Wednesday 2 April 2008

Art for art's sake

What is art?

I’ve asked myself this question over and over again and have yet to come up with an answer that satisfies me. Officially, the generic word “art” is used to encompass anything that is pleasing to the eye or the ear or invokes a deep sense of positive feeling within a person, be it a painting, a sculpture, a play, a story or a piece of music.

Before I crank up a gear, I am aware of the old adage that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that different objects will summon a variety of emotions and feelings in different people. But I have to ask the question: Is it just me or are “contemporary artists” just extracting the urine?

Let me start with arguably the most controversial topic in modern art: the infamous Turner Prize.

The Turner Prize is named after Joseph Mallord William Turner, an Impressionist painter who died at the age of 74 in 1851, and was recognised as a talented artist. In his lifetime, he painted several masterpieces, including Eruption of Vesuvius, a truly magnificent image of the famous volcano exploding in all of its extraordinary fury as helpless people watch in astonishment and terror. When I look at the painting, I know exactly what I am witnessing; the imagery and colours combine to present a superb representation of the experience of the sheer ferocity of Mother Nature at her most destructive. I would happily hang it on my wall and stare at it with a positive feeling of awe and splendour.

Turner’s name is now part of history and naming a modern art prize after him is an honour and will help to preserve his name in the archives of history. The Turner Prize was first presented in 1984 and is a competition organized by the Tate gallery for what is loosely termed “visual” artists under the age of 50. In 2002, the prize money for winning this prestigious award was £40,000, not a sum to be sneezed at for a young contemporary artist.

You would expect the ghost of J.M.W. Turner to be delighted that his name has been given to arguably Britain’s most famous art competition. However, I don’t think he would be happy at all. In my opinion, Joseph Mallord William Turner, a truly talented artist, would turn in his grave if he saw the candidates for the prize.

The Turner prize raises the debate about art every single year that it is held. I would challenge any person who thought that he could define art to think again given the incredible pile of old crap that candidates submit for this award.

Let’s look at some of the pieces on offer:

"Mother and Child Divided", which basically featured a cow and a calf sliced into pieces and encapsulated in glass cases. I mean, COME ON! What sort of critic would call that a work of art? If you want to see a cow and her calf butchered why not go to a slaughter house and see it first hand?

This pile of crap is “critically acclaimed”, a phrase that so-called intellectuals use to try to convince ordinary people that what they are looking at is not actually two sliced carcasses but in a fact a meaningful and significant masterpiece.

Do me a favour. Anybody with half a brain can see that it is as disgusting a pile of crap as you would imagine it to be. For heaven’s sake IT’S TWO DEAD COWS!

But that’s not the worst one. What about “The Lights Going On And Off”, a “work of art” that consisted of an empty gallery in which two lights go on and off repeatedly. Has the world gone mad? I can reproduce that in any room in my house. How on earth can somebody con even a half wit that this is art?

And what about "My Bed"? This monstrosity was basically an unmade bed, complete with condoms, dirty knickers, stained sheets and piles of rubbish strewn around it. If that is art then frankly I give up.

To me, “work” like this is just the product of an experiment to see how far people can go, fooling the art world that they are a serious genius. To me it is the work of somebody who is pushing the limits of credibility. Sadly the people being targetted are gullible enough to love the products, even though to the majority of people these pieces really are worthy of nothing more than mockery.

It all goes to show that the so-called elite of the contemporary art world are not pushing the boundaries of art; they are merely pushing their luck to the point where they are taking the absolute piss. So many people can see it. A few people agree with me and yet pretend to “get it” so that they don’t appear to be thick in front of the in crowd of art critics.

In fact, in many ways, art critics and art experts are just as bad.

I recently watched a programme on BBC2 where an art correspondent walked through a modern art museum describing the pieces of detritus hanging on the wall in a series of words and phrases that defied logic and belief. One particular painting by Jackson Pollock consisted of a grey canvas with random splashes of colour, dripped onto it in random patterns. I would have described it in the following words:

Pollock was obviously inebriated when he painted this piece. I would wager that he returned home from a bar, barely able to stand, and thought it would be a fantastic idea to throw a piece of canvas on the floor, open five pots of paint and pour the contents onto the canvas whilst giggling inanely.”

An art critic or expert would describe this painting in the most wonderful phrases, attempting to put himself inside Pollock’s head as the artist expressed his deepest fears and neuroses in an abstract model of pure expressionism that brought to life his innermost feelings and displayed them in a way that his public would identify with; of course the random splashes of red would represent his misguided anger at the unfairness and complexity of life; the black sprinkles would represent his fear as he tries to take control of the rage and succumb to its raw energy; the yellow trails of paint would symbolize hope that he could extract himself from the depths of despair and finally the blues and greens would signify the beauty of nature and life. The miasma of colours would be the struggle to exist and any philosopher would immediately identify Pollock as a true visionary who had captured the struggles of life in a single picture and force us all to contemplate where we are coming from, what our purpose is in life and how we are ultimately going to prevail despite the forces combating each other to prevent us.


Don’t be fooled. Art critics think they are intellectual and that the rest of us are neanderthals with no sense of understanding. Don’t be fooled and don’t listen to them. It is they who are the gullible fools and the contemporary artists are nothing short of conmen who extract vast quantities of cash from these so called intellectuals by pushing the limits of ludicrousness as far as they can go.

I suppose in that respect they could be called geniuses; only most of us are not fooled.

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