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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Sunday October 30 2005

Mick Hartley is a terrific blogger, although I am extremely biased about that because I usually seem to agree with him.  He even shares my dislike of Salvador Dali, while conceding, as I do, that his horrible works are very skilfully done.  (Although actually, he merely doesn’t admire Dali.  I loathe him.  So there is a bit of a difference there.)

Here is Mick Hartley writing about conceptual art:

Then there’s the bohemian angle. Artists, part of a ”fundamentalist bohemian sect”, like tweeking the sensibilities of us bourgeois nine-to-five drudges, trying to open up our dismal lives to some excitement, put some colour into our drab semi-detached sensibilities. But by now, one hundred years after Duchamp’s urinal, this is such a cliché that’s it’s hard to believe that it still has any purchase. Yet the latest catalogues continue to talk excitedly of transgressive works, which will subvert our notions of art, and challenge our preconceptions. As though we’re all going to rush for our smelling salts every time we’re confronted with a work of art which doesn’t conform to our chocolate-box prejudices, still, after all the Piss-Christs, and piles of bricks, and Madonnas with Elephant Dung - as though, nowadays, we don’t have to struggle to find an exhibition which doesn’t aim to challenge our boring middle-class preconceptions.

Although, a conceptual artist who exhibited a Prophet Mohammed, done, say, with camel dung, would at least prove that he was serious about challenging preople’s preconceptions.

My opinions about conceptual art are numerous.  One opinion that I hold is the one expressed above, that it is all so passé.  Suburbia is a far more important contribution to civilisation than conceptual art, and is far more subtle and challenging.

Another opinion I hold is that there is a certain kind of person, of whom I am one, who likes art galleries because they are quiet, and because, although you can talk (provided you keep it down), you don’t have to.  Both quiet talk and silence work well.  So, ideal for a first date, and come the coffee or the drink afterwards, there is guaranteed to be something non-personal and thus not over-inquisitive to talk about that you know the other person has some experience of.  Art as conversation piece, in other words.

That conceptual art requires so little effort also makes it good for dating.  What you see is it.  The only even slightly tricky thing about it that you need to understand is that there is nothing to understand.  There are no complicated labels to read, about who made it, why, when, what it is of, what its consequences were, what wars it started or was provoked by, etc.  A twat artist made it, because that’s what twat artists do, not long ago, it is of nothing, it will have no consequences, and no wars – no interesting events of any kind usually – are or will be involved.  Unless it involves someone like the Prophet Mohammed (see above).  Conceptual art is sublimely unchallenging, in other words.  It is very nice, quite nice, not nice, etc., like wallpaper.  Again, great for a first date.  Nothing to seriously distract you from the real object of the exercise.

Art

"Suburbia is a far more important contribution to civilisation than conceptual art, and is far more subtle and challenging.” Yes, because conceptual art is more and more the price one has to pay for moving from suburbia to e.g. places ending in W3 which have more appeal to nature’s urbanites (speaking as one who fell from the W3s like Satan and am now endeavouring to clamber back again). My first visit to Tate Modern was accompanied by a nagging feeling that the curators were laughing at me - and at the other visitors - from behind some kind of psychic curtain. My hunch is that the momentum is slowly draining from this, however, and that one seriously good painter - just one, from any country that cares to provide him or her - could do for the whole thing.

Posted by James Hamilton on 01 November 2005

James

First, as always in response to thoughtful comments here, thanks.

I am sure that your feeling about Tate Modernists em having a laugh is right.  However, I don’t think that “one seriously good painter” will save the enterprise.

I want to do a posting about this, here or somewhere, but briefly, I think that the social, communicational and physical space now occupied by “art” - all visual art - is a place that the history has now vacated.  It is like a bombsite.  At first the creatures who inhabited it were angry and dangerous and threatening.  Now they are reduced to pathetic beggary or slightly less patheric con-artistry.

But I think that the idea that this kind of “art” can be saved by a good artist is a bit like saying that one good sailing ship designer can rescue the state of sailing ship design, and thus put sailing ships back at the centre of transport history again.  Maybe sailing ships are now ridiculous, I don’t know.  (Suppose for the sake of my metaphor that they are.) But making them sensible again won’t change much.

TV, movies, the internet, etc. are where picture making is now at.  As with the death of the sailing ship and the rise of steam and the jet airplane, things are lost of great beauty and splendour, as well as new beauties and splendours being gained, but that’s history for you.

One way of tracking this kind of history is to ask: Where is the advertising?  It used to be in painting of the sort I take you to be wanting back again.  Portraits of popes and kings, decoration for great buildings, etc.  But no matter how many good painters now arise, they won’t get advertising back again, unless they “sell out” (telling phrase that if you think about it - “out” - i.e. somewhere else) and help to make pictures for TV, the movies, the internet etc.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 01 November 2005
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