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Hirst and Game

Post #1501 • January 23, 2012, 11:08 AM • 5 Comments

Warning: The following post contains adult themes, terminology that might fairly be described as sexist or misogynistic, and references to spheres of human activity that may damage your opinion of humanity as a whole. Reader discretion is advised.

[Image: Google Image Search results for "spots." Note Damien Hirst painting at lower edge.]

Google Image Search results for "spots." Note Damien Hirst painting at lower edge.

If one spends enough time casting about for alternatives to the social determinism inherent to postmodernism, one eventually comes across biological and evolutionary explanations for cultural phenomena, such as art. This includes neuroesthetics and Denis Dutton's convincing argument in The Art Instinct that sensitivity to beauty is an adaptive trait.

That puts you into a neighborhood of evolutionary psychology in which some interesting characters are lurking about. I'm referring to pick-up artists, PUAs as they're known, who have developed various tactics of varying effectiveness for getting women into bed. This pursuit, generally, is referred to as game, and it's fair to think of it as applied evolutionary psychology. Crassly applied, but applied all the same.

One of the less galling introductions to game I have found is a blog post by Eric S. Raymond entitled A natural contemplates game.

I recognize a harsh truthfulness in a lot of what the PUAs are saying. Crudely put, the “game” advice for most men (the population PUAs call AFCs or “Average Frustrated Chumps”) reduces to behaving like an asshole so women will mistake you for an alpha. I really am an alpha, so I don’t have to asshole-fake it – but it is nevertheless quite clear to me that the PUAs are on to something. This is frequently a successful strategy; I’ve been outcompeted by it myself on several humiliating occasions. Furthermore, the PUAs are probably correct in asserting that for many AFCs it is the best strategy available, and never mind that the thought of running it myself turns my stomach.

In the PUA’s disturbingly persuasive analysis, I’ve had the luxury of not treating women like shit only because I have often had USPs ["Unique Selling Points"—don't click that link] for the brighter-than-average women I was interested in, notably in the combination of alpha-male qualities with high intelligence and expressive skills. Without those USPs, argues the PUA, my choices would have reduced to “frustrated loser” or “sexually successful douchebag” – and, looking at my own experience and that of my less successful peers, I find myself unable to refute this.

Yes, this is one of the less galling introductions.

That is kind of horrifying if you think about it. Possession of USPs is rare by definition, and if you have one you’re more than averagely likely to be an alpha anyway. The PUA is telling us that human beings are designed in such a way that the most reliable way for the large majority of beta males to get sex is to behave like narcissistic, dominating, emotionally-unavailable jerks. This would be appalling enough as pure theory, but the PUA makes it worse by applying it to actually have lots of sex. ... Never take your eye off that ball, says the PUA. Much as one might like to dismiss this as crass reductionism, evolutionary theory makes any countercase rather difficult to argue.

How did our poor species get into this hole?

So to speak. I bring all this up because of the recent opening of Damien Hirst's global spot painting exhibitions. In case you've been spared knowledge of this sorry turn in contemporary art history, all eleven Gagosian locations from Chelsea to Hong Kong will be showing Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings, 1986-2011 through Februrary. (Come to think of it, don't click that link either. It goes to a press release in which Hirst says, "I was always a colorist, I’ve always had a phenomenal love of color." The material at the other link is less offensive.)

Hirst's oeuvre sucks all critique into a black hole of abject cynicism. Any charge that could be leveled against it can be turned around and presented as a positive attribute. Hence this from Emily Colucci:

While I can’t think of anything more boring than Hirst’s spot paintings, the outrage surrounding the works and their exhibition seems to be way more fascinating and possibly artistically important than the actual work themselves. ... We do hate this shit. And maybe that’s the point and has always been the point of Hirst’s work all along. Hirst strives to make the audience annoyed, horrified and angered whether its looking at a sawed-in-half calf or at an assistant-made spot painting. The power to make so many people so angry has to be an artistic victory on some level. No matter how fast and fickle the art world seems to be, Hirst seems to have the power to consistently monopolize art world discussion even if it is a negative one. ...

At the heart of it, maybe filmmaker John Waters is right when he said, “Isn’t that the job of contemporary art? To infuriate?”

And the same idea stated as bald praise by Germaine Greer in 2008:

Hirst is quite frank about what he doesn't do. He doesn't paint his triumphantly vacuous spot paintings.... His undeniable genius consists in getting people to buy them. Damien Hirst is a brand, because the art form of the 21st century is marketing. To develop so strong a brand on so conspicuously threadbare a rationale is hugely creative—revolutionary even. The whole stupendous gallimaufrey is a Vanitas, a reminder of futility and entropy. [Robert] Hughes still believes that great art can be guaranteed to survive the ravages of time, because of its intrinsic merit. Hirst knows better. The prices his work fetches are verifications of his main point; they are not the point. No one knows better than Hirst that consumers of his work are incapable of getting that point. ... [Hughes] asserts that there is no resonance in Hirst's work. Bob dear, the Sotheby's auction was the work.

Willingly or unwillingly, into the black hole they go. This is because art appreciation—often a dubious exercise when applied to conceptual art anyway—is the wrong analytical framework for Hirst's work. The correct analytical framework is The Sixteen Commandments of Poon.

This piquant treatise was authored by a PUA who goes by the handle Heartiste. Substitute "art" or "the art world" for various mentions of women throughout the Commandments and Hirst's oeuvre makes perfect sense. Germane excerpts below:

The man who gives his emotional world away too easily robs women of the satisfaction of earning his love.

Forget all those romantic cliches of the leading man proclaiming his undying love for the woman who completes him. Despite whatever protestations to the contrary, women do not want to be “The One” or the center of a man’s existence. They in fact want to subordinate themselves to a worthy man’s life purpose, to help him achieve that purpose with their feminine support, and to follow the path he lays out.

Don’t play by her rules. If you allow a woman to make the rules she will resent you with a seething contempt even a rapist cannot inspire.

Refraining from reciprocating everything she does for you in equal measure instills in her the proper attitude of belief in your higher status.

Keep her guessing. Woe be the man who plays it straight—his fate is the suffering of the beta. Evade, tease, obfuscate. She thrives when she has to imagine what you’re thinking about her, and withers when she knows exactly how you feel.

Apologizing increases the demand for more apologies.

Ignore her beauty. This is one reason why the greatest lotharios drown in more love than they can handle—through positive experiences with so many beautiful women they lose their awe of beauty and, in turn, their powerlessness under its spell. Never compliment a girl on her looks. Turn off that part of your brain that wants to put them on pedestals.

Be irrationally self-confident. No matter what your station in life, stride through the world without apology or excuse. It does not matter if objectively you are not the best man a woman can get; what matters is that you think and act like you are.

Maximize your strengths, minimize your weaknesses. In the betterment of ourselves as men we attract women into our orbit. To accomplish this gravitational pull as painlessly and efficiently as possible, you must identify your natural talents and shortcomings and parcel your efforts accordingly. If you are a gifted jokester, don’t waste time and energy trying to raise your status in philosophical debate. If you write well but dance poorly, don’t kill yourself trying to expand your manly influence on the dancefloor.

Err on the side of too much boldness, rather than too little. You don’t have to be an asshole, but if you have no choice, being an inconsiderate asshole beats being a polite beta, every time.

Love yourself before you love her.

Hirst's carefully crafted image as a bad-boy rule-breaker, his dedication to large-scale, deliberately offensive creative gestures, his disdain of beauty and integrity, his lack of stylistic commitment, his wardrobe, his displays of wealth, and his persona as the biggest jerk in the art world all conform to the role of the Alpha as envisioned by pick-up artists. Pace Ms. Colucci, it's not an artistic victory at all. The victory is the victory of the Alpha, and it was achieved when the highest echelons of the art world—its equivalents of women whom PUAs would rate as 10s on a 10-scale—sighed, rolled over, and offered their hindquarters.

The irony is that this patently anti-feminist strategy even worked on Germaine Greer.



Walter Darby Bannard

January 23, 2012, 1:25 PM

Good grief! Sounds like one of those PBS nature shows about mountain goats.

It also sounds like something written by beta, no, omega, males, who would have plenty of time on their hands for writing this kind of thing, for obvious reasons.

And the best thing to do about Damien Hirst is just sigh and turn the page.



January 23, 2012, 3:40 PM

What if, though, we are essentially mountain goats? This would be useful information.

I recommend the ESR piece in its entirety. He teases out some interesting implications.


Walter Darby Bannard

January 23, 2012, 7:30 PM

We are essentially mountain goats, but that doesn't mean we have to act like mountain goats. There is such a thing as civilization, after all.

Can we hear from the ladies about this?



January 25, 2012, 8:02 AM

There is such a thing as civilization, after all.

I confess to having profound doubts about this at times.


Chris Rywalt

January 25, 2012, 4:11 PM

I tried to pay strict attention all the way through this but I find the very term "PUA" makes my head hurt. I don't know why. It's a combination of its being an acronym and the acronymization of trying to get women to gave sex with you that I think rubs me the wrong way. It's just so very wrong on so many levels.

But I did find one thing amusing: That esr would call himself a "natural" and an alpha male. Not because his self-assessment is necessarily false—I don't know the guy personally—but because his self-assessment clashes so mightily with my mental image of esr. I mean, I know him as "esr," which is his Unix username. The guy's a meganerd. He's Emperor Nerd of the Combined Kingdoms of Upper and Lower Geekdom. He makes Bill Gates look like Brad Pitt. If you run a Google image search on his name, the first one is of esr holding a keyboard like a guitar.

So I'm kind of hoping, as I read the linked essay, that he's writing tongue-in-cheek.

P.S. Damien Hirst sucks.



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