Wednesday 25 November 2009

Art and the Marmite Position

Adrian Searle's reviews of two Damien Hirst exhibitions of new paintings are a must-read:

For someone who enjoys "art", eg the fine arts, but doesn't go to see new work enough, Adrian Searle's reviews are a real eye-opener to Hirst's most recent work: his self-brushed paintings. When we lose touch with a discipline (I studied art and drama at Poly) it is easy, and lazy, to adopt the "Marmite Position": you either like it or you hate it. I rarely find I "like" or "hate" contemporary art works passionately because I feel out of the loop; I haven't done the groundwork to be able to fully appreciate the work. Sure, I have buckets of prejudices. I can rant against Tracy Emin's bed or tent as good as the next ranter but it can feel cheap. You have to make the effort to see the work live. You need to read about it. You should try and place it in the context of the history of art before you make a Marmite decision.

Adrian Searle comes down quite heavily on Hirst's paintings. A sculptor friend on Facebook would seem to concur with Searle as his status updates and postings read like the crowds who mock the Emperor's new clothes: "Pah! See he can't paint! Useless!" This may well be the case. However, Searle's reviews are a brilliant balancing of harsh words and sympathy for an artist who is, apparently, exposing a lack of talent. In the October review of No Love Lost, Blue Paintings - The Wallace Collection (, Searle describes Hirst's blue gloomy skull paintings as suffering from "the old mortality shtick". Whilst at the end of the article he is almost reaching out to Hirst with his skeletal art critic's arm (if you will) and an admission of personal failure in the pursuit of painting:
I want to be encouraging. It's tough, trying to out-paint your influences, tougher still to keep failing at it so publicly. As a painter, I too tried and failed. Whatever his borrowings, Hirst did all this himself, unaided by his armies of assistants. He fills up his art with dead things: even the iguanas look stuffed. But these paintings are a memento mori for a reputation.
Searle goes even further in his November review of Nothing Matters - White Cube ( and tries to break down what is missing and problematic about the new paintings. Hirst is criticised for being too hurried, too eager to be on display. These words dig deep into the problem, the universal problem of application. In moments of self-doubt we all have to face up to the question: have I done the work? If the answer is an honest "yes" then it is the job of your peers to judge the worth of your work. The following criticism reads like an important lesson for all producers of art, young and old, but is a more general observation about commitment. Even when we work hard we may not be inspired but inspiration has to be the corollary of self-discipline and hard work. Doesn't it?
Hirst's scenes of destruction and misery haven't undergone the reworkings or journeys they need to go on in order to arrive somewhere new. They are too artful, and his current shows are premature – however much he needed to go through the process of making the works themselves. In the end, what it comes down to is Hirst's touch, or lack of it. It lacks conviction. His paintings are filled with approximations.
One would have to say this is quite damning, if it were true. I am going to make a stirling effort to find out for myself.

No Love Lost, Blue Paintings
14 Oct-24 Jan 2010

Nothing Matters
25 Nov—30 Jan 2010

Wednesday 4 November 2009

@eclectictrains muscles in at the end of #moralmaze

Free Pictures | acobox.comTwitter has been such headline news over the past month that even the BBC's Moral Maze couldn't keep away from it's incessant, pecking beak. You'll be glad to know I was dutifully listening to the show whilst trying to tweet a few off-beat, eclectic responses (as I am prone to do). At one point the kids came downstairs with their mother (my wife) wanting my opinion on which school photos were the best. I tried to stay focused on the Sky+ box's radio output, but it was clearly time to retire to the kitchen with the trusted Robert's radio (below).

Well, go listen to the show if you want to know how it all went. It'll be here for a week:

The discussion was pretty free flowing with the cogent writer and Twitterer, Kenan Malik, probing thoughtfully... and then at the eleventh hour, as Michael Buerk wrapped up the show, he read from 2 tweets and the rest is a Twitterer's, little, slither of semi-narcissistic, tweet-style vanity publishing, history:

Kenan Malik: "'s pointless pretending that Twitter in and of itself is the problem. It's not the moral agent. It's just the tool used by moral agents and that is what we need to discuss."

Michael Buerk: "Just a few things off Twitter, before we go. 'Lynch mob mentality', this is somebody called elec- eclectictrains, 'Lynch mob mentality' says Melanie Phillips*. I think I like this mob'. And somebody called dogtrouser says that he is worried to find himself agreeing with a Roman Catholic."

[Laughter in the studio]

There you go an eclectic quip gets onto the big airwaves. New media piggybacking on the old.

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*Unfortunately yours truly spelt MP's surname with the one "l". Where is the Twitterproofer when you need him?