As often happens when I leave the country for a few days, momentous things have happened. Twelve annoying people have moved in to a house together, with the sole aim of providing entertainment. The long running situation comedy programme "Friends" aired its final episode in the United Kingdom. This ended with the six main characters choosing to remain friends rather than travel in to space with the alien Nazis, and solve crimes, in what would doubtless have been a fabulous spin-off series. A tent burned down in a warehouse in London, along with around a hundred other works of art. And as a result, a slightly ridiculous self-parody has parodied herself once again. You know who I mean. Tracey Emin.
Ah, Tracey. Tracey, Tracey, Tracey.
She's got a point. But let's start by defining Art. I can't define art for you, any more than you can define art for me. But for the purposes of argument, let's say that Art is "the products of human creativity", as that seems pretty wide-ranging. So we can be quite comfortable that the works destroyed fall in to the category of Art. Let's not discuss whether modern Art is 'good Art' or 'bad Art'. I like you, and want to stay friends.
Happy? Good. Now it gets more interesting. Let's continue by considering the validation of Art. I can pick my nose, leave the residue on a tissue, and call it Art. When I was two years old, I probably did. Nobody paid ï¿½40,000 for it. No matter how many times I asked. The value of Art is defined by the beholder and not the creator. Further, the financial value of commercial Art is based on the price that someone will pay for it. There's clear overlap between Art which is popular and Art which is an investment, but just because one person is willing to buy a piece of Art does not mean that it automatically becomes popular.
"The majority of the British public have no regard or no respect to what me and my peers do, to the point that they laugh at a disaster like a fire."
I can't argue with that. In terms of the damage and loss involved, this is actually pretty awful. Aside from the loss of Emin's work, there are reports that the world has also lost works by Chris Ofili, Gavin Turk, Sarah Lucas.
For me, personally, there are two names that stand out from the list. Rachel Whiteread is one. She's pretty damned brilliant. I'll be writing more about her later in the week. The other piece feared lost is Jake and Dinos Chapman's Hell, which we saw when we were in London in March. It's a frankly incredible piece - a sort of giant model railway model telling of deformity, torture, war and sex. An incredible piece, and a dreadful, dreadful loss.
And Tracey Emin's tent. The public, that nebulous entity that reads the Daily Mirror, really doesn't like Tracey Emin. And she does nothing to redeem herself, by coming across as arrogant and defensive in equal measure. She gained a notoriety with her "My Bed" that's very hard to dispel, despite the fact that the piece is incredibly personal, and definitely worth seeing. It's also quite a difficult piece, and one that really doesn't stand on its own. It's one of those pieces of Art where to appreciate it fully you need to know something of the background to its creation. It's the sort of Art that needs its creator to continue to defend it and define it. And critically, it's the sort of Art that you need to be in the presence of to have any real understanding of it. After "My Bed", she was pretty much pigeonholed by the media as a gobby bullshitter, full of her self importance.
"We really don't need to laugh at the culture in our own country."
She's right, but she's not the right person to say it. She's the 'gobby bulshitter who sold her bed and called it Art'. By saying that we don't need to laugh at culture she just cements her image in the public mind. It's the use of the word 'culture', you see. By using it in this context, she is (at least in the mind of the man on the Clapham Omnibus) claiming that her work is cultural and has intrinsic merit. But she's also implying that it's got more 'value' than some of the other elements of our culture. There is an implicit suggestion that modern Art is 'Good Culture' as opposed to, say, Coronation Street. But the fact is that the impact on the cultural make-up of British Society is far less influenced by a fire in an Art Warehouse than it would be by the destruction of sets at Granada's studios.
Big Brother. Friends. BritArt. Coronation Street. All sides of British Culture. All fleeting and temporary. All to be treasured, if you want. To be valued, if you want. To be laughed at, if you want.
Whatever you want.
Nice post, good argument.
Posted by Scooter
June 1, 2004 4:41 PM
Obviously your holiday has refreshed your creative drive.
Good post. Equivocal, but good. Even though you DARE to question the TOTAL AND UTTER GODDESS that is Mad Tracey From Margate. But we'll let that pass.
I could actually hear Matthew Collings reading this as I read through it. Which was an amusing side-effect.
Is this what we're left with? Relativism? If you argue that value in art is socially constructed then the most 'successful' artists are the ones that engage the widest audience and are not perceived as elitist - if that implies an association with 'culture'. I think pretension is often the basis on which artists are ridiculed and they leave themselves open to this charge if they produce works that are 'difficult' or impenetrable or use a very personal visual language. A lot of conceptual artists would claim to not want to be crowd pleasers - interestingly many of the rich ones are. Tracy's playing the tortured genius very well at the moment - I'm sure the fire will be v. good for business ;)
PS - If you're going to do Rachel Whiteread and you've just come back from where you've come back from - I'm going to come back here because I want to know more *excited*
And the loss goes way beyond the brit art stuff which certain papers seem to be pleased about. A very sizable proportion of Patrick Heron's work - was lost - well over 50 paintings including all that were in the recent major Tate retrospective. He could be our greatest 20th Century abstract artist (now dead). Its a massive hole in his catalogue - irriplaceable. And in the past criminally under-shown, we won't see this work again ever. Its very sad.
Couldn't agree less.
(I still luv ya though)
Been thinking of sticking my head above the parapet and blogging this one...
I disagree with you that TE is impying that her work/Art has more 'value' than other elements of our culture, and I doubt if you asked any contemporary artist they would say their work has more value than Coronation Street. What I think she was right in criticising the way in which people denigrate contemporary art often without even trying to understand it.
Posted by Alan
June 2, 2004 12:49 PM
I never said that she was claiming a superior value to her work, rather that her words could be misinterpreted by those who failed to understand her perspective as suggesting that she was claiming some sort of cultural precedence. I don't think that she would. I just think that it's unfortunate that any attempt she makes to help open the eyes of the public to contemporary art will almost automatically be branded as elitist and therefore undermined before she opens her mouth.
she's a viv westwood muse so leave the smelly pissed cripple alone.
we saw some graffiti in margate on monday. it said - 'i fucked tracy emin in this car park'. undeneath that pithy epithet someone else had written 'who hasn't mate'. that piece of wall should be in the tate.
only it can't cos i made it up. but that's art for ya.
I saw her on Frost also, and she's a silly cow. No she isn't - she's as rich as get-out. As I explained on my own humble organ, she's not art; she's fashion. And we all know what happens to fashion.
Possibly as much as 99 percent of what's called "art" today is pure junk. Pure junk in which investors sense a profit to be made. That is the whole of the story.
For absolutely ever, artists got by on portraits and landscapes, with the odd vase thrown in for variety. (With or without flowers.) When the camera came along all that was instantly redundant, so they had to find some other way to earn a crust. Some made tents; some put sheep in formaldehyde. Some are stupid enough to buy these monstrosities. That is also the whole of the story.
Alan, you give Ms Emin too much credit. She's a woman with a lot more luck than talent, but I don't begrudge her one penny of private money. Her sheer vacuity, her twilight zone persona, shone out of every pore on Sunday.
That is also the whole of the story.
Erm... abstract expressionism? Picasso? Miro? Matisse? Pollock? Anselm Kiefer? Callum Innes? Anish Kapoor? Patrick Heron? I could go on?