Friday, November 23, 2012

Art. What it is and what it is not.

Reading about wealthy artist Damien Hirst angers me and talking/yelling with my roomie, M, has helped me figure out why.

I have a pretty inclusive definition of art. I agree with Scott McCloud, it's pretty much everything we do that isn't directly related to survival (and even then we can't turn it off). Tonight, I realized I have strong thoughts on what I feel is worthy art. Hirst's shit art helped me realize that so... thanks?

I enjoy a world where the mega rich tacitly admit that they have sacrificed any ability to have meaningful insights for a life of cash and luxury. That's the trade off. You manage a hedge fund? You inherited billions? Well now you can play wealthy person games like kite surfing with supermodels and market crash roulette but you can't play games like truth and meaning. Thus, the only choice the rich have to feel a part of something bigger is to sponsor poor artists who are lying in the gutter and puking the eternal.

It always made perfect sense to me why Siddhartha left his posh life to become the Buddha. You can't reach enlightenment on a full stomach.

For me, art is in the streets with the tricksters like Banksy, the madmen like Bosch and Werner Herzog, the grinders like Van Gogh and Edgar Allen Poe, and the prophets like Ginsberg. Wealth corrupts art, turning our thoughts from eternal struggles to temporary woes. Financial success waters down artists like Dali, Nas, and George Lucas.

Damien Hirst considers himself a brand and he makes millions selling his art. His collectors hail him as the Picasso of his time. There's one glaring problem to me. He's a rich man making absurd rich art for rich people. It's void of any worthy meaning but he's being celebrated -inverting my understanding of art and the world. We should stop. He's a millionaire, that's our first clue. His art is going to be out-of-touch garbage. There's no substance there.

Hirst's body of work is the equivalent of an early 20th century rich man on safari, shooting rhinos for something to tell his rich friends. His medium is extravagance: a skull covered in diamonds, a shark in formaldehyde, and other silly jokes a tasteless billionaire would have as a centerpiece.

I didn't know much about Hirst other than his financial dealings in the world of high art. His wikipedia article is an interesting read, especially his "work philosophy" in the part about his shitty spot paintings. It seems like he was an interesting emerging artist and given a blank cheque by Saatchi. Now he himself is wealthy and he does give back to the arts, satisfying my understanding of the world. For me, he has to choose between giving it all away to make art or sponsoring the gutter poets.

It still boils down to a comment my brother made in high school, resentful of having to memorize countless works for art history.
"It's just their trading cards."
"Art. It's like pokemon for rich people."


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