Wednesday, July 07, 2010

I’d rather not Jack

Jack Vettriano, the artist who might as well have been designed by a committee to create art for people who don’t know much about art but know what they like but aren’t really sure why, has apparently remarked that proposed cuts in arts subsidies are a good thing because they will force galleries to pay more attention to public taste. In common with popular but critically derided artists in other media (John Grisham, say, or Status Quo) he seems dissatisfied with mere popularity and the hard cash it brings; he wants love from the critical establishment that he affects to despise, and which certainly appears to despise him, or at least the porny cheese that his fans so adore.

There’s certainly a serious discussion or several to be had here about the formation of a critical consensus and a critical canon. What exactly are the objective criteria by which an artist such as Vettriano is deemed to be less good than Lucien Freud or David Hockney or Paula Rego, the Chapman Brothers or the Stuckists or Banksy? Are there any? Who decides? Does Vettriano’s very popularity count against him? Which leads into really juicy questions about taste and utilitarianism, snobbery and aesthetics and money, Ruskin and Morris, Pater and Wilde and all good stuff like that.

But Vettriano and his ilk don’t seem to be interested in such a debate, possibly because his argument, if followed to its logical end, means that James Cameron is the greatest film director of all time. Hey, maybe he thinks that as well. It boils down to the notion that because more people like his paintings, more public money should be devoted to letting more people look at his paintings; and on those terms, Cameron and Grisham and the Quo all deserve subsidies as well.

If he really has the courage of his populist convictions, why doesn’t he just open a public gallery devoted to his own art, and that of Rolf Harris and Beryl Cook; polite watercolours of the South Downs; Athena prints and the covers of 70s prog rock albums; dogs playing snooker and the tennis girl scratching her bum? And there could be music by Dido and Coldplay, and Avatar projected on the ceiling over and over again. That would be what the taxpayer wants, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it?

But never mind all that: Billy has a new blog! Hurrah! (Although that means tweaking the buggering blogroll. Hmmff.)


Anonymous said... some areas, some galleries seem to pay rather too much attention to "public taste."
But I guess Mr. Vettriano is getting his column inch.

Donn said...

There is some truthiness aboot declaring Cameron as the greatest Director of all time.

Everyone hates the idea of mass appeal..nobody wants to be the average person.

Sadly, the Lowest Common Denominator is the backbone of Dumbocracy.

Rog said...

You can't be niche and popular, it's a contradiction in terms. My eldest son was an ardent Killers devotee when they were "bubbling under" but dropped them like a stone well before they became Radio Two staple.

Porny Cheese would be a good name for a cult band.

Richard said...

But why is Vettriano bad? Or rather not bad, because he's not a bad draughtsman, but unacceptable? Interesting you mention the Stuckists because being a self-taught amateur until he got popular, Vettriano would appear to tick quite a few of their manifesto boxes. I knew a couple of them because I went to college at Medway, where Billy lives, and still owe one £12 for the electricity bill from 1980. They weren't Stuckists then and Billy was still in the Pop Rivets. Anyway, give me Status Quo over JV anyday.

dh said...

I think elitist critics are missing the irony in Vettriano's work. It is actually a multi-layered comment on contemporary society.

Geoff said...

My mum likes Vettrianos though possibly not the ones with the tits out.

I like Hoppers but wish he'd painted more tits.

Annie said...

I wonder how Anish Kapoor does it - popular and critically acclaimed.

I would quite like a gallery with the tennis player's bum and Beryl Cook. Soz. This post makes me think of the Whitechapel Gallery, it used to be great, a proper local gallery for the community, now post-renovation it's so highbrow and obscure nobody visits it anymore.

Tim Footman said...

MIT: I presume you're talking about shows that seem to be put together on the basis of how many tea towels they can sell rather than any particular merit in the artworks.

I think some people are quite happy being average, Donn, and good luck to them. My only objection is when they think that's the same thing as being right. See also "normal".

Very true, Rog. I was amused by the reader-generated outrage when Simon Cowell was the cover star in NME last year. Simon Cowell is as crucial to the NME's identity as any skinny-jeaned fop, in that he gives readers something to measure their tastes *against*.

That's the core question, Richard, and I think it's one that would be worthy of debate and analysis. You'd think Vettriano himself might be asking it, but he seems to veer away from questions of aesthetics and more into populism: lots of people like me, therefore I am good. Which is the flipside of Rog's example of The Killers (lots of people like them, so they're bad), but equally meaningless.

But if the Vettriano fans knew that, Dick, they'd probably stop buying his stuff.

I don't mind Hopper, especially the tits, Geoff. And you're right, there's a similarity, but I don't like Vettriano and I don't know why; maybe there should be a Vettriano/Hopper exhibition so we can compare, contrast, discuss, argue. Think old Jack would be up for it?

Kapoor's popular, Annie, but not to the same extent as Vettriano. He's like Gormley or Louise Bourgeois (RIP), his stuff makes people happy, but you wouldn't want one in your house. Which is as much a matter of scale as anything, I know...

Good point about Whitechapel, though. What do you think should go into a gallery that would encourage punters, but not give critics a collective seizure?

Anonymous said...

@ Annie - I used to enjoy going to the Whitechapel Gallery. Last couple of times were dull. Couldn't even buy Modern Toss in the shop.
@ Tim - And the problem with the tennis girl scratching her arse is...?
Anyway - should I be feeling virtuous because I've just read Murakami's After Dark. My first one. And it's all because of you. Which probably means you're the one who should be feeling virtuous.

Tim Footman said...

No, BWT, I feel slightly detached, as is appropriate to the Murakami vibe. Excuse me while I eat spaghetti, listening to jazz.

Annie said...

I don't know, but the Hayward Gallery seems to get it right an awful lot. They've had some corkers over the years.