Thursday, 14 January 2010

The authenticity factor.

Following on from the idea of the exploitation of misery in the art world, this leads me to think about the extent to which artists exploit their own misery for commercial gain. In terms of art being stimulated by suffering in this context, it can be argued that modern artists today are not so much being genuinely influenced by their own suffering but more that they are driven by a market demand which actually requires them to create a certain type of negative work. This therefore questions the integrity of some of the most successful modern artists of today and the root of their work. If artists have cottoned-on to the fact that ‘negative-art’ sells, could it be that street-savvy artists are either deliberately indulging in their pain to merely raise sales figures, or are they creating an illusion of pain to stay in the commercial fast-lane? Then again, if they are consciously aware of 'faking-it', do they really care? It's all about making money in the end right? (I probably shouldn't say that too loudly). Yet, surely it wasn't always that way; unlike some crazy people I could mention; you could scatter used condoms on a bed, pretend you've been sleeping in it for 10 years and declare it your despair-ridden pit? (Not to mention getting paid an enormous wodge of cash and being able to claim it as art - simultaneously). But it's the norm these days apparently. You can't even take the tube these days without passing at least 20 campaigns - all of which may I say are mostly water off a duck's back. (Don't they realize that when looking at say another holiday sign for Greece - we're just thinking about that cup of tea when we get home?) It's no wonder that we're getting a bit sick of it; it's the classic too much of a good thing. If life's too perfect, you look for a problem; as they say. And I say we look for it in art. One of the worst things in life is when people don't get you. Who cares if you mean it or not? After all, everyone is looking for a little bit of empathy, therefore 'Paint The Pain!' (After all, paint is just pain with a T on the end...)
Lets look at Tracey Emin’s work; its often about bad experiences that have happened to her, but no one can deny her success or her considerable pay-cheque. Having said this, I believe her work is all genuinely ‘borne of pain’ and therefore is not bowing to an art-world criteria. However, someone like Damien Hirst who also makes a lot of negative work (much of which is inundated with morbid themes and depressing concepts - e.g. the calf in formaldehyde in 'Pop Life') appears to be shrewd and on the ball when it comes to making the most controversial, profitable work. This leads us to examine the possibility that artists may be going too far. There is a fine line between what the market expects you to produce, and producing something because you and you alone want to; taking the latter, this exploitation of social demand could easily be classed as either cleverness or crudity. Even in smaller cases it holds true. I watched a certain art student show a piece of work about something deeply personal and private on a huge screen. When questioned if she felt guilty for exhibiting such a delicate piece of work, she replied "No". This is a classic example of how the preconception of what type of art one should be making, is recognised and picked up on by even very young artists. Has an awareness of the world's thirst for more depressing, negative art been sub-consciously planted in each artist's mind before they start a new piece? I leave you to decide.
So is some modern art merely a 21st century version of the gladiatorial arena on which we can voyaristically gloat because we want or need the thrill from our comfortable seat in the stands? And if so why criticise artists for cynically fulfilling that need? Does it actually matter whether the suffering is real or not?
Perhaps without the pretence, the thrill would not be there and so and the work would lose its validity as a tool, maybe their pretence feeds our own need to pretend that we’re really suffering when we’re actually just playing at it from the safety of our sofas.

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