Thursday, 19 November 2009

Damian Hirst: a good example of contemporary art??

Did anyone else read the article in the Guardian last Saturday (14.11.09 Guardian weekend) regarding Damian Hirst?  I thought following on from the Arbus post, Hirst was an interesting example of contemporary art. He is controversial, successful and is synonymous with contemporary art. He has been called many things over the years including  a marketing magician, figurehead of Britart, enfant terribles, Britain's own mini-Warhol.

In his own words he considered himself a 'back-room boy' - 'an enabler rather than artist ... concept is all'. What I found interesting is that much of his work is not actually done with his own hands.  He has a team of artists who actually make his concepts a reality.  But as it is broadly his idea, he can attach his name to it.

'He loved the notion that he could attach his name to work he had not laid a finger on, claim it as his own and make millions. It was funny, ludicrous and hugely profitable'.

You can sort of understand why he has provoked so much controversy and given contemporary art a tarnished reputation.  Earlier in his career '...he was jealous when he found out that Rachel Whiteread's work was selling for £100,000 at a time when his was going for £20,000 - £30,000. So he asked his agent to put up the price to £100,000 and he hasn't looked back'Sarah Lucas (short biog here) is one of his favourite contemporary artists and has no interest in the commercial aspects of art and ironically Hirst 'kind of admires her for it'.

In 2007 'The Love of God' a human skull made from 8,601 diamonds costing £13mln to produce was sold for £100mln.  He then sold some earlier works this year making a further £111mln. To me, this sounds like hardnosed profiteering, commercial not contemporary art??  Although he is adamant his 'diamond skull' is an example of 'cash chasing the art' rather than vice versa.

Since then he has been in a shed for two years and has tried his own hand at painting. Hirst makes an interesting observation, which I have picked up from other artists recently, which, if true, should give us all hope. 

'Picasso, Michelangelo, possibly, might be verging on genius, but I don't think a painter like Rembrandt is a genius. It's about freedom and guts. It's about looking. It can be learned. That's the great thing about art. Anybody can do it if you just believe. With practice, you can make great paintings.'

His most recent show the Wallace Collection has received 'a mauling' from critics and are, allegedly 'shockingly bad'. Again, maybe we should see this as a positive thing for the rest of us as that even the artists at the top of their profession get severe knocks, that not everything is an instant success and that by developing ourselves, some projects work out better than others. And we are all on a journey of discovery, treading new ground.

I must admit I haven't held Hirst in the highest regard in the past probably having picked up mainly on the negative soundbites you hear in the press. Having read a little bit more about him and learning a little bit more about the YBA's (young British artists), I'm not really sure he's gone up much in my estimations.  He is without a doubt a successful businessman and art-entrepreneur. He found notoriety within an era that yuppies, thatcherism, money and materialism were at their height.  So perhaps rather than taking exeption to Hirst himself, I suspect he is a successful biproduct originating from an era in which flamboyance, decadence and riches was acceptable and only now are under scrutiny and much criticism.  

In conclusion when looking at contemporary artists and where the future lies, can the new generation of artists find any new ground to tread. I think the answer has to be not easily.  I watched 'Where is modern art now?' which was on BBC4 last night which was an interesting synopsis of modern art since the YBA's.  I'll upload a blog on this shortly which tries to answer this question.  

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