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Sensible people in action

Post #1405 • October 15, 2009, 9:31 AM • 32 Comments

Mark Hudson (via):

This isn't the first time that technically inept oil painting has been elevated to the position of high art. Hirst's paintings remind me of nothing so much as the lesser products of the so-called New Image Painting of the 1980s that gave rise to art world stars such as Julian Schnabel and Georg Baselitz. ... No one has made such comparisons today, perhaps because they don't want to dilute their observations, to fall back on the kind of relative judgment that would feel all too typical of our mealy-mouthed times, by looking at something that is outright bad in the context of something that is slightly less bad.

Terry Teachout:

Anyone seriously interested in learning about Morandi's involvement with Italian fascism can read all about it in this excellent book. Anyone who believes that it matters in the present context - or who is capable of using the phrases "mild-mannered" and "fiercely reactionary" to describe Morandi's visionary, intensely concentrated art - is a philistine.

That said, I'll give Gopnik this much: at least he acknowledges that the Obamas' choice of art almost certainly reflects non-aesthetic priorities to some unknown and unknowable extent.

Bunny Smedley:

We are constantly told that Cameroons are passionate about appearances. Tories mustn’t be seen to be drinking champagne, for instance, or cutting taxes, or embracing their Thatcherite heritage. Yet for some reason it is acceptable for the shadow culture secretary to pass a happy afternoon in Scott’s of Mayfair, basking in the company of an artist who could hardly do more to symbolise the most embarrassing excesses of the 1990s art boom — an historical re-enactment of New Labour’s innocent early days, complete with a naughty, tax-averse, Thatcher-friendly meta-theme. Yes, of course I am a conservative — but when I sit down to enumerate the traditions I wish to preserve and defend, the arts policies of the late 1990s do not feature prominently in my thoughts. And, for what it’s worth, for once I don’t think I’m taking even a vaguely contrarian position.

Ryan McCourt:

The contents of this letter to the editor have been deleted out of sensitivity to the fragile mental state of Amy Fung.




October 15, 2009, 9:14 AM

"I'll give Gopnik this much: at least he acknowledges that the Obamas' choice of art almost certainly reflects non-aesthetic priorities to some unknown and unknowable extent."

I would remove the "almost" and replace "some unknown and unknowable" with "considerable."

And please, somebody notify Tyler Green.



October 15, 2009, 9:40 AM

You must not have read the whole article. Green was quoted at the bottom.



October 15, 2009, 9:47 AM

No, I didn't read it. The mere mention of Gopnik put me off it. However, I'm glad if Mr. Green was informed.


Chris Rywalt

October 15, 2009, 9:57 AM

I like that, in the comments of the Prairie Artsters entry, Mark Bellows admits that he's afraid of the "Hells Angles". Is that, like, a crazed group of Vespa-riding art haters who straighten out Frank Stella paintings?



October 15, 2009, 10:08 AM

Thanks, Franklin. That's some esteemed company...

I was wondering if was going to chew on that Blake Gopnik excretion (especially the part about "fiercely reactionary"). I guess he wasn't thinking about the Cheney's chosen art when he poo-poos the previous administration's picks.

It is small credit you give him, Franklin, considering how "non-aesthetic" Gopnik's own priorities are (and considering how "non-aesthetic" the focus of the artworld in general tends to be).

Chris, Bellows comment proves you don't need to be a school-marmish grammar-nazi like me to accurately assess the worth of Fung's output.



October 15, 2009, 10:14 AM

That was Teachout giving him small credit, not me. I wouldn't give Gopnik the time of day.


John Sanchez

October 15, 2009, 10:24 AM

oddly enough, I don't entirely dislike the Hirst paintings. (and I am not a fan) good texture, nice variety of line, don't care much about subject or design, but I don't think "I'd kick her outa bed" Slim pickings make you look for the good in anything I guess.



October 15, 2009, 10:24 AM

Ah yes, of course. My mistake.



October 15, 2009, 10:26 AM

MC, methinks you're wasting your energy on exceedingly small fry. I mean, this Fung person is more to be pitied than anything else, though that's what Chris Rywalt would probably say about cockroaches. On second thought, maybe squashing her is the proper thing to do, after all.



October 15, 2009, 10:37 AM

These characteristically cynical and cannily calculated Hirst paintings are a rather trite conflation of his dot paintings, the damn diamond skull, lots of black for, you know, "gravitas," and echoes of Bacon's screaming pope stuff. It reeks, and the Wallace Collection people, well, don't get me started.


Chris Rywalt

October 15, 2009, 10:40 AM

John Sanchez sez:
Slim pickings make you look for the good in anything I guess.

This is how I felt when Bon Jovi started reappearing on the radio the last few years. I hated Bon Jovi when they were new, but I had no idea how bad things were going to get from there.

Still, the latest Hirsts look pretty terrible. And who displays fresh oils under glass? Is he worried someone's going to throw things at them?


Chris Rywalt

October 15, 2009, 10:41 AM

By the way, Jack, I don't pity cockroaches. I'm deeply impressed by them. They're quite an engineering marvel, and they're so very good at what they do.



October 15, 2009, 10:42 AM

And who displays fresh oils under glass?

Hirst's eminently superior hero, Francis Bacon.


Bunny Smedley

October 15, 2009, 10:51 AM

A friend was telling me last night that at the private view for the Hirst show, there were ropes in place so that the guests couldn't drink their champagne anywhere near the precious Hirst offerings - but of course one could do what one liked in front of the Bouchers and Van Dycks and so forth. A sense of proportion is quite a good thing to cultivate, don't you think, for artists as well as the rest of us?

Meanwhile, in the extract from my effort (thanks, Franklin), for 'adverse' read 'averse', and for 'ennumerate' read 'enumerate'. I'm not sure why proof-reading is so much easier in someone else's choice of font, but, well, there you have it.



October 15, 2009, 11:01 AM

Typos are fixed. Cheers!


Chris Rywalt

October 15, 2009, 11:19 AM

I always resist sending corrections to you, Bunny. If you'd like me to start, just say the word.


Bunny Smedley

October 15, 2009, 11:46 AM

Chris, pointing out typos in my prose is potentially an all-consuming activity, and you might want to save your energy e.g. to learn more about Jack's pots - but if you see anything particularly shocking, do let me know.

I should perhaps underscore the point that the typos were entirely my fault, not Franklin's - so particular thanks, Franklin, for going to the trouble of fixing them here.

I'm almost tempted to see the Hirst show now, just to see if it's really that awful, but doing so might encourage the Wallace Collection trustees - not a desirable outcome.


Chris Rywalt

October 15, 2009, 11:48 AM

Admission is, I believe, free. So at worst you'd just be increasing their visitor count. At least you'd get to see some good art while you're there.



October 15, 2009, 11:56 AM

The problem with Hirst (not that he'd care as long as prices hold up) is that he's getting old, the machinery is getting creaky and tiresome (OK, inescapably tiresome), and his talent for "inspired" fraud, always his stock in trade, has gone to the well once too often and too blatantly. The bloom, such as it was, is off, and the whole enterprise is becoming unavoidably embarrassing. Unfortunately, the Wallace people apparently lag so far behind that they think Hirst is still eminently, uh, viable.



October 15, 2009, 12:00 PM

"Cockroaches are an engineering marvel; they're so very good at what they do."

Yes, just like Hirst. It's not exactly a compliment.


Chris Rywalt

October 15, 2009, 12:46 PM

Cockroaches can't help it.



October 15, 2009, 1:21 PM

Hirst could, I suppose, but why would he? I mean, if people will throw huge sums his way for rotting sharks and such, refusing to take advantage of such idiocy would require Ghandi-like fortitude in the face of temptation. I rather doubt Damien is in the game to, uh, mortify himself.



October 15, 2009, 1:42 PM

I love that "skills needn't matter" disclaimer. It's so, well, classic, in a way. It's like a politician saying "integrity needn't matter," or a priest saying "righteousness needn't matter." I'm always comforted by critics who reassure me as to their basic soundness and reliability. Pity about Lubbock, though.


Bunny Smedley

October 15, 2009, 2:00 PM

On reflection, the Hudson article seems, to me anyway, to let the UK arts establishment (which is to say, the critics as well as the curators, administrators and acquisitions committees) off a bit lightly. Obviously, it's great that the media didn't wholly get sucked into the hype for the current Hirst show (or at least decided that knocking it would make a better story than praising it) - 'joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance' and all that.

But at the same time, who was it who built up Hirst's reputation in the first place, if not Hudson's media colleagues - the Sarah Kents and Adrian Searles of this world? Who has spent so much time praising 'bad' painting of all sorts - I've got a bee in my bonnet about the recent Elizabeth Peyton show at Whitechapel, but it wouldn't be hard to list a few dozen other names - that the notion of 'skill' is now embraced as the sort of edgy novelty that taxidermy and tendered-out artistry used to be, before we all grew bored of them?

Hudson refers to 'our money-obsessed, YouTube watching, "skills don't matter" world where nonentities dominate the airwaves and the consumer is king', as if the UK media aren't complicit in talking up rubbish television, selling consumerism and obsessing about money - while at the same time, on YouTube it's possible for anyone to watch fascinating artist interviews, listen to magnificent opera performances and broaden the mind with learned lectures or documentaries, just as blogs are, increasingly, a better resource for decent art-critical thinking than the disturbingly inter-related community of art writers, advertising sales people, marketing men and cost-conscious managers whose collective efforts shape what we read about art in the papers.

It's all very well blaming Hirst, but as Jack has more or less said - if you take into account the encouragement Hirst has received (in terms of money and fame, aside from the whole issue of critical approbation), he'd have had to be a saint to want to raise his own game.

All of which is why, unlike Hudson, I doubt that the sudden falling-out-of-love with Hirst constitutes a major moment in art history. More likely, it is just the most recent performance of the hallowed ritual whereby, once a British person has been built up by the media, he or she is then pulled limb-from-limb. Here, they tend to call it 'the tall poppy syndrome'. And in this case, the problem is that the tall poppies do, in general, eventually grow back ....



October 15, 2009, 2:22 PM

I think Terry Teachout is doing Blake Gopnik a kind of injustice. TT appears to be operating on the basis of a false premise, namely, that someone like Gopnik deserves to be taken as anything more than an especially bad joke. In other words, TT would seem to be implying that Gopnik has fallen short, when the man couldn't possibly fall any other way (and probably wouldn't care to anyhow, given how far his particular MO has gotten him, which says more about others than about him).



October 15, 2009, 4:28 PM

Bunny, as much as I still relish thrashing people like Hirst, or some particularly disreputable and objectionable politician (meaning more so than usual), I realize such creatures will always be with us. It's no use complaining about their existence; all we can effectively do is to refuse to enable them and, insofar as possible, oppose their advancement. As far as I'm concerned, in the vast majority of cases, the principal fault lies with the enablers.



October 15, 2009, 4:34 PM

obama's whitehouse homer looks really good though



October 15, 2009, 5:00 PM

Couldn't agree more, Jack, with #26. Successful bad artists and successful bad politicians are symptoms, consequences of problems, not the problems themselves.



October 15, 2009, 6:53 PM

Re #7, John, you can go ahead and kick Hirst out of bed. Trust me. You can do far better, unless, perhaps, you happened to be a leper with swine flu who looked exactly like Michael Moore.



October 15, 2009, 11:27 PM

You are right, 1 - that Homer "Sunset" is probably the best of the bunch.



October 15, 2009, 11:31 PM

You are right, 1 - that Homer "Sunset" is probably the best of the bunch.

And the Gopniks, either of them, are beneath contempt, or mention, even.


Patrick Lawrence

October 18, 2009, 4:13 PM

Well if bad artists and politicians are symptoms then we must be very very sick:)



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