The Trouble with Art by JH

We live in an era of the Emperor’s new clothes. You could argue that the Emperor was engaging with an existential concept that, very simply, demands that its viewers adjust their perceptions in order to engage and understand the work – sorry the clothes… Was the Emperor being tricked or was he making a statement?

A key element of modern contemporary art is that it requires an act of faith to secure its validation. An artist will say he is an artist and what he makes is, de facto, art. Trust me, he will say. Have faith, he will say. As an atheist, I naturally find this unsettling. I want more.

Hirst has some wonderful spot paintings with their fixed composition and wonderful play with colour. However, I lived next to the East End workshop, where they were produced. I am driven to wonder whether the best thing about them wasn’t actually the work of the hired artists, who made them. This doesn’t mean that the artist can’t create the conditions for an artwork to exist, or hire other people to make it or that the result is not art. It just erodes a confidence in the process. Hirst goes further saying his assistants produce much better paintings than he does and all that he produces is the idea. 

Confidence is a key feature. The reality is that only the buyers or the market need to have confidence. If enough money or volume is put in then the confidence will follow. A few investors can start a run, which is what happened with the Saatchi, Jopling and Hirst trinity. Such a trinity of artist, gallerist and advertiser needs only a product to achieve success. The question of whether the product is art or not is irrelevant, as the purpose of the exercise is to create value. Within this self-appointed system, the three players act as judge, jury and executioner, so to speak. 

For the product to attain value or increase in value, it needs only to pass through (the eye of the needle) this system to be ‘certified’ as art. For who can argue that a work displayed in a White Cube Gallery is anything other than art?

This leads us to a point of unquestioning trust, that is not unlike religious faith. All that is required is that we believe in art and culture and its institutions in much the same way, as a god demands unquestioning belief. Is it a coincidence that in London the Tate Modern sits cathedral-like across the river from St Pauls and many flock to its doors in awe and wonder.

In these troubled, dare I say revolutionary times, we are less and less willing to give compliance and complicity to the institutions that surround us and, who have for so long, taken that complicity for granted.

Art, rather than leading the way for us, has very much pioneered a paucity of thought – a complicity of faith. Art is dead – nothing more than marketese and fake value propositions remain. Maybe the Emperor knew he was being tricked; but chose to make a statement with the trick and then watch in amazement as the trick came to have meaning…