Saturday, 4 October 2008
A last puff on Damien. For now. In response to something argued by a writer I like and admire, so pax vobiscum, SF. Much of this refers to the debate that has been outrunning the comments box. This, unlike my last, is contra Hirst.
The title of Hirst's shark ('The Physical Impossibility of the Thought of Death in the Mind of One Living') bores me, if you'll forgive the pun, to death. It is portentous, grandstanding obviousness pretending to be a blinding revelation. It's sort of adolescent. I prefer just to think of it as the shark, nor does losing the title in the least reduce it for me. It's like the sculptors of the 60s calling their Philip King-type pieces 'Ixion' or 'Counterpoint IX'. They were hoping to gain something by specious association. Most titles are, most of the time, useful handles to pick things up by rather than an implicit part of the work.
I take the use of the word 'debate' to be referring to the bigger debate well beyond the circle of this blog. Because that debate about Hirst does exist. And so it should. It's just that the debate is not in itself the art. Nor should it be. The statement 'clearly a great artist' says to me what it seems to say, that Hirst is, clearly, a great artist.
Of course Hirst is an artist. So am I and so are you, so are all of us who have been engaged in this restricted debate. All 'clearly' artists. I will accept 'clearly' for that, in that we all produce art. 'Call that a poem?' someone might say, but as long as we and a few other people are happy to put the label poem, or prose, or whatever, to what we do, irrespective of whether it is a good or bad example of the art, we can safely assume 'clearly'. Greatness is something else.
And what has money to do with this, seeing that Francis Bacon's works fetch a fortune? Money has something quite specific to do with Hirst, in that his work directly engages with it. Picasso made fortunes but he produced so much work it was bound to lower his prices, but he didn't care. Money wasn't the issue, not part of the subject. Nor was it Bacon's, repetitive as he tended to become as time went on.
In Hirst it is part of the subject, to some degree it is the subject, and I, personally, don't like it. I don't like the smug backers, I don't like the smug critics, I don't like the smug prize-givers with their smug prizes, I don't like the smug buyers, I don't like the smug speculators. I detest their privileges, their monopolies, their bullying, their cartels, their flashing of flash ideas, cash and power, the fact that they create and maintain their own celebrity value, their cynicism masquerading as irony. And the fact that Hirst is right at the heart of this. He is, currently, its beating heart.
Which does not predispose me to like him.