter that the two arts, with me, have co-existed in peculiar harmony – there has been no mixing of the genres.”

Percy Wyndham-Lewis – Super-Nature V Super Real 4

“The poet thinks in images – art cannot teach anything – write across the paper instead of on the lines”

Andrei Tarkovsky – Sculpting in Time 5

“Works of first intensity obey the dictates of their own material, works of second intensity imitate and ‘disperse’”

Ezra Pound – Theory of Imagism 6

“No ideas but in things”

William Carlos Williams – ‘A sort of song’ 7

Welcome to the Future. We live in a supposedly always on ‘digital’ age where ideas and concepts like megabytes freely flow across borders. In this ‘Alter-Modern’ world all previous states of the avant-garde have been absorbed, rendered obsolete or simply been ‘re-configured’ if we believe ‘postmodernism is coming to an end’ (Tate Gallery Alter-modernism 2008) .

The modernist quotes above are not instantly available from the internet. They were all written down painstakingly by hand by the author into a folder of ‘art notes’ kept during the heyday of his physical practice in the 1980’s. They are not easily dropped into facebook or to be found on twitter yet they have an immediacy and a relevance, in my opinion, to the current debate around the manipulation and ‘dumbing down’ of certain parts of the international art world.

We live in such a ‘sound-bite culture’ that it becomes easy to forget that the achievements of the original modernists were hard won and against prevailing trends. In this ‘connected’ world where vacuous posturing and dilettante ‘intellectualism’ reign supreme it can be chastening to read anything from an artist in the early part of the 20th century especially against the din of success and ‘flash’ fact or fiction.

What was once the preserve of a ridiculed and elitist band be it in Bloomsbury or Manhattan has become a far more fluid, fractured and fashion-orientated ‘scene. That scene bares little resemblance to the world of Wolf, Bunting and Yeats, Pound and Eliot. Maybe that is a ‘democratic’ good as some would argue but year on year the ‘cutting-edge’ of this new cyber ‘elite’ becomes more blunted, more introspective and less vital. The death of Dash Snow is somehow emblematic. His threadbare output couched in bohemian verbiage and his limited artistic estate popularised and administered for the best return but all along we know this is merely role-play. This is an affectation of avant-garde principles not the real thing.

So where did the cutting edge lose its cutting quality? Do we ransack the archives for the exact moment? Was it Fluxus…..Cobra.. was it Barcelona or East Village….Miami or Berlin? Myths outweigh the reality.….

So do we examine the avant-garde’s apparent ‘implosion’ against a wider backdrop? In terms of my own practice it became most apparent in the mid to late 1980’s. It seemed then and seems now that the very process of ‘making’ itself started to lose ‘currency’ for a certain part of the art world and ‘thinking’ or at least the affectation of thinking became its default replacement. The internet of itself had hardly begun then so it cannot be blamed for creating the phenomenon but its arrival did signal a massive acceleration in the propagation of singular themes and certain dogmas.

The web allowed disparate and possibly provincial scenes to merge and intellectual bodies, be it in studio groups or academia, to find common cause and we began a new era of unacknowledged ‘dogma’. The idea that ‘knowing could be accompanied by an equal and equivalent capacity for not knowing’ was anathema to minor talents emboldened by group certainties. This new ‘certainty’ translated swiftly by osmosis into a new dogmatism in the academies of learning. One not only shouldn’t get one’s hands ‘dirty’ with the reality of stuff but one could quickly pick up a intellectual (usually French) justification for not toiling away in a studio. From being places of ‘instruction’ the academies became places of ‘imitation’.

In Pound’s words we had arrived at a period dominated by works and artists of ‘secondary intensity’….imitation was and is still rife. To walk round a modern art college is to view the international art world as seen in a magazine then turned into a template and recast again and again. The place of ‘ideas’ became an ancillary to career development. The idea that an artist should struggle with the physical aspect of paint or steel became ‘old-fashioned’ as artists busily networked and contrived ever more fanciful variations on themes. Yet the concept of a ‘new’ idea hard won through years of toil as exemplified by many an early modernist suddenly fell from favour. Art markets gorged on the fountain of investor’s money and had no time to wait. Careers exploded, imploded and fortunes were made as a completely new industry was born.

That industry fed on secondary works of art. Certain artists with either too much integrity or an inability to jump on the bandwagon continued to apply the methodology and principles of the works of first intensity but were and are increasingly ignored. Fractured by the new ‘everybody wins’ cash imperative these two art worlds began to exist side by side. They still do.

So if this analysis is correct and the art world has become a double-headed beast how do we then is the artist to proceed? How do practicing artists produce artworks in a fractured system? Or is it impossible to actually function in a dysfunctional model?

Despite convincing evidence to the contrary there are reasons to remain optimistic. It is hard to believe that technology will actually affect the outcome as much as it once appeared to be doing. Cyber reality is so different to actual reality that, apart from the most obsessive 3-d avatar driven individuals, there will come a time when fashion in the art-world will swing back towards experiential theory and fully craft-based instruction systems. The signs are there that this is already occurring. Students brought up on a screen-based diet are finding the simple pleasures of drawing and writing to be vastly more satisfying than photo-shopping and pointing camcorders at anything and everything. This is because the complexity of actual hand-eye co-ordination goes beyond anything achievable through point and shoot technology.

Practice….or creating artworks.. or simpler still ‘creating’ will increasingly draw on a constellation of ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs’ some of which may be digital some of which may not. The underlying patterns of investigation and exploration that create meaningful artworks will need to resolve and connect with the early modernist programmes and the depth of intellectual and practical endeavour they represent.

No ideas but in things?

—————————————————————————————————————————–

Endnotes
1. Stravinsky, Igor ‘Poetics of Music in the form of six lessons’ Harvard University Press Cambridge 1947
Available from: http://www.archive.org/stream/poeticsofmusicin002702mbp#page/n17/mode/2up
Accessed 6.01.2010

2.Jean Lescure, Lapicque, Flammarion, 1956

3. Ede, H. S. Savage messiah / by H.S. Ede Fraser, London : 1971

4.Wyndham Lewis on Art: Collected Writing 1913-1956.
Introduction and notes by Walter Michel and C.J. Fox. London: Thames and Hudson, 1969.

5. Andrey Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time – Reflections on Cinema, The Bodley Head, London, 1988

6. Pound’s artists: Ezra Pound and the visual arts in London, Paris and Italy
Richard Humphreys, Tate Gallery, 1985

7. Williams William Carlos The Wedge The Cummington Press 1944
Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/altermodern/
Accessed: 06.01.2010

Beyond the crisis in art – making and doing…

artschool

I have long been a fan of the Sharkforum and resident artist/critic Mark Staff Brandl’s take on the present state of art criticism.

This is by way of a practice run to ‘scope’ the afore mentioned ‘art criticism now?’ agenda 🙂 I love that word ‘scope’ you’d think we were shooting bears..maybe we are…certainly foxes…

His latest project involves asking artists to write about their practice and its theoretical basis as a challenge to the current curatorial/academic mish mash that sometimes pertains in the IAW (international art world). He (I think correctly) cites the current fashion orientated dealer driven art world as suffering from a ‘glossies’ approach that has jettisoned the baby with the bathwater and quite correctly identifies a gap ‘in the market’ (how loaded that phrase has become in the past 30 years) where artist’s voices have become swamped in other louder discourses. Usually these discourses are tied hand and foot to financial and kudos driven ‘standing’ in that same ‘IAW’ and have long since lost any real veracity or in some cases coherance as theoretical writings let alone curatorial statements or overviews.

We here in Nottingham have some recent first-hand instances of this I.A.W. Gobbledygook thanks to our sudden emergence into the IAW thanks to Nottingham Contemporary. As our provincial minds sink in the flood of propaganda we are about to be verbally lashed by maybe it a good point for some circumspect analysis of this phenomena.

My own artistic history is pretty much framed in two decades. Firstly 1980-1990 then 2000-2010.

Phase 1: I graduated from Hornsey college of Art London (Middlesex University as is now) in 1981 and my art history tutor there was John A. Walker who has written extensively about the specifically political dimension to celebrity art as well as popular cultural connections ( Art in the Age of Mass Media 2001). At this time there was little separation between ‘art’ and ‘theory’. Indeed it was common practice to read and absorb not only general theory but specific artist’s statements. Magazines like Artscribe and Art Monthly put artist statements centre stage and along with a varied ‘contextual’ studies area which ranged from contemporary poetry to applied design we were encouraged not only to think for ourselves but also to be as wide in our reading as possible. In those days notions of ‘networking’ and ‘careerist’ ‘making it’ were viewed from a heavily left-wing viewpoint ( Hornsey had been a scene of ‘Riots’ alongside actions in France in 1968 ) so much so that I do not think the words were ever used.

hornsey2

We were serious (maybe too serious) students with serious ambitions to create serious artworks. There was little hope of making money except in maybe the long term and we set ourselves for many years of cold, lonely debate and artmaking activity in usually sub standard freezing cold ‘studios’. We did have a sense of community and a shared sense of what the ‘art world’ was and what was ‘significant’. What was written about in Artscribe framed the debate and our sense of the ‘art world’. There were few curatorial driven exhibitions to see and a hang of Bacon or Auerbach at Marlborough would be the highpoint of a summer. Serious artists shown seriously with little theoretical framing except in large Thames and Hudson or Phaidon tomes or reviews in the ‘serious’ press. Waldemar Janusczack, James Faure Walker, Sarah Kent, Brian Sewell, Mathew Collings…the names of those critics I remember 20 years later such was there standing….Artcribe had a ‘local’ i.e. usually London focus.

The art world then may have been smaller (pre boom and bust and the internet) but one felt one could get a handle of the major developments and the significant figures as they emerged. I remember seeing early shows by Doig and Julian Opie. Indeed I even ended up as a figure in a Gilbert and George photo piece. This was pre Goldsmiths, Hirst and the collapse (in my opinion) of those values and the boom in a larger, more fashionable, successful and in my opinion shallower art world. That art world was fed, watered and bloomed under the hands of an advertising executive and there was indeed a cut off point. The change in attitudes can be dated to the Royal Academy Sensation show…soon Stuart Morgan tried to sail artscribe into ‘International Art World’ waters and promptly sank….he just didn’t understand the Prada Bag set…

There and ever after even the hard leftists in the artworld found themselves chasing a beguiling gravy train and penned many acres of explication to justify having sold out out to a capitalist driven art world on a scale hitherto unimagined. Craig-Martin at Goldsmiths and principles of newly business orientated Academies across the country raced to catch up and cash in. This also coincided with a boom in markets across Europe and the USA and suddenly Brit was HIP. Nobody could bare to criticise a position we so fully deserved…now we were art top dogs we could look down on others and crow….and of course objective criticism.hard criticism..was thrown out the window.

I remember attending a show in the mid 1980’s where the curatorial statement ran to over a thousand words and was written in such impermeable ‘academese’ that nobody could actually read it. I dismissed it but foolishly did not realise the power of the word was on the march…..

Soon fellow artists were ‘locating their practice’ and referencing Derrida and Foucault. Indeed one friend went from rather dull printmaker to being an expert on postmodernism in a matter of weeks. The honesty and integrity of magazines like Artscribe and Art Monthly were suddenly outshone by their glossy step-children …Frieze, Flash etc etc and countless others that spawned and drowned in their own scenes. This also coincided with the first attempts to push M.A.’s and Phd’s for artists…..up until that point M.A.’s were few and far between and centred on the ‘top’ institutions The Slade, Chelsea and Royal College. More importantly these were heavily studio-based courses…long on practice short on theory….evn in the late 1980’s one could still just paint at the Royal College like David Hockney……just….

I still have some of the copies of artscribe I would spend hours poring over..then for a few brief years before his untimely death Peter Fuller’s ‘Modern Painters’ seemed to show a way forward with erudite well written articles by the likes of Jed Perl rubbing shoulders with informed ‘outsiders’ like David Bowie and poet Jamie McKendrick. I ws verbally lashed by a graphic designer who then head of Goldsmiths M.A. for even suggesting Fuller was worth reading as too rightist..the same Goldsmiths that spun a silk purse out of a sow’s ear a year later with Damien Hirst……ah the irony of it all. Nothing corrupts good intentions and political principles like a hefty wad of cash especially in the Halls of Academe….

What Fuller recognised (he was a good critic grounded in an appreciation of the English Tradition especially the writings of Ruskin, Moore, Sutherland and Hockney..read ‘Beyond the Crisis in Art‘ currently out of print) was the essential connection between an artists’s writing and their art. Especially if one moved closer to the arts and crafts area of Gill, David Jones and all the way back via William Morris to William Blake.

That tradition has never been broken it merely been supplanted by the hysterical winnying of a thousand ‘on the make’ mediocrities in both studio and academia. Tie-ins and stitch-ups replaced a grounded and reasoned debate. A in-depth knowledge was not needed to spurt out a trendy 1000 word review of Hirst that never delved into his fragile and lately revealed lack of knowledge of anything remotely to do with art. Like the Peter Sellers film ‘Being There’ all that mattered was to be in attendance at the ‘Cinderella’s Ball’ to catch some benefits from the King’s largesse. Many very good painters and theorists (equally) retreated to the shadows …some never to return…..John Hubbard, David Blackburn, Simon Lewty, Gillian Ayres even artists with reputations as formidable as Athony Caro’s, John Hoyland’s or Tom Phillips’ were not safe. they were all pushed form the banquet table by the greedy and Sunday Supplement friendly advertising savvy new brood….they have never left nor raised their snouts since…..Chapmans, Hirst, Emin..you know the rest….

Now there seems to be a new mood afoot where not only Aesthetics but the artists themselves may once more be allowed their rightful place at the high table of art and there a very good chance their writing a lot better than the charlatans who supplanted them.

Read David Smith, Robert Motherwell, CY Twombly, Philip Guston, Picasso, Matisse…….it a long and noble tradition of both thinking and doing..

Hirst on Art………don’t make me laugh