June 30, 2004

There was a reek of semen that quickened the blood


Fantastic interview with Ballard in the Guardian last week that somehow passed me by
(that's what you get for reading the Times, I spose).

Especially given recent hoo-hahs here, I particularly liked his comments on the contemporary art scene:

'Today's art scene? Very difficult to judge, since celebrity and the media presence of the artists are inextricably linked with their work. The great artists of the past century tended to become famous in the later stages of their careers, whereas today fame is built into the artists' work from the start, as in the cases of Emin and Hirst.

There's a logic today that places a greater value on celebrity the less it is accompanied by actual achievement. I don't think it's possible to touch people's imagination today by aesthetic means. Emin's bed, Hirst's sheep, the Chapmans' defaced Goyas are psychological provocations, mental tests where the aesthetic elements are no more than a framing device.

It's interesting that this should be the case. I assume it is because our environment today, by and large a media landscape, is oversaturated by aestheticising elements (TV ads, packaging, design and presentation, styling and so on) but impoverished and numbed as far as its psychological depth is concerned.

Artists (though sadly not writers) tend to move to where the battle is joined most fiercely. Everything in today's world is stylised and packaged, and Emin and Hirst are trying to say, this is a bed, this is death, this is a body. They are trying to redefine the basic elements of reality, to recapture them from the ad men who have hijacked our world.

Emin's beautiful body is her one great idea, but I suspect that she is rather prudish, which means that there are limits to the use she can make of her body and its rackety past. Meanwhile, too much is made of conceptual art - putting it crudely, someone has been shitting in Duchamp's urinal, and there is an urgent need for a strong dose of critical Parazone.'

Posted by mark at June 30, 2004 02:34 PM | TrackBack

Bless him, but that is like an overview of the contemporary music scene which makes reference only to Busted, Britney and Bedingfield: all variously good, but too narrow a field to allow swingeing generalisations about the structure of contemporary art.

Posted by: Tim at June 30, 2004 02:41 PM

Also: is he right in saying that "the great artists from the last century" (whoever he may mean) "tended to become famous in the later stages of their careers"? Obviously I don't know who he thinks of as 'great', but most of the canonical greats - the cubists, surrealists, abstract expressionists, pops, name your movement, name your artists - actually were rather famous rather early, and many of the great names drifted into an unfame as time went on, didn't they?

If it's impossible to touch people's imagination with aesthetics these days (I'm not sure I agree, but for the sake of argument...) then I'm happy that someone's touching my imagination somehow (they are), and am entirely relaxed about that being a 'psychological provocation'.

Aesthetics wonks may be able to explain to me how aesthetics are not psychological provocations anyhow.

Posted by: Tim at June 30, 2004 03:03 PM

Nice to the point piece by Robert Hughes in today's Grauniad, so nice in fact that it inspired both the title and URL of my new blog!

Posted by: Marcello Carlin at June 30, 2004 03:44 PM

Aesthetics are pyschological provocations but not all psychological provocations are aesthetic.

Posted by: mark k-p at June 30, 2004 04:04 PM

I'd like it if you said what you like about Ballard's comments, Mark. It seems to me that there are several mis-steps and several parts which are unclear. I'm interested in which bits you agree with because we could maybe talk about them.

Are 'aesthetic' psychological provocations better than 'non-aesthetic' ones? How are we to know his (or your) definition of 'aesthetic' anyway?

When he says 'conceptual art' does he mean Chapman - Emin - Hirst, do you think? If so, why not talk about something else, rather than whining about how much is made of it?

Posted by: Tim at June 30, 2004 04:17 PM

Aesthetic simply means having some sensual or affective dimension. But being drawn into this kind of debate - 'what is aesthetic? - is one of the most tedious consequences of conceptomongering. Bacon has an aesthetic dimension, Delvaux has it, Bellmer has it, Emin and Sarah Lucas don't. Yes, it's all a matter of opinion, blah blah, but that's my opinion, or rather that's how my nervous system processes them.

I don't think Ballard's comments are an exhaustive commentary on the whole panorama of contemporary art, nor are they meant to be. Of course, there's more to it than those three artists.... But those three are worthy of special comment because they exemplify the complicity between PR, celebrity and art he's pointing to. (On which point, Hughes' revelations about Damien Hirst's refusal to allow his work to be even commented on are quite astonishing - really....)

Yeh, you can ignore it, or you can try to ignore it --- like you can try to ignore Big Brother and Glastonbury, but actually it's increasingly difficult to do so if you read a newspaper or a magazine or switch on the television or radio. And blasting negative, deadening abstract machines is a positive act. See Marcello's post on Glasto at Naked Maja.

Marcello, love the new place - but perhaps it's my machine, perhaps my eyes are fading, but the font is awfully small. Hope you find yr piece on Goldie's 'Mother', mine too is tragically lost. :-(

btw comments are here because I can't comment on your site --- this isn't a problem with your site specifically, it's a problem with the blogger comments facility in general --- I can't access it on this machine/ browser at all ---

Posted by: mark k-p at June 30, 2004 04:45 PM

You're right about it being boring to be sucked into a 'what is aesthetic' argument, but of course because I *do* feel an aesthetic element to (say) Emin (if you must) then your argument and JGB's fall at the first hurdle, for me, with a plop.

It seems to me that TE-J&DC-DH are better understood as exceptions rather than examples.

Maybe it's not possible to ignore the highest-profile artists, but any figure like Ballard who attempted to make a similar comment about current music, using such obvious reference points, would be derided in this district of the web, I think. It seems like laziness to me and feels a great deal more 'deadening' than art I don't like bing on the telly.

D. Hirst, can't win of course, can he? He's lambasted in "Hughes's astonishing revelations" for failing to make himself completely available to the media. Hughes might have used the pop industry as a comparison rather than publishing, but that wouldn't have suited his argument. It seems to me that Hirst has every right to decline involvement in projects in which he doesn't want to be involved.

Posted by: Tim at June 30, 2004 05:18 PM


Posted by: Tim at June 30, 2004 05:19 PM

But it's not a 'project' that he could or should have been involved in, any more than Martin Amis should be involved in reviewing his latest novel ... Interesting that he's _allowed_ to block his work being shown, too...

Yeh, I'd rather talk about interesting art, too.

Posted by: mark k-p at June 30, 2004 06:48 PM

You should try it sometime.

But (to pick an example of someone you like) Kevin Shields is allowed to block the use of his music in a documentary about him, isn't he?

Posted by: Tim at July 1, 2004 09:30 AM

But (to pick an example of someone you like) Kevin Shields is allowed to block the use of his music in a documentary about him, isn't he?

I assume so, though I think it's bizarre and ludicrous. He's not allowed to stop negative reviews is he, thank god.

Posted by: mark k-p at July 1, 2004 09:50 AM

No-one's allowed to stop negative reviews!

Posted by: Tim at July 1, 2004 10:25 AM

Thank God...

Posted by: mark k-p at July 1, 2004 10:47 AM

comments on emin similar to whitehouses "why you never became a dancer"
very smart

Posted by: mms at July 1, 2004 02:27 PM