SMOKE: Artsy-Fartsy

Originally published: 18 December 2003

A bunch of people with no talent are conning a much larger bunch of people into believing that the mess they produce on a page is art, and convincing them to fork out thousands for the right to own it.

I don't pretend to understand the subtleties and nuances of art, being of the belief that a digital photograph of a flower is a far more accurate representation of it than some watercolour, and as such I have as much artistic appreciation as a mentally disturbed ostrich. Head in the sand, and all that.

I've been to art exhibitions (never by choice, and usually because of the free booze on offer) where people have been exclaiming rapturously the integrity of a piece of canvas with some multicoloured handprints on it, or a magnus opus created by the child of the artist in which the toddler has simply taken a paintbrush and splattered drops of paint all over the place.

And people buy this shit. There is - most definitely - a sucker born every minute.

I was reading on Ananova yesterday about the finalists for one of Britain's most lucrative art prizes - the Beck's Futures award - and was inspired to rage when I saw who the shortlist was.

First up is a chap who makes sculptures out of carpet fluff. He scrapes bits of fluff off carpets and makes things like squirrels, lions and cats from it.

The artist - Brazilian Tonico Lemos Auad - says that his work is aimed at "turning the personal expression of daily experiences and perceptions into something magical".

What's magical about a squirrel made out of filth picked up off your carpet? How would looking at it change my perceptions about anything? Would I suddenly reach a higher level of understanding? Would I take one look and decide that my life is worthless and it's time for a change?

If so - great. Mission accomplished, Mr Artist.

But it won't do a damn thing - I'll be mildly curious to see how you stitch pieces of carpet fluff together and then move on to the next piece of existential, meaningless crap.

But at least this feller is doing something - one of the other nominees for the award is a chick called Susan Philipsz (oh for god's sake now - why not just spell your name like everyone else?), who walks into big stores like Tesco and sings - unaccompanied - songs from bands like Nirvana, Radiohead and Rolling Stones.

That's it. No towering edifice for future generations to marvel over, no complex piece on canvas which opens up questions you've never considered the answers to, no Still Life With Woodpecker - just some barmy bitch singing songs from some of the most overrated bands in human history and pissing off shoppers who wish she'd just shut up.

And it's called art. And she's in line to win hundreds of thousands of rands.


Then there's Ergin Cavusoglu, a "video artist" who shoots film from his bedroom at night of cars parked in the street below.

That's it - no tricks, no explanations, nothing. Just a guy - like thousands of others - who sticks his video camera out of a window and films passersby. And he's in line for one of the most prestigious art prizes on offer.

What's stopping me from throwing stones at a bergie all day while wearing a thong and singing Glory Hallelujah, and passing it off as art? What's the difference?

I was so astounded at how far the definition of art has descended into pretentiousness that I decided to look up some past nominees for the award.

David Sherry was in line for it not so long ago - his work included carrying a bucket of water around for a week. His piece de resistance was a video entitled Stitching, in which he filmed himself sewing blocks of wood to his feet, which were pouring with blood.

Need I point out the problem?

A chick called Lucy Skaer submitted her entry and was shortlisted one year - her work involved placing a diamond and a scorpion side by side on an Amsterdam pavement. That's it - that's her "art".

My god - the intense beauty of it. The juxtaposition, the tangled web she weaves, the mind-boggling ramifications for humanity - her work transcends the mundane and shockingly forces us to re-evaluate our perceptions of beauty, danger and irony, leaving us breathless, mussed and vertiginous, but inexplicably - if contentiously - alive.


I could take a dump on the fender of the mayor's car and fabricate all manner of deeper meanings (power to the people?) if it would bring me the wealth and prestige these pillocks enjoy.

You can find deeper meaning in anything if you're creative enough, but I'm sorry - no matter how much you try to justify sewing blocks of wood onto your feet, it's nothing short of pretentious shit.

Unfortunately people buy it in their droves and wonderously shake their heads at the genius of it all. And the artist picks up his cheque, goes home and smokes another fat one, laughing madly as he works out his next scam.

I'm in the wrong profession, man. If these extraordinary acts of bullshit are all it requires to be seen as a serious artist, then that's what I'm going to do.

Poo on a nettle, wear panties on my head, push a stick in a dog's ear and suck a termite from an anthill. Should be worth a few mil.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

Look at me now - all the way from Uitenhage to the bright lights of the big internet.

Find out more using the handy links provided.

Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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