Sunday, December 30, 2012

What I Dislike About Damian Hirst

On the bus coming back home from Accrington today, I was thinking about what it is I don't like about the work of Damian Hirst. I have nothing against the Young British Artists so-called as such, but I just do not like his with a kind of passion. So what is it I don't like?

It's something to do, I think, with what I perceive to be a lack of heart. His lack of competency at painting, recently revealed in a couple of exhibitions, is neither here nor there. Neither is the fact that he gets his assistants to do a lot of the work; the same has been true of a lot of major painters and sculptors from the medieval age down to the present. Neither is it to do with his subject matter; often to do with death and decay, and the contemporary obsession with surface, with product and the quotidian. There is a tastelessness to his work: that diamond-encrusted skull for instance, that could be right up my punk street, if it wasn't for that lack of heart.

Art - whether it's painting, music or poetry - has to in some sense come from the heart: a lot of us accept that as a kind of truth, but it's very difficult if not impossible to define what we mean by that. This isn't just to do with 'feeling' or it just turns to sentiment and mush. nor is just the intellectual play of ideas, though that is good too. The word 'truth' keeps trying to creep in here; but it's less to do with putting across a, or The Truth. One need not have a message particularly; most of us spend most of our lives in a perpetual state of uncertainty about what's true or isn't true about the world. Out of that uncertainty, however, comes the sense of exploration, of search, that we find in some of the best art produced since the Renaissance.

You don't have to be any kind of believer, either in politics or religion, to be an artist. Hirst's art, however, seems to me to have neither a conviction nor a sense of search about it; just a cynical exploitation of the art market. His works are often essentially 'memento mori's' without any sense of angst. All life ends in death, we're all essentially meat, and nothing means anything. All these views are potentially very profound, leading either to angst or a calm acceptance of the inevitable. In Hirst's world, however, they become truisms, just another thing to sell in the art supermarket. A diamond encrusted skull, a dead shark in a tank, are nothing but product.

Which could be a comment on late capitalism, which knows the price of everything and the value of nothing; except I have the feeling that he doesn't care about that. He's making no critique, nor is he making us think. He's got more in common with the kind of art you find in commercial galleries on the high street: paintings to put in that place on the wall of your living room, that goes with the furniture, not art that disturbs or intrigues. It has more in common with Jack Vettriano than Picasso. Like Vettriano, his art is sentimental and shallow and overpriced.


Dan Flynn said...

Ah, Steve, a man after my own heart. If Damien Hirst is not a Tory he'll be a Blairite and probably a buddy of Peter Mandelson. Capitalism makes a commodity of everything and so does Damien Hirst. And herein lays the reason why I don't like him or his work. For Hirst money is first and aesthetics second. The diamond skull epitomises this. Hirst did not develop a new perspective on a skull or even an interesting aesthetic. The skull was made dull by its diamond encrustation epitomising wealth and power. Any interesting aesthetic was completely drowned by its ostentation. It might as well have been a diamond encrusted egg, oh, but someone's already done that.

I've heard Hirst speak on the radio and to be honest it's clear he can barely be bothered so lazy is his thinking. Hirst has done very well with the sentimental and shallow and not doubt will continue to do well. Especially, as the art world remains in his thrall.

I've just finished reading Martin Gayford's "Man with a Blue Scarf - On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucien Freud". A marvelous book in which Gayford records his experience but also discussions with Freud about art, technique, colour, other painters such as Francis Bacon etc. The difference with Hirst is so evident and not least because Freud in every way is not lazy or pompous or arrogant. Nor did he paint for aggrandisement.


Aidan Semmens said...

I think it was Tracey Emin, quoting Billy Childish, and probably not original to him, who defined art as something you'd do even if you weren't paid for it; on this basis, which I think is right as far as it goes, Hirst isn't an artist at all.