Wednesday, January 4, 2012

"All works are made by artist personally"

Ladies and Gentleman 2012 is here..

Another New year.. another new resolutions and another new controversies..
we are just few days into 2012 and here we are with yet another new controversy in art world. First of all controversy is not only free publicity but benefits everyone who is in the middle of it. Yes, I am talking about the Hockney- Hirst controversy.

Tate and Royal Academy are hosting two major shows of Damien Hirst and David Hockney respectively , And I am sure they are thrilled by it and loving it. This will only generate more footfalls for their shows. So I am not a bit surprised that such a controversy is being 'planted' and 'nurtured' through social media platforms to benefit all the parties concerned,i.e. Tate, Royal Academy, Hockney and Hirst in this case.

The question is can it revive flagging art market of Briton and world art market in general? Considering the interest it has caught on the social media it seems the controversy has certainly touched a nerve of people( art world's) who has been questioning the ethical production of art work.

What's the Controversy?
The telegraph London reports, David Hockney's forthcoming exhibition at the Royal Academy contains a sly dig at another superstar artist about to launch a major exhibition. The note reads:
"All the works here were made by the artist himself, personally."

Hockney further retorts, "It's a little insulting to craftsmen," he said. "I used to point out, at art school you can teach the craft; it's the poetry you can't teach. But now they try to teach the poetry and not the craft."

What is the deal?

To begin David Hockney (b. 1937) and Damien Hirst (b. 1965) are two stalwarts of British Art world who have created their own place in history of contemporary art. David a leading figure of 60s and an ardent art historian and painter belonging to school of thought who believed " to paint you need eye, hand and heart. Two won't do". While Damien belongs to 90s era of artists who propagated artist as CEO who creates ideas and gets it executed through various skilled persons ( read crafts persons) and sells it under his brand name.

What David Hockney seems to object is how can an artist borrow skills of another person and sell as his own creation without ever touching it and without giving the people due credit for their contribution in his creation. How 'ethical' can this art be? Or can such art which were never touched by artist will have any value? Damien Hirst on the other hand, is L'Enfant terrible, who brought in a new era of installation of 90s under YBA and also mastered the practice of 'factory made art'. He has openly defended the practice of production through assistants and endorsed it as good as any master's work simply because it has been 'branded' under a famous name (like his).

These two views have clearly dogged the art world for years. But ever since collectors like Saatchi supported Hirst and his style of practice as it benefited their business sense. ( have addressed this in my older blog Shape of things NOT to come. )

Art word and critics remained divided on the issue. Robert Hughes for one has remained very bitter critic of Hirst's practice which he calls nothing but ' tacky commodity' lacking soul.

What now ?
Personally I have admired and despised both Hockney's and Hirst's art.

I agree with Hockney that painting is a fundamental object of art . Man has painted form Paleolithic times. And it is through paintings humans can communicate at much deeper level of consciousness. It is not mere skill, intellect or eye that is at work here but I believe a painting can transport you to the exact position of the human consciousness of primordial time. It is like Mozart's or Bach's music which can do the same magic on human consciousness. In that sense practice of painting is deeply embedded in magic and can communicate much more than what meets eye and intellect. And only a master painter with his skill ,intellect ,control over the technique can bring about magic through his art. Rembrandt is a case in point.

But what happens when artist gets a painting executed by his assistants?
Assisted paintings according to me fail to reach the magical ability because assistants are only imparting their skills but are unable to impart an intellectual, emotional rigor of the artists' vision. I have seen many works and they just remain pretty and soulless 'images' as Hughes classify. Subodh Guta's utensil paintings , Hirsts dot paintings, Murakami's flower beds,etc., and many more all can be classified under this categories.

I fully sympathize with Hockney's lament which is the loss of meaning and magic he has been searching in art which is precisely gone missing in new practice. Last thirty years of art practice and production has changed a lot about how we perceive art , how we practice art and what we collect as art.

Hirst belongs to this new era of art making . Hirst's art pushes the boundaries of notion of art beyond painting. But that does not mean he has lost poetry in art which Hockney is referring to.

To me( and many others) his shark work titled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living is sheer poetry. The visceral quality of this work cuts across all doubts in mind of viewer, achieving awe and fear of impending death of every living being. Isn't this what we call art?

The question again here is Hirst just provided the idea and never did anything physically to execute this work of art. Here the medium of his art ( installation and not painting) allows the freedom for an artist to breach the ethical code of ' personally made by artist' . Therefore although untouched by artists hand it still proves to have artistic value. But same cannot be said about Hirst's paintings.
His exhibition at Wallace's museum, where he showed his paintings 'done by his own hands' only proved to be disastrous. Exhibiting along side master like Baccon, Hirst tried to salvage his prestige but truth was out there to see.

In that sense, Hockney's point that painting as an fundamental object of art making gets credence.

To me interesting factor of this whole Hockney – Hirst controversy lies in the fact Hockney had to proclaim "All works are made by artist personally" suggests that art making practice is divided clearly into two categories of artists. Those artists who make work with their own hands, and those who used some one's hands to make works.
Such declaration will not change anything much on the ground about art making/collecting practice of today.

Meantime controversy will die down.. like any other publicity stunt.

Happy 2012 and best wishes!

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Here is the removed comment re-writ without typo:

    You accept both positions while leaning towards Hockney?
    You accept neither position? (But prefer the Hockney approach?)

    1. My blog is to point out how the controversy is just a publicity gimmick and not about authentic art concerns. Hirst and Hockney are like chalk and cheese.

      I accept Hockney's position only when it comes to painting, drawing .. I do believe that painting is a 'fundamental' art object. What I mean by fundamental art object is...painting or drawing is most inherent expression of human activity like singing, dancing,, etc,,... every child draws and paints... in that sense every human being is an artist because he can draw and sing... but when an individual hones his skills of drawing and painting or singing for that matter he is adding his own 'value' to the act of creation and that value comes from his experience .
      So for me a painting is not 'concept' but stretches the act of creation much beyond skill and idea.
      I think this is what is the controversy is all about.

      Therefore I agree with Hockney who quotes chinese proverb that to paint you need eye, heart and hands. Two won't do. Although I acknowledge Hirst is an import artist of this era, I do not support Hirst on his Dot painting project.( currently going on ) You can call these works by any other category but not as painter/artist paintings as we learnt in art history. I am not arguing if his dot paintings are good works or bad works. That is another point. For me what I object is Hirst's argument who would like to compare his 'assisted paintings' at par with other master artist category by belittling practice of painting as a a simple idea and any skilled hands can do it.
      I am specifically pointing to the value added by the master/painter is not the same as assisted painters work. This a smart move by artists like Hirst to circumvent their lack of ' skills ' which they categorize as inferior element to 'concept'. There is a wider conspiracy by the collectors/auction houses/art funds/ to support Hirst . Because his methodology benefits ' art market' as artists like Hirsts can mass produce their works in factories without touching a single work in a short period of time. Whereas a master painter can not ' supply' same amount of works in the market as his works are self labor oriented. It is a simple market -supply economics of art market, who are promoting artist like Hirst who would paint without touching a brush.
      ( pl read my earlier blog on Saatchi where I pointed this nexus)

      To answer your query in simple yes or no
      I agree with Hockney as painter/ artist and support his position that as a painter one needs to paint one's painting with your own eye, heart and hand. I do not agree with Hirst's argument that in today's context painting is just an conceptual object like an installation art.

      To justify Hirst's dot painting you need to devise a new category of painting... may be conceptual -painting :)

      I acknowledge both Hirst and Hockney for their contribution to art history.

      Well this is a very modernist position I am taking. But I will stick my neck on this.



    ps . check this site for Hirst's recent dot painting extravaganza