Where is the real value? In art or celebrity?

ArenaOver the past few days a good friend has told me that my attitude to art is the same as those critics who dismissed the great artists of the past like Picasso, Warhol and Mondrian and I “would have condemned every new move as it came along”…

He tells me I echo “every generation of critics who condemned van Gogh, Monet, and….incredibly….the Mona Lisa”… and I am “displaying the wrong mental attitude to be a modern artist”.

Where do all of these criticisms come from? What brought them about?

It started with my dismissive comments about Robert Ryman’s “Arena” (left), hanging in the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

“Arena” is a white canvas that is no different in appearance (apart from size) to the many primed and gessoed canvases that I’ve had at home. And yet “Arena” is deemed worthy of space on a wall in Australia’s National art gallery. AND, clearly, was originally seen as worth a hefty price tag to be acquired for the gallery.

So what IS the difference between “Arena” and the many thousands of white painted canvases to be found in the studios of most artists?

What makes a gallery see one artist’s white canvas as being worthy “art” and all of those others as not having equal worth?

To me the answer is clear. It is the celebrity status of the artist. It is the same thing that makes an autographed photo of a film star stand apart from a signed photo of me?

The art world is steeped in celebrity worship.

Comparisons and Judgements

This is my second year as “an artist”, maybe a year and a half since my first painting attempts, and my art journey has been one of trial and error: learning as I go from practical experience. I’ve bought many magazines and books about technique but I’ve never really followed their examples. Instead I have preferred to see art and read about art and find inspiration from what other people have done without trying to copy them.

I see how my painting has developed and I’m happy not to have copied techniques from books. What I do is far from perfect and it can be frustrating when something isn’t working out in the way I want. But I think I’m developing my own style and my own approach. I may have ideas inspired by what others have done but I haven’t tried to duplicate anything.

Throughout this year and a half my intentions have not changed but the method of putting those intentions into paint has changed significantly. Starting with attempts to paint text only my work has moved on with influences from various art movements and several individual artists. Parts of this process have been mentioned in previous articles.

One of the potential stumbling blocks that I face is the temptation to compare my work with the work of others, whether it be the well-known painters I’ve admired, or even the members of the local art society. I could see their work and see where it is more accomplished than mine. I could see what they are doing as being more valid, more technically proficient more GENUINELY artistic. I could see them as doing REAL paintings to a standard I haven’t achieved. But I need to take my own path, recognising my own limitations but not letting those limitations restrict what I try to achieve.

It would be a mistake for me to make someone elses work the standard by which I judge the validity of my own. It’s not as if there’s an ultimate authority in painting that all artists have to emulate and by which all art is judged.

A Late Tribute to the Late Robert Hughes

Robert Hughes was a name on books. An author involved in a well-publicized car accident in Western Australia. Beyond that I knew little about him.

Until recently when he died and ABC TV (Australia) broadcast an old documentary as a tribute.

The Mona Lisa Curse was Hughes’ exploration (or exposé?) of the effects of money on art. How a loan of the Mona Lisa to galleries in the USA led to a new attitude: artwork as celebrity and later as an investment commodity.

Hughes had very little regard for some of the most revered artists of modern times and commented scathingly upon them and their work. Two of his most esteemed targets were Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst. I confess I experienced a degree of smug delight upon hearing what he had to say about those two. I’ve had no respect for their “artistic” talents since learning of the way they had on occasion used other painters to do their paintings for them.

I am now looking out for a copy of Hughes’ book Shock of the New. I’m sure I recently saw it in a second hand book shop but didn’t realize it would be something that would interest me. If only I could remember which shop it was in…

See Hughes’ 2008 article in The Guardian for some of his views on Hirst.

The Mona Lisa Curse may be accessible via youtube.