Art critic, Brian Sewell, recently reviewed the Tracey Emin retrospective at the Hayward Gallery, London. With reference to his criticism, read here… this is how I see the problem:
The academic dogma today is that tradition belongs to the past, and we must forget the past otherwise we can’t be original. It goes on – you don’t need to draw, that’s old-fashioned. You don’t need to be able to represent anything. Just take the actual objects of real life and, if necessary, rework them, which you can do by sending your concept to an engineer or factory workshop. Art schools teach you how to do this through ’presentation skills’ and this is what is now called conceptual art.
Well, you do need real skills to express yourself. You learn skill by studying tradition, trying to copy the techniques of great artists; only by doing this have you the means to express what you want to say. Art has to be representative. A representation is an epitome of a point of view, an overview.
I believe that an idea is formed, and it is in the very process of applying his particular skill – all those extraordinary decisions, the decisions of a lifetime – that the artist discovers his idea; the simplification must be spontaneous, a matter of the artist’s spirit transmitted to the work.
By illusion, creating an illusion through representation, the true artist achieves a totality – a world which the art lover can enter. The conceptual artist makes an arbitrary selection from the real world. He discovers nothing, nor can the art lover. His work is sterile.*
In answer to Tracey Emin’s question, “What’s it all about?” Brian Sewell ends his review by answering, “You, dear Miss Emin, you – but you have never been enough.” No artist was ever enough, not Titian, not anyone (not that they tried to be). Self deception is lies. It was what they did – the skill that formed the means of their vision – that was enough.
*My friend, Feargus, sent me a letter which I’ll talk about in more detail later. I thought his comments on conceptual art were particularly relevant to this subject and should be included here:
Yet today we are faced with unmade beds, cut up sharks and Big Brother. There is supposed to be a genre of realism in all of this, but in fact it is as about unrealistic as it gets. If there is any reality in it, it is only to expose how truly far our society has slipped into a cultural vacuum, leaving us with nothing to analyse, no statement as to how the world is, nothing to evoke a vision of the future, designed only to shock and provoke baseless and meaningless conversations. What good does that serve as art, when its effect is to contribute to the debasement of what culture is. It is as though the norms of culture are being shifted and that somehow or another this is what those in the know now call culture when in fact all that we learn from it is maybe something about what the artist was feeling.