Art. And all we need to know about nothing. Part Two.

Time to confess. In “Part One” I was taking the mick. I was batting for the Lord’s Taverners, for show-biz. In reality I played cricket for the Jag-Daimler in the Coventry Works League. We played seriously. I once pitched a short ball that got up and hit the batsman in the midriff. He collapsed and rolled about in agony. I followed through, scooped up the ball and, seeing that he’d rolled out of his crease, ran him out. “Owazat.” The umpire upheld my maximum appeal.

There it is! The maximum appeals to me, not the minimum.

Back to art. In Modern Art there are two groups that hold sway: the “Abstract” and the “Sensation” schools.

The Abstractionists

The artist who paints only abstract shapes is limited in the messages that he or she can convey to “this is how I feel today” or “I am a scientist of shape, colour and their harmony”. The only advantage of abstraction is that, unhindered by the discipline of recognisability, the artist is free to quest for the perfect pleasuring of the human eye. Not many abstractionists have cottoned on to this, though.

Painting an ugly mess or something cold and minimal has been in vogue for many decades. This ugly subdivision, justified with art-world super-good adjectives like “free” or “painterly”, keep getting the “Art Experts” into a pickle. More than once, desperate to outdo each other in the greater insight needed to see the genius in the mundane, they’ve eulogised on paintings which turned out to be the work of apes!

The Sensationists

Broadly, this group advocates the use of shock, extremities and gimmicks. They are, or continue to be, obsessional. This, they argue, excuses their delight in perversion, death, bodily fluids, excreta and all things disgusting. Or, on the gimmicky front, their pride in enormous assemblies of bricks, car tyres and the like. These, essentially ultra-bland, con-artists will go to the end of beyond to get publicity. They make a mockery of art to the average person. In their minds, therefore, they ascend above the average. This reminds me of what I call the “Green Hair Phenomenon”. Invariably, if we get to know someone with an outrageous outward appearance, we are disappointed to discern that their outrageousness is a pathetic attempt to mask a lack of character. Anyway, believe it or not, the sensationists are absolutely adored by the swish trendy galleries in London. Yes, and in Leeds. Galleries get the kudos for being seen as daring. The big corporations that sponsor the galleries are chuffed about the core blandness of the exhibitions. And the more negative the derision from Joe Bloggs and the press the bigger the free publicity and the more elevated the elite feel in their superior understanding of what art is all about. Rich idiots, who yearn for an intellectual badge, fall for it every time and are happy to buy junk. It’s a gravy train all the way up to the house on the hill.

In modern art, apart from these two main groupings, what else is there? From where I stand, a miscellaneous bunch of in-betweenies that, while writing this, I’ve come up with a name for: “The Maximists”. I’m talking about those who emulate the technical ability of the traditional master craftsmen. Artists who want to relate to society by telling stories or making statements about living things, especially about people. Of course, they have to outflank the camera. They do this through the invention of creative distortions or imaginative juxtapositions that can smash convention or argue new perspectives. For example, if a maximist depicts a lion’s head inside the giant jaws of a fearsome lion tamer, with this twist of the image the artist may be saying that man is the real beast. Maximists know, like a good political cartoonist, that a picture can speak a thousand words. They can turn this upside-down world upside-down and, therefore, the right way up. But, in the “Art World” they have a fatal flaw: taking an interest in society, revealing contradictions, questioning conventions. Tut, tut. Isn’t this all a bit political? Anything that contributes to a development of consciousness will make these art establishment “radicals” run for cover in superior panic. Therefore, the Maximists are belittled by all the modern galleries. You read this and you think you can’t believe what I’m saying. You ask: “But why? What’s the real reason?”

Why! Life and art being one; we might as well ask: why has the BBC dumbed down to the level of endless incantations of “oh my god”? The fly on the wall would be more stimulating viewing. Why does the “Big Issue” have a pop idol on the cover these days when it used to have a big issue? Why is Trivial Pursuit more popular than chess?

The tall grass quivers,
The birds take flight,
Rancid breath overwhelms us,
As we struggle not to be consumed,
The BIG ANIMAL is all-powerful,
It crushes independent thought,
It loves nothing more than nothing,
And its sister, trivia,
And her cousins, reaction and stupidity.
This family it can control,
Take their lives bit by bit,
The BIG ANIMAL is so big,
No-one can see what it’s doing.

Am I paranoid? Consider. Husbands and wives work sixty hours. Some have two jobs. It is now considered normal to work overtime for no pay. People glance edgily over their shoulder, afraid of ambitious whippersnappers. Therapy, counselling and psychiatry are growth industries. Breakdowns flood the market. Pill factories plug the gaps. Quality time is rare. Computer games show kids how to group up. How to become strangers. In education, philosophy is off the agenda. History is reduced to a king’s personality. Politics is reduced to careers for graduates in word watching, read: being careful not to say anything. As for art students, they are just deconstructed.

The art world wallows in all this shallowness. It leaves the dealers and experts free to elevate themselves. Only they can see the hidden depth. They have control. They can choose the chosen ones. Perhaps their choices have nothing to do with art. Connections, nepotism, sexual attraction. Who knows! Nobody can argue in their pretentious swaryland. Nothing is measurable and everything is subjective.

My quarrel is not aimed so much at the art world’s Masonic exclusiveness, or even at its essential blandness, but at the damage that it does in the real world. Intelligent, would-be art lovers are repulsed in droves by the horrors, shenanigans and emptiness of modern art. It makes it that much harder for painters to sell their work.

That’s art. That’s all you need to know about nothing. That’s me finished.