Every day I get in my inbox a post from Panhala, a Yahoo group, which includes poetry, music and a lovely photo. It’s always uplifting but this post resonated for me because it’s something I’ve been paying a bit of attention to – no, not twigs but art and its essence.
it has taken me
all of sixty years
that water is the finest drink,
and bread the most delicious food,
and that art is worthless
unless it plants
a measure of splendor in people’s hearts.
~ Taha Muhammad Ali ~
Although I never started creating art until my mid-50s, I became enamoured of art when I lived in London in the early 1970s. I used to visit The Tate (the old Tate not the Tate Modern) and National Gallery. I was enchanted with the wonderful art I could pore over, absorb and admire for its age, beauty or challenging aspects which made me think about life and meaning.
I remember reading a book by a yogi years ago where he talked of art being spiritual and uplifting. Now I don’t know whether that’s quite up my alley, as I believe art can challenge with quite dark, disturbing images and, in the process, raise in our consciousness what we value and don’t value.
So in another instance of Mo’s list of “The Emperor’s Got No Clothes” is the fact that hoo-haa around modern British art, to be specific, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, gets up my nose a bit. I don’t know about Tracey Enim, but I do know that Hirst was lucky enough to get promoted by one of the Saatchi brothers and since they were the advertising gits behind Margaret Thatcher and her ratbag government, I’m probably not disposed to view either brother in a particularly kindly light.
I remember the first time I saw Hirst’s much-praised shark in formaldehyde in a tank, with all the rave reviews about. So what does this sort of image provoke? It may have a bit of shock, horror value (poor old shark) but I really don’t think people are going to be walking around with a measure of splendour in their hearts after seeing what is really, to me, a reflection of cold, patriarchal society – something created with brilliant logic and precision but lacking heart. It’s about money and making as much money as possible. Ditto Hirst’s idea for a skull embedded with diamonds – minions did the shit work of putting the diamonds on the skull, and Mr Hirst pocketed the millions of dollar from this little exercise.
I also had a look at a Tracey Enim exhibition at the Tate Gallery: “She Lay Down Beneath the Sea” which is supposed to be a tribute to Margate, a seaside town in Kent close to where I grew up, Ramsgate. And honestly, I thought it was a walloping great con trick because it had a well-known artist behind it. Enim is famous for her tent with the the theme of “everyone I’ve slept with”. It is perhaps redolent of our “me” oriented society because, frankly, I coudn’t care less about who Enim’s slept with, whether it includes her mother or not and has used condoms scattered around her bed or what. Again, do we really think this will light up hearts centuries from now?
It’s what, as I mentioned above, I call “the emperor’s got no clothes” – Saatchi pimps up a whole heap of artists and their art which the glitterati clutch because it’s a famous name behind them, and suddenly they’re the bee’s knees. It’s a great con trick, as far as I’m concerned, and I was quite pleased to see the artist, Grayson Perry, last week say that Hirst’s work is hackneyed and looks a bit tatty. Good on ya, Grayson Perry, good see someone who’s got the guts to go against the faux glitterati.
I love the creations of artists like Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, David Hockney, and Emily Kame Kngwarreye, to name a few modern artists. I’m not against modern art per se, just what I see are the shysters.
I know that I see the most beautiful art from artists I know who aren’t famous but whose work knocks Enim’s and Hirst’s work into a cocked hat. I’m on a visionary, spiritual art page on Facebook where the women produce the most beautiful work. I know an artist in Bournemouth whose work is fantastic. If you go on artist websites you can do searches which produce works of art which leave Hirst and Enim for dead.
I simply think it’s time that people stopped being awed by big names with no substance behind them except Saatchi and squillions of dollars, and take art back into our own hands – art which is defined by what it stirs in the heart, what gladdens our eyes and which isn’t defined by how many dollars it costs or whether artists are celebrities or whether they’re pimped by millionaires.
I quite freely admit that the art I create isn’t brilliant art, but it gladdens my soul to create it and that’s what counts for me. And I’m quite happy to freely admit also that the art I like is visionary and whacko a lot of the time, but I can also recognise that great art includes still life or landscapes which personally bore me witless. I know that my personal taste doesn’t define great art, except when I look at art which is a giant con trick and then I’m happy to step out of line and perhaps be labelled a “non-visionary” or whatever. It doesn’t matter to me except that I speak the truth of what I see and what feeds my own heart and soul. I just don’t like bullshit.
What we need is art with HEART, that reclaims art from the hands of the greedy and returns it to the hands of people who appreciate art for what it lights up in their hearts. , which I think is terrific. It’s such a pity that great art is defined by whether you get picked up by an important art gallery, or a rich collector, when so much great art gets passed over. This is work by an artist in the US, Deborah Milton, who produces soul-felt, heartsome art which is true modern art and definitely not “the emperor with no clothes”! Well, in my view, anyway!