Friday, February 21, 2014

Art is not a monologue

The last few days have been good ones for the anti-art brigade. First, a man in Miami smashed a vase by Ai Weiwei as a protest against the museum’s failure to promote local artists. Then came that reliable classic, the cleaning lady who thought the art was rubbish and threw it away; in this case, biscuit crumbs in Bari. Both actions provoked sardonic support from those who think it’s not proper art if you can’t make a souvenir tea towel out of it. And now a banal apology by President Obama has provoked a firestorm of Gradgrindian hatred, apparently directed at anything that has the word “art” in it.

What’s interesting is how quiet artists themselves are in all this. Ai Weiwei, not usually one to shy away from expressing his opinion, tutted lamely that he doesn’t think people should do stuff like this (although the pictures above suggests it’s OK to do it to your own art), but that’s about all. The thing is, as media becomes less top-down and more interactive, this is increasingly how criticism will be expressed and creators are going to have to learn how to stick up for themselves. Annie Slaminsky said on Twitter a few days ago that sites such as Flickr have become social media for visually oriented people, which implies that if you do pictures you can’t do words. I hope that isn’t true.

I’m reminded in some ways of what started happening to journalism in the mid-2000s. When I started writing for Comment is Free, there were seasoned journalists who appeared not to want to engage with the rabble below the line, allowing their articles to appear on screen and walking away. As Graham Linehan said, also with reference to Twitter, You have in your possession a magic mirror, and you're just using it as a mirror!” It was those of us who descended into the pit who really got something out of it and for all the vitriol, the commenters seemed to appreciate it when we did, even if they still thought we were talking bollocks. And if modern art is to beat the austerity-era Gradgrinds, it can’t remain aloof any more. Rising above it is not an option.

PS: Here’s one example of an artist giving the haters a going-over, as photographer Derek Ridgers takes Jonathan Jones to task for his wrong-headed review of a David Bailey show.

PPS: And here are some thoughts about Comment is Free and its founder Georgina Henry, who died this month – in a form she would have appreciated.

PPPS: And it seems as if some of the details in the Bari story were exaggerated. I guess that’s an art as well.


The Poet Laura-eate said...

Your post prompted a glorious vision of a piece of art photographed on a blog with comments in art form underneath!

On a serious note, can't say I'm going to lose any sleep over the desecration of some biscuit crumbs, much though no one has the right to desecrate art any more than they have the right to burn books. But at least there is seldom any grey area over 'Is it a book?' whereas 'Is it art?' is often open to debate.

Annie said...

'it implies that if you do pictures you can’t do words.' Not really. If you write blogs does it mean you can't make pictures? It's about your medium of choice.