Friday, November 19, 2010

Pointless Puppets: A Downward Spiral Of Ethics In Art Today

When was the last time you went to a gallery opening for the art rather than the free booze? I'm sure that for most of you the number doesn't extend beyond three, and that most likely only because a friend of yours was exhibiting. I know that's the case with me at least. Let's face it though, considering the amount of tripe on display these days if you have been excited more than thrice you must have almost no taste.

What happened to art? I went to see the European Masters in Melbourne earlier this year and the sheer amount of skill, dedication and just work that went in to those pieces was staggering. Standing before them you feel dwarfed by talent, and while not every piece was too my liking, almost all of them displayed a sense of craft that is nearly impossible to find in modern art today. The closest I've seen in years are the penny an hour artists working in South East Asia recreating the work of the bygone master of western art.

By contrast I went to a gallery opening the other month, to meet some friends and grab a few free drinks, and what I was confronted with was videos of the faces of three women left on loop, their faces showing subtle signs of inner turmoil. That or they needed to take a shit.

Now I'm sure there is some great concept behind all this, they looked vaguely Aboriginal so it probably had something to do with that, but where is the craft in it. All that is at play there is some 'artist' using the emotions and conflict of others to portray themselves as creative. Maybe the 'artist' directed them to feel that way, but even then it strikes me as nothing more than pretentious wankery with no inherent meaning, playing off the fact that most people today are so easily impressionable that anything put up in a gallery can pass for art, just because some fuckwit says it is.

Another 'art' show that took place recently consisted of nothing more than hot girls dressed up as Indians playing in cubby houses in some pathetic and shallow evocation of childhood. That is not art, that is nothing but the idle fancy of someone who yearns to be creative while lacking any sense of vision or ethics in their work. I read a quote for the artist in question once where he said that it was because of his and his contemporaries lack of education in their field that they were able to be artistic, that because they lack knowledge they have to courage to make art and that if they knew more about art they probably wouldn't do it. This sums up the problem. If ignorance is what makes you creative you really need to be reevaluating your creativity.

We now live in an age where people who want to be creative think they can be creative just by saying that they're creative. This is art that is essentially hubristic, it's arrogant, it says this is art because I say it is and I don't need to know the craft of art to make it. Artists like Damian Hirst and Tracy Emin trade in disposable bullshit that is only considered art because it is sold to those who have no idea what should go into making art, and who are more concerned with the culture surrounding art and the price tags on the work than the art itself.

We've become a culture that seems to elevate consumer choices to the level of art. That because you've got diverse and interesting influences you're an artist. An artist should be able to explain why their art is art, and not just in the throwaway manner a uni student might use shallow terminology in an attempt to give something empty weight. Art after all stems from the term artisan, and it implies the altering of something into something else or the creation of something that expresses an idea, notion or feeling. Any art that is explained as being art for art's sake, or because the artist likes it is naive and lacking depth. An artist should be able to explain why what they've done, how what techniques they've used work to achieve a goal or express an idea. Meeting the question 'why is this art,' with an answer like 'why isn't this art,' shows nothing more than a lack of respect for art and it's craft.

Not to delve into common knowledge but Andy Warhol is responsible for this. His genius was not in his art but in his startlingly accurate and low estimation of the art world. He saw that people were more interested in being associated with art and artistic endeavors rather than truly engaging with art as an artform. We've become a culture of Andy Warhol disciples, made all the more absurd by the fact that he was taking the piss, so in the end the joke is really on us.

Now I'm not saying that all art today should be on the level of Vermeer or Rembrandt, that would be impossible, and simple art doesn't necessarily have any less worth than complex art if it's ideas are well expressed and worthy, but we now live in a society that almost exclusively produces art at the venal end of the spectrum. Art will always reflect culture as much as culture reflects art, and this current monotonous mediocrity only exists because we allow it to.

Where once upon a time those people who appreciated art knew it's mechanics and craft, art has now become something we put on our walls to impress our friends with how chic we are. We have become consumers rather than enthusiasts or collectors, and like most consumers we are swayed by the persona based advertising of the profiteers more often that we resonate with the personal and honest offerings of those who dedicate themselves to their art.

This sort of cult of personality has been around for a long time, I'll admit, but it was usually associated more with their art than with their lifestyle and who they hung out with. Think about it, we don't know shit about who Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci hung out with or who they fucked but we know more about Andy Warhol's circle of friends than we do about his work. This is a trend that extends well beyond art itself and it reflects our increasingly consumer based culture where people want to consume art, rather than understand it and appreciate it. We demand work that doesn't make demands on us. We want portraits of fucking Mickey Mouse dressed up to be vaguely artistic. Apathy has so infected the populace that something shallow resonates more with us than something that explores the depths of our experience and emotions, mainly because people today are unfamiliar with them because we've been conditioned not to be concerned with them.

As I said before art reflects culture as much as culture reflects art, and it seems to me like we're caught in some vicious feedback loop of declining artistic ethics and the proliferation of craftless indulgence rather than valid expression. There is only one solution. Education.

If you are an artist, in any discipline, educate yourself, learn your craft and become the best artist that you can be rather than settling to be just another blind duck sitting calm on a fetid pond while your legs frantically pedal to keep you moving forward. Our society is already too clogged with pointless puppets hungry for fame and not willing to work hard at what they do.


  1. Pfft...I'll just drop the fact that I couldn't disagree more with this in here. Dare I mention the word "reactionary" without triggering a shitstorm?

    Whatever...I won't detail the reasons why you're wrong here; the last time I wrote a comment it grew so big so quickly that I constantly breached the word limit, which resulted in about five non-linear slices of urgh. Naturally, if you want a rebuttal for publication; a thousand, two thousand pretty words, just pick up the batphone...but even if you don't, you're still wrong.


  2. We've been reacting for so long now that being both talented and mastering the craft would be "reactionary" - I saw some amazing post modern landscapes done in a very classic style recently and, of course, populated with the pink painted Indian tribe that the fella from the village people must have been a chief. Despite not giving two fucks for another advertisement for teenage fantasy worlds - the sheer scale of the piece and the talent on display completely sold it to me. The piece would easily have taken a year to complete in the least and this alone was humbling. It would probably be an expected postscript to find out that the painting was a blown up Turner with photoshopped in rock festival elves, printed at great expense to the "Artist" - or to the government in some blown-out arts grant - and justified as "post-modernism" but I can make no claim to this, nor to remembering the artists name - I want them to be real... so I guess if fake then they succeeded in their task. Verisimilitude and awe at our potential when not merely coughing up the pieces of mass-consumer culture that won't digest.

  3. Maybe just coincidence...

    Just went to "Johnny Romeo's" opening on the Gold Coast. "Schoolies" is happening teenage girls and boys wound up like hand grenades of raw sexual power. Ridiculous rented rides in the key of all those drifting movies...

    Drifting, drifting...


    Spiderman done by Basquiat including the impromptu little feral chalk scrawl font - as if he's wound and rewound the movie with capital 'B' Bowie playing capital 'W' Warhol until he nailed the crossed out esoteric proclamations and all the other little quirky naivete's of Basquiat... Bought the big boy Tashen book on him... Maybe just subscribes to IDN... A comment to the world that says "I admire somebody who's different so I stole from them and now I'm different too."


    Fuck it. Maybe art isn't the problem it's the fact where confusing graphic design and illustration with it.

    "I like the mall because I can walk through it and see all my favorite characters (from his childhood - Spiderman, etc.) and not feel alone." ~ Johnny Romeo

    This is advertising.

    x John-Boy

  4. The amount of talentless shit that is perpetuated as art is fucking exhausting. The same could and should be said of music making. Circle Pit anyone?

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  6. A huge flaw in your aurgument is simply ignoring the fact that art is entertainment, and it's enjoyment is subjective. I find paintings of Christ and fruitbowls painfully dull - and no amount of skill makes them interesting to me. A fuck load of skill goes into making Die Hard 1, 2, 3 and 4 but I don't appreciate that either.

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  9. Thanks for the plug, enjoy the video.