Sitting in a hotel room in San Diego (seized the opportunity from a generous friend for a tag-along, low-cost LA gallery reconnaissance mission and lots of art viewing), trying to catch up on the world via the internet, and sort things out over coffee. It seems as though I have not stopped in a few months, with the two shows back-to-back and various other things. I am trying to take a breath this morning and regroup. I have told two people in the last week that I need to slow down this pace or I will explode, go up in flames. Last night I had a dream that I did just that, but it did not seem traumatic, it seemed kind of beautiful. Yoga. I am hoping yoga will save me.
Apparently, the Damien Hirst thing happened while I was busy: one of my friends sent me an email rant last week. She was struck by the profundity of his artist statement: "It shows we are not going to live for ever. But it also has a feeling of victory over death." I could picture her ranting about him in real life, and it made me smile.
I was thinking about it on my flight yesterday, why he pisses so many artists off. An obvious answer is that, if you are an artist, you immediately think about what YOU would make with 20 million dollars. But if one's goal is to make a statement about the state of the contemporary art world, what better way to do it than to create the ultimate luxury object, a glorified piece of jewelry about "not taking it with you"? It smacks a bit of committee art... a bunch of people sit in a room trying to come up with the best one liner, the most obscene object... "we'll cover something with diamonds... what could we use that will instantly charge it with profound symbolism?" Art constructed for the press release, as someone noted over at Ed Winkleman's blog.
Of course, the joke is on the collector who validates his statement through through the purchase of the status object. It reminds me of all the people who called "Blessed Art Thou" blasphemous, then proceeded to tell me all the thoroughly researched details of Angelina Jolie's private life to prove why we should not put her on a pedestal. Is actual life growing more absurd with each passing day, or is that a function of growing old, no matter what decade you find yourself in?
I thought about Damien Hirst, and about the young artist fixation in general, and why I respond to it the way that I do. It's not just that long-road, hard-won successes make for better stories than immediate, just out-of-grad-school successes. It's something about "the brotherhood" of artists (remember the Marines comparison post a few months back?). When I got out of grad school, I knew that I had chosen a difficult profession. There were no stories in art magazines of people being plucked out of grad schools and made into art stars in those days: you knew you were in it for the art, that you probably wouldn't make much money at it, but maybe, if you were lucky and you put in your ten or twenty years in the studio, people might start to see and appreciate your vision, tenacity, and the skills you have been honing over the years. We admired "artists' artists", the ones who did the work, put in the time, struggled over the long haul whether someone was buying their work or not, whether anyone was paying attention or not. An "artists' artist" can be trusted: you know where their values lie because they have been tested over time. It seems that when an older artist finally gets some recognition, they are not cocky about it, because they remember what it was like in the trenches, the years they put in, the ramen noodle soup they've eaten, etc. They also know 4 or 5 other artists who have been doing kick-ass work for decades who have not been recognized, and they know that their comrades deserve the success as much as they do.
So I guess my emotional, gut reaction to Damien's deluxe dazzling diamond display is to feel a bit insulted as a fellow artist, feeling that doing something so ostentatious shows little respect for the artists who are still trying to scrape together enough money for that tube of cadmium red. But my rational side knows that other artists' feelings really are not something that he should be thinking about when trying to make a strong, effective work of art. (If I were home, I could interject a great David Cronenberg quote that I have, but it generally says that if you thought about who you might offend every time you sat down to make something, you would never make anything)
As far back as I can remember, I have stood in front of artwork and asked myself, "Do I trust this person as an artist?" Many people discuss "quality" when looking at work, but, to me, "integrity" is a much more effective, and less superficial, barometer of a great work of art. Can Damien's skull have integrity in its deliberate LACK of integrity?
After my recent experiences, I have to concede that we really shouldn't sit around the world looking at jpegs and making judgements about a work that may have some incredible, intangible presence when viewed in person, and we DEFINITELY should not believe ANY quotes that we read, regardless of the quotation marks. (See my "absurdity in everyday life" comment above)
In the category of "other things that have been happening while I have been spinning in circles like the Tasmanian Devil", everyone I know is buzzing about the Art In America article on art schools in the May issue. I finally read it on my way here, when I was too tired to embroider on the plane.
Gives real insight as to what is happening... worth a trip to the bookstore, if you do not subscribe.
My brother emailed me and said "run, don't walk... to see the movie 'Once' " (my brother knows me pretty well, so that is not a general endorsement, it could be that he just thinks it will feed my idiosyncrasies)
And I don't remember what links I followed to discover this, but one of my favorite artists, the antithesis of D. Hirst, has come out with a new book. Miranda July, performance artist, author, and filmmaker, has released a book entitled, "No One Belongs Here More Than You". It should be waiting for me when I get home. Here is the amazing website for the book.
I am jealous. And it reminds me that I need to work on my website.