Wednesday, 1 October 2008

"It's Clever, but is it Art?"

It's that time of year again - the Turner Prize is upon us. This year's finalists - Mark Leckey (what is real and what is not?), Runa Islam (blurring the boundaries between film and sculpture), Goshka Macuga (an alternative view of history) and Cathy Wilkes (surrealist juxtaposition) are raising public hackles as the finalists do every year. From the public's point of view Cathy Wilkes entry is probably seen as the most "outrageous" - her most-publicised work being a mannequin sitting upon a lavatory. Doesn't Public Opionion get inflamed over the Turner Prize?
I try hard not to get too het up. These are (one hopes) serious artists making what they believe to be serious statements about the world as they see it.
Remember Tracy Emin's Unmade Bed? Pretty awful, I thought. Then I saw some of Emin's drawings - her skill at drawing is phenomenal. And I wondered - how can anyone who can draw so well put an unmade bed in an exhibition instead of a series of drawings? (I would love to ask her that question face-to-face).
It begs the question, "What is the purpose of Art?" To be popular, does it have to faithfully reproduce a scene, as some would have us believe; does it have to say something about the world we live in; does it have to constantly push the boundaries further forward; does it have to explore new ideas, new forms? And of course, does it have to be popular?
Art in its widest sense has always been controversial. In 1913 people walked out of the first performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Stravinsky had more or less ignored the conventions of harmony, rhythm and form when he wrote it. Yet now, we may or may not like it but we do accept that it is "good" music.
When I saw Picasso's "Clarinetist" in Madrid three years ago, I was completely bowled over by it.(as, incidentally I was by HansHolbein's "Henry VIII") I had seen it in books so many times, but never the original. And similarly "Guernica", which says more about the horrors of war than any amount of words can. Yet it was certainly not a conventional painting when it was first produced. Compare it, for instance, with Paul Nash's "Over the Top" - a wonderful, terrifying image but somehow, for me at any rate, without the visceral impact of Guernica.
The painting reproduced above is by Toni Bartl, a Czech-born painter who worked at Lincoln School of Art for many years. I have had this picture since I was nineteen and I absolutely love it. I have always been interested in what people have to say when they see it. And how people's comments have changed over the last fifty years.
Whereas they used to say things like, "Of course, I don't know anything about Modern Art." or
"I wouldn't hang that on my wall." Now people stand and look at it with what seems to be a much more practised eye, ask who painted it, discuss its meaning, express a like or dislike for it.
It is no longer seen as a "Modern" piece of art.
All Art has to constantly move on. How it moves on depends on many factors - the state of the world, how the individual artist interprets that, which works of art influence them..........
We haven't got to like what we see, or hear, or read but in my opinion, neither should we be too quick to condemn. (Explanations of the four finalists works taken from the critic in The Times)

10 comments:

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Always an interesting topic. Sometimes I think the discussion is the point. Sometimes I'd just like to stare at Crows Over Wheatfield.

The Weaver of Grass said...

How true, Pamela. I think you have to be in a certain mood to appreciate and discuss works of art. Sometimes crows over a wheatfield are a much more soothing alternative. Also agree that probably discussion is the point.

Loren said...

I think people are often too judgmental and narrow-minded in their description of what is or isn't art.

Too many people want to limit art to portraying "the beautiful."

I love that aspect of art, but I also love art that reveals the "truth," even if that truth isn't beautiful, or even something that I really want to hear.

Dominic Rivron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dominic Rivron said...

Faced with a "difficult" work of art, literature, etc., there are two responses: either one dismisses it as rubbish or one asks oneself what one is missing, spends time with it, and tries to get to know it. Since I don't like to miss out on a good experience, I prefer the latter response, and discovered long ago that it's surprisingly easy to get hooked on the art (and literature, music, etc) of the last 100 years.

Also, I think it's confusing to talk about artists making statements (serious or otherwise) about the world as they see it. We often hear it said that they do, but faced with a work of art are at a loss to say what "statement" it actually makes. It's better, surely, to think of artists simply making what they make. As Harold Pinter said: "I work much as I write, just moving from one thing to another to see what's going to happen next. One tries to get the thing…true."

Rachel Fox said...

On Emin - in her Independent column on 25th July 2008 she wrote quite well about why she does the work she does. You can still see it on the online version of the paper I think.
x

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks for that Rachel, I am about to see if I can find it now.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Dominic - surely you are not suggesting that Picasso was not making an anti war statement when he painted Guernica? I would agree that there is not always a statement about a work of art but I don't think you can generalise.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Dominic - surely you are not suggesting that Picasso was not making an anti war statement when he painted Guernica? I would agree that there is not always a statement about a work of art but I don't think you can generalise.

Rachel Fox said...

I was in Edinburgh last week and went to the big Emin exhibition that is currently on there. I've written about it - thought you might be interested...seeing as we were talking about it here.
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