Ah, I love the smell of philistinism on a Saturday morning.
Woke up to find the local arts contingent filling my facebook newsfeed with the usual anti-conceptual-art rants one expects to be the stuffy philistine preserve of The Spectator arts section, which is penned by people who frankly prefer hunting and shooting to art anyway (but if one is going to decorate one’s walls, it should at least be pleasing to the eye, no?)
This was the usual moan about the dearth of skill in art, the folly of Duchamp and those who took him seriously, culminating in an apoplexy directed at Emin’s ‘My Bed’ as an example of the emporer’s-new-clothes style of skilless modern art.
From what I can ascertain, they think the art that they do fits the criterion most snugly. And people whose art is different to theirs are producing something that is less art than their art is art. If you see what I mean…
Certainly I have a hard time explaining my art to the not-artist layperson. When I say I’m an artist, the response is usually ‘What do you paint?’. I have over time come to understand that most people’s conception of art is that a) it’s painting, b) it’s representational in a literal way, and c) it’s basically a branch of better-heeled home decor.
The thing is, I’ll happily own up – I’m much more interested in ideas than I am in technique and rendition. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy craftsmanship and aesthetic as much as the next person, but for me, art has always been ultimately about ideas – a branch of philosophy, if you will, where the ideas are expressed visually rather than aesthetically. The main thing I want my art to do is make me think; and possibly to move me. But that doesn’t mean to say I consign technically beautiful but conceptually bankrupt pieces to the realm of ‘Not Art’. Just to the realm of ‘Not Art I’m Interested In’. Because I’m just not that prescriptive. I reckon there’s room for all of us.
The ‘What is Art’ question is coming up a lot for me recently. My artist friend Robert is collecting definitions. What struck us both is how angry people get about it. Neither of us can quite understand why this sheer level of emotion is attached to what is ultimately a question of semantics. One set of people who viewed my recent installation agreed that it was beautiful, aesthetic, required great skill and craftsmanship, and must’ve taken a long time to create. But they were absolutely adamant that it wasn’t art. This didn’t bother me in the least – they clearly loved and appreciated it; on the contrary I found it fascinating – what further criterion would be required for it to be art in their universe? (But then most of my art is about the unreal unreliable nature of categories… ;) )
The irony about the facebook rant is that Emin is in fact firmly in their camp – being a masterful drawer herself, a professor of drawing at the Royal Academy, and a very vocal advocate of making sure art degrees leave students thoroughly versed in the basic skills like drawing. For my part, I find ‘My Bed’ to be a profoundly moving piece.