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