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Tony Grist

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Interesting But Boring [Oct. 16th, 2009|09:53 am]
Tony Grist
I've always thought Damien Hirst was an interesting but boring artist. He's interesting insofar as it takes nerve to do what he does on the scale that he does it. He's boring because the objects that come out of his studio are anonymous, unnuanced, bombastic and heartless. This is the thing with conceptual art.  It's all in the mind. The idea is what matters, and the resulting object - which in Hirst's case has almost always been executed by hired crafstmen- is really just so much lumber. I don't have to see the pickled shark or the diamond skull to have a complete idea of what they're about- which isn't the case with the work of the old timers who believed in getting their smocks dirty.

Hirst's latest coup is to take over a gallery at the Wallace Collection in London and fill it with paintings. Hirst isn't a painter. When he's produced paintings in the past he's always got assistants to do them for him. This time he's done all the work himself.  I admire the chutzpah. A guy who isn't a painter hangs a set of paintings within ball-throwing distance of paintings by real painters like Poussin. The reviews have been universally dreadful.

I sense a tipping point. I don't have a beef against conceptual art. Conceptual art is fascinating. But it's been a century now since Marcel Duchamp kicked the whole thing off and I don't think there's much mileage left in it.  For all it's dominance in recent years the conflicting- and traditional- idea that an artist is someone who is also a craftsman has never gone away. Clearly it nags at Hirst and- unless this latest exhibition is a complex, ironic joke- he seems to want to prove that he's a craftsman too. Only he isn't. The paintings at the Wallace are, by all accounts, studenty, pretentious, derivative and poorly executed.  If Hirst really wants to go up against Poussin he's going to have to go away, lock himself in his studio for years- and train.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: ideealisme
2009-10-16 10:54 am (UTC)
Brilliant post!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-10-16 11:20 am (UTC)
Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: veronica_milvus
2009-10-16 12:33 pm (UTC)
You are so right. Concept + Craftsmanship = Art. In all other walks of life, the idea is not enough. If all we did in our business was generate ideas and never develop excellence in carrying them out, we'd be sunk. Hooray for the New Artisan. And Damien isn't it.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-10-16 02:55 pm (UTC)
Damien has really come a cropper with this exhibition. He's shown himself up- and that's not something that often happens with an artist of his fame and magnitude. I'm not sure anything will ever be quite the same again.
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[User Picture]From: oakmouse
2009-10-16 04:58 pm (UTC)
Excellent post! But then I'm on the side of the artist-and-craftsman in this debate. IMO neither ideas nor skillset, alone, will make you an artist. You need both, plus a dollop of talent.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-10-16 05:37 pm (UTC)
Thanks.

I think the question of whether something is art or not is a side issue. The important question is whether it's any good.
There's plenty of stuff in the world that is certainly art, but also horribly bad.
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[User Picture]From: oakmouse
2009-10-17 03:47 am (UTC)
Actually, I wasn't even thinking in terms of what is or isn't art. I was thinking in terms of how Hirst does things. If he comes up with the concept and someone else executes it, then he's not an artist, he's a designer. And someone who just daubs paint at random without any sort of plan or idea isn't an artist either. IMO, anyway.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-10-17 08:09 am (UTC)
A lot of modern art is like this. The artist comes up with a concept and hands it over to craftsmen to execute.

It's a bit of a grey area. The old masters used assistants too. I guess the difference between Rubens and Hirst is that Rubens could paint like a god when he chose to and Hirst can't.

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[User Picture]From: oakmouse
2009-10-17 05:51 pm (UTC)
Another difference is that the old masters had their assistants do the boring bits (backgrounds, minor figures, skies, landscapes, etc) but the masters themselves did the core part of the painting. It was considered extremely bad form, and dishonest, to sell as one's own a painting that was entirely the work of assistants. You could sell it as from your workshop, yes, but not as from your own hand, not without repercussions.
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From: amritarosa
2009-10-16 07:55 pm (UTC)
Great post- thanks!
How satisfying to see him put up an honest representation of what he himself can do. It does take balls to get _that_ naked in public, self-deluded or not.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-10-17 08:12 am (UTC)
Hirst has always had balls. He's got where he is through heroic self-promotion. It'll be interesting to see where his reputation stands when the dust finally clears.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-10-17 06:05 pm (UTC)
Good article. I think he's right when he says that conceptual art- or most of it- will leave future generations cold.
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