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Commercialism and Integrity

In the December issue, editor, Dr Sally Bulgin, has written her editorial welcome which may be of interest to our members.
She has kindly given us permission to quote her editorial.

“My recent visit to Tate Modern’s Pop Life: Art in a Material World (on show until January 17), combined with popping next door to view the Royal Watercolour Society’s Autumn Exhibition at the Bankside Gallery, was definitely a jarring experience.  It emphasised the worlds-apart difference between artists whose passion is for painting as an end in itself, and who quietly dedicate themselves to honing their visual and creative skills, compared to those such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin who appear to have taken Andy Warhol’s mantra that ‘good business is the best art’ as a starting point for creating their own media ‘brands’.

I guess it can be argued that the achievement of these heirs of the Pop Art legacy is in the way in which they have engaged with the mass media, and encouraged their status as celebrities, so reaching out beyond the art world and into the broader world of culture and commerce.  Consequently, the majority of people with no other interest in art, will nevertheless have heard of Damien Hirst or Tracey Emin, purely on the strength of their personas as media brands.  This strength, and Damien Hirst’s subsequent wealth and entrepreneurial talents, have enabled him to cover the entire cost of putting on an exhibition of the dubious results of his return to old-fashioned painting, at the esteemed Wallace Collection (London W1, until January 24).  I haven’t seen this exhibition yet, but by all accounts the paintings are dreadful, completely lacking in painterly skill, and by Hirst’s own admission his own children would appear to be better at painting than he is (‘Back to the drawing board but “my kids are better than me”, The Times, October 14).  The irony here is that in spite of producing ‘shockingly bad’ paintings, Hirst’s ‘brand’ is strong enough to enable him to stage such an exhibition, which will probably generate a higher number of visitors, and purchases, than the undoubtedly much better paintings at the Bankside Gallery.

How sad it is that the culture of celebrity damages the real achievers in that their work is less noticed and appreciated, whilst the more empty and often unedifying output of some of our most commercially successful artists, who have made themselves into media-brands, enjoy more gallery space, air time, screen time, and column inches in national newspapers.

In complete contrast, I find myself even more appreciative of the quiet integrity of the work of artists such as Judi Whitton, for example, whose paintings offer a visual antidote to the ‘jump off the wall’, ‘look at me’ shock-factor work on display in Pop Life.  In her feature …. she suggests some simple ideas on how to engage the viewer more with a work by concentrating on subtlety – not a characteristic that will find much empathy amongst our Pop Art heirs.”

Your comments on this article would be very interesting.

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