Art on Fire: a Naples tantrum

Do you care that art is being burnt in protest at cuts to arts funding in Italy?
Or are you thinking along my lines: so flamin’ what?

Art? Meh.

I’d have put myself down as totally opposed to any Bonfire of the Vanities, a storm-trooper of the ‘art is a necessity, not a luxury’ brigade, but I’m having to admit to a whole load of Couldn’t Care Less.
Here’s what approximately 75% of me is thinking.

A friend, Tony, recently suggested that the true creatives are the scientists, and you know what, as it stands, I think he’s right. They are the ones who have been and are changing our view of the world, not the artists. It’s quantum theory, evolutionary biology, the glory that is CERN and the like, which have, more than anything else, made us reassess who we are and what ‘is’ – you know, the Big Questions –  and all art has been able to do is follow dumbly, effetely, in their wake, resorting in the main to either banal ‘concept’ or whining neo-expressionism.
As if anyone gives a rat’s ass.

Beautiful Science

No-one, except artists and their promoters, cares if contemporary art goes up in flames or not for the simple reason that it has made itself irrelevant; to the vast majority of people it’s a joke: self-indulgent codswallop or over-intellectualised bullshit. The ridiculous prices attained by the Big Names only compounds this feeling that art is something’ other’, a luxury indeed, instead of being at the very centre of our lives where it belongs.
Meanwhile it is science that has really captured the public’s imagination: just look at the TV schedules.

Blessed Brian: way cooler than Hirst

Ironically, artists seem to be very fond of quoting Einstein. The undisputed favourite, and most misappropriated by the quoters, appears to be:

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination”.

Who are they trying to convince? Me? Or themselves? Or is it just an attempt to legitimise their solipsistic faffing about as some kind of intellectually rigorous exercise?
How many artists are, like the scientists, asking new ‘imaginative’ questions? How many artists have anything to say about the world at large at all?

Not that many, from what I see.
We need to get back to understanding that art, if it is to be worthwhile, is difficult;  it requires knowledge, skill; it requires discipline; it requires thought and engagement, not just some cock-eyed version of ‘imagination’. It most certainly does not require indiscriminate tossing off of whatever half-formed notion happens to spring to mind and calling it ‘creative’.

So burn, baby, burn.
The Bonfire may actually do some good if it inspires debate about what ‘art’ is, what it can and should be: something for the many, not the few.
A necessity, without which we’d all feel the poorer.


Katie Paterson, an artist who is interesting because she’s interested; more, please:

14 thoughts on “Art on Fire: a Naples tantrum

  1. Disco inferno!
    Or, to be more of my own generation:
    “No serenade, no fire brigade, just Pyromania!”

    I’d start with Tracy Emin’s bed, and scorch my way through the rest of the YBAs.
    Is formaldehyde flammable? Or would we have to soak Hirst’s shark in lighter fluid?

  2. I’m not going to like this post, as I’m an artist who wholly disagrees with this argument. I’m aware that Art can be seen as self indulgent. But to me Art is an expression of the self in whatever form that maybe. We cannot repress that need to share with others our talents, ideas and thoughts with others. And why not make a few pounds out of it, It’s the dream of everyone to make/earn money from our passions. I know its not universally available to all.
    Their maybe a hint of lack of understanding from those who share this view, or just don’t get contemporary art. And thats fine. But you must first understand and learn where the art, the artist is coming from. They’re position to the work too, which is very important.
    I’m not disregarding that science has a stronger hold over us as a people, constantly wanting to learn what is out there, how we can improve ourselves as a race…to better ourselves. These scientific ideas can be explained more easier as the ideas of science are based on FACT. Art is the opposite, its subjective, not objective in its approach to what is being interrogated in the work. Katie Paterson’s work shows a strong relationships between this different communities.
    To finish, we must first know about what we are criticising before we tear it apart.

    • Thanks for your comment, Tim, I appreciate it.
      The other 25% of me has some sympathy with you, but the ‘people don’t understand contemporary art’ argument is old hat and self-defeating in that that is exactly the problem people have with it and why they don’t give a toss about it. Art is first and foremost a language; it serves no real purpose, it is redundant as a force for good, if it is incomprehensible except to a would-be educated elite talking jargon. And why should we automatically owe an artist ‘understanding’? Isn’t art supposed to be a 2-way thing between artist and viewer? The artist owes something too. I do ‘understand’ contemporary art, by the way; I make it my business to do so. It’s really not as difficult as it thinks it is.
      The ideas of science are not based on ‘fact’; ‘facts’ come, eventually and tortuously, from ideas, creative thinking, the ability to think ‘what if?’ From the imagination.
      As for art being subjective, art is not, in my view, a matter of ‘personal taste’; it is far more important and quantifiable than that. If everything is art then nothing is ‘art’: it’s just people doing stuff. Which is also fine, if one is prepared to admit there is no such thing as an ‘artist’.
      Thanks again for your comment, Tim. Thought-provoking.

  3. I understand that people have lost interest in trying to engage with contemporary art. And thats down to the elitism that comes attached to that and the language used to communicate in. I am still confused in my final year of my degree. I realise however that this unique language is needed for artists to share ideas with each other. It also garners the art world respectability among other circles of thought.
    You’re right it serves no real purpose, its just stuff at the end of the day, which collectors put a monetary value on. Yet if you look beyond that you have the intrinsic value too that creates the value. Art is a form of communication that comments of society. It’s an individual expression of the artist/s.
    Science too starts with ideas that are then later proven as fact after much investigation, which can later be disproven. Artist also follow this line of thinking with a methodology to match their practice. It’s not as regimented in its thinking. Both push the boundaries of our thinking and what is possible. To say art serves no real purpose is flippant to me. The ideas in both art and science inspire each other.
    Wasn’t the invention of the tube that allowed for the impressionist to go on location with paint?
    Wasn’t it Eadweard Muybridge’s need to explore movement through photographic means, a creative, yet sciemtific process that lead to breakthroughs in science?
    I’m not prepared to admit there is no such thing as an artist, as they are people who function in a creative world. These artists which I believe we both count ourselves among have the ability to creative ‘stuff’ that is thought-provoking that inspires ideas in others. It’s a two way relationship.

  4. Tim, I think you misunderstand me – I never said that art serves no purpose; I would also consider such an attitude flippant in the extreme; if I genuinely thought that, I would not devote at least half my day to thinking about it. Art is extremely important to me; I just wish it could make itself important and relevant to the world at large. Great art affects how we see the world; I don’t see much evidence of that in a lot of contemporary stuff. It seems to me stuck in an ivory tower of solipsism and abstruseness.
    It’s late (for me!) and I’m off to bed. Have a good weekend.

    • Hi again G
      I’m glad you are passionate about art, holding it in high regard. I think art will always be a part of the elite and educated world until the balance in the economy allows us all to seek out this wonderful world we both love so much. Until that time, it won’t be so which is sad.

      • Morning, Tim! I wondered if you knew Adam. Small world, eh? Even in the blogosphere! Will look out for you when we get to Sheff to see Ad’s stuff. 🙂
        And yeah, I do think, all told, you and I are coming from the same place. A love of Art. Just taking a slightly different route, which is exactly as it should be. 🙂

  5. Hi G, Hi Tim! i know you both and have enjoyed both sides of disccussion, am sure you would both enjoy Ranciére on the ‘Emancipated Spectator’. Cheers, Ad, (Tim your latest work looking good, look f’wd to seeing ur show, G is coming along too i hope, ill be sure to intro you two guys. x

    • Hey Ad

      I’m glad you like my work, its coming along well now, just sorted a book to be sold through lulu publishers showcasing the project, well a years work.

  6. Here here Glen!

    In centuries past throughout cultures art wasn’t a discipline removed from everyday life, it was a rich part of the culture. The best art is art that speaks to people about their lives, not that which is so obtuse and disconnected from people that it’s meaningless. I loved what you said in a comment about art being a language. What’s the point of communicating a language that no one else speaks? I love when I go to a big gallery and see ‘ordinary’ people, not from the ‘art world’ wandering around appreciating art. People say they don’t like art but they do love art when it’s about their lives and not elitist idiocy. In one sense I hate art galleries. Art belongs in the street – I’ve felt this for a long time.

    Then again, pushing back on this is the fact that so much ‘nice’ art from the past (eg. Monet) was not ‘nice’ at the time but controversial and pushing boundaries. People sometimes learn to love it retrospectively – often when what the artist was on about becomes lost. Monet wasn’t out to paint pretty pictures and no one in his day thought he was.

    Good thoughts

    • Hi Ryan! Very good thoughts back also. Absolutely right about art once being embedded in culture – it was the lingua franca of the Church for the illiterate, for one thing.
      I know exactly what you mean about galleries – the grand ‘institutionalisation’ of art puts yet another barrier between art and the masses; all you had to do to see a bloody great Caravaggio etc was go to Mass, as a normal part of everyday life. Saying that, I can’t see any way around galleries – either art is ‘curated’ (hate that word!) or it sits in a vault, gathering dust, allegedly worth millions but essentially worthless. The internet has been a boon to people such as me in the access to images, but nothing beats the ‘real’ thing. The best way to appreciate art is to have something you love hanging/sitting in your own home, something you can look at again and again and really live with, like a favourite novel or piece of music. Does it matter if it’s a reproduction? I’m not sure that it does, if it’s done as well as possible within one’s means: ‘authenticity’ is a very modern, elitist pre-occupation.
      I think I may be rambling now, Ryan, so I’ll stop.
      Good to hear from you. 🙂

  7. Pingback: on why you’re an art lover | simply marvelous

  8. When I lived in Belgium, I discovered that art was an important part of people’s lives. Our landlord who was a plumber had dozens of pieces of art on his wall. Not posters of Picasso’s but local artists. I understand that most of these local artists may not be very important but the community of artists certainly is. But in Canada my homeland, I think art if seen as an adjunct to furniture. I’ve actually heard people discuss a piece of art that ‘works with their couch’. And I’ve listened to well known artists (although not all) jabbering. Anyway your rant was dead on.
    (I love science. Black holes. Black energy. String theory. Its fun)

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