Pains in the Arts

A loyal reader has brought to my attention a new book being published next week called The Final Testament of the Holy Bible. Leg-iron has blogged about it and linked to this video of the author, James Frey, trying to be clever with the general public in an effort to give his notions some credibility. The book apparently

…mocks the relationship between Jesus and God the Father, with whom Christ is able to communicate only during epileptic seizures. Christ is depicted as a former alcoholic who — in between His hyperbolic sermons about peace — smokes dope and engages in sexual relationships with males and females. The novel features detailed descriptions of “tantric sex scenes and vegetarian love-ins.”

It is how liberal loonies would like Christ to be, so they can feel justified in doing these things. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that it is complete rubbish. For a start, The Lord said he will return in glory and judgment and secondly, God is unchanging, so what was sinful 2,000 years ago is sinful still.

A reviewer writes,

But Frey is the product of a culture with a short memory and a skewed moral sense. He’s also less a writer than a professional celebrity, which means that he can count on being rewarded for behaving badly.

Isn’t this a problem in the arts and entertainment industries today? Those who don’t have the ability to succeed go for the shock factor instead as the only way they can sell their substandard wares. By being avant garde artists get away with chucking bricks in a pile on the floor or encasing dead animals in formaldehyde and calling it “art.” These days it seems that being avant garde is the best way to win a major gong, like the Turner Prize.

The Royal Academy in London has just finished celebrating British sculpture in the 20th Century by displaying various pieces which prove that we don’t “do” sculpture in this country.

Here are some of the exhibits. This one is called Let’s Eat Outdoors Today and is a Damien Hirst from twenty years ago.


This IS art, you Philistines!!

Basically, it’s a plastic box containing a garden table and chairs, half-eaten steaks and thousands of flies. I presume the box is well sealed, as those flies are probably worth a thousand pounds each! I don’t know if Mr Hirst has thought of collecting the dead ones and encasing them in acrylic for selling at an exorbitant price. He could set them in Red Arrows-type display formations. That’d be pretty cool! Got to be worth twenty grand a go.

This next one fills a whole hall:


Plastic fantastic?

It’s called An Exhibit and was made by Victor Pasmore and Richard Hamilton in 1957. Presumably they called this “An Exhibit” because they couldn’t think of a proper title due to the fact that it doesn’t actually look like anything. “Plastic sheets hanging from ceiling” doesn’t have much of a ring to it.

This next one was made in 1967 and is called simply Parallels:


You can do it when you B&Q it.

What can one say that hasn’t been said many times before? (Other than, “That’s brilliant.”)

A quick visit to the local timber merchants, three tins of gloss, an inch-and-a-half paint brush, et voilà, some coloured planks worth a fortune.

What could it represent? Why are there eight yellow planks, four light blue ones and six dark blue ones?

Why did I even bother to count them?

You might have noticed that none of these things so far is a sculpture. Why are they in a sculpure exhibition? It’s yet another mystery.

Here’s another chap who’s handy with a tin of gloss. This is Anthony Caro, with his 1962 work, Early One Morning.



This next thingy was made by Rebecca Warren in 1999 and is called Helmut Crumb.



A reviewer in The Independent wrote,

Why is so much contemporary art so annoying? I refer you to Rebecca Warren, who describes her work like this: “Though [it] evolves through a process of appropriation and reference, it is non-didactic, being closer to revelation and discovery.” And what does the one-time almost-Turner Prize winner mean by that?

Well. Warren does not make sculpture but “sculpture”. At her art school – Goldsmiths, naturally – she will have received an education long on theory but short on practice. Fine arts were taught by a man best known for conceptualising a glass of water as an oak tree – a neat trick, although a little tired when compared with Duchamp’s bottle driers. Any feeling for materials was assiduously bred out of Goldsmiths students. Art was of the mind, not the hand. The hand could be invoked, but only in quotation marks, to show how stupid hands were, how very clever minds.

…what Warren’s lumpy artwork does is to define itself by affecting to be all the things it is not. Here I am, it says, a block, modernist, clay, a cube; and it is none of these. You might see the piece as anti-sculpture, or Bad Sculpture, although that would require it to engage with the traditions of art-making, if only to reject them. Actually, Warren’s work is more revolutionary than that. It isn’t Bad Sculpture or anti-sculpture but unsculpture, a thing given physical existence only to point up the valuelessness of physical existence. Cube [another of her works] is a thought whose expression required Warren to make a bronze lump on an MDF platform and wheels; although you feel she would much rather not have bothered, because the real point of her piece is the thinking behind it.

Now, conceptual art can be extraordinarily fine and moving, as witness Mark Wallinger’s The Russian Linesman, a work-cum-show whose genius is its genius. The trouble is that conceptualism’s medium – the thing it’s made out of – is the mind. As Michelangelo proved, you can get good sculpture out of bad marble. You cannot carve good concepts from bad thinking. What do Rebecca Warren’s elisions of Degas and R Crumb, her blobby-legged cephalopods and ho-hum vitrines tell us? That she has some knowledge of art history and rather more of art theory; that she believes that sculpture, in any traditional sense, is dead; that, in short, she went to Goldsmiths. To which I find myself saying, So what?

It’s the vitrines that really bug me. For all her talk of revelation and discovery, Warren’s Helmut Crumb – “iconic”, apparently – is so clearly the output of an over-taught mind that it’s hard even to be annoyed by it. Meret Oppenheim made teacups out of fur in 1936: does Helmut Crumb move us on from there? But Warren’s vitrines seem to be trying to do something more heartfelt and less glib, to engage with our eyes and hearts rather than merely with our post-postmodern brains. And they do it so badly. Denied the easy solace of irony, they fumble about, managing to be neither elegant nor naive, mired on the road from St Ives to Hoxton, hinting at stories that fall apart as soon as you look at them. See this show if you’re in the park and it’s raining; otherwise, go rowing on the Serpentine.

So, do you think that Helmut Crumb moves us on from Meret Oppenheim’s teacups made out of fur?

Well, to help you decide, here is a picture of one of her furry teacups:


I'll pass on the tea thanks...

I need to finish this post before I lose the will to live. I thought this final piece was a Henry Moore at first glance, but it’s a Barbara Hepworth from 1961 entitled Single Form (Memorial).


A Barbara Hepworth. It's worth a mint - with a hole.

At least we finally get to see a sculpture. Of sorts.

And before anyone asks me, “Well, could you do any better?” The honest answer is, yes, I think I could make something better than some of these, despite being fairly useless at art. But then, is it art at all?

Photo credits: Flies, Planks, Other sculptures

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Pains in the Arts

  1. English Viking says:

    I would only describe something as ‘art’ if I am incapable of reproducing it.

    What a load of old sh***.

    PS Never thought I would see a post about ‘furry cups’ on this site!

  2. Stewart Cowan says:

    Oh dear, English. The auto moderator stopped your post for having a naughty word. Let’s hope this doesn’t send you into the wilderness again…

    P.S. The only furry cups I normally see are lying around the office.

  3. English Viking says:


    Perhaps you should tell the auto-mod that ‘sh ite’ is not a bad word?

  4. lionheart says:

    Those who don’t have the ability to succeed go for the shock factor instead as the only way they can sell their substandard wares.

    Now thats a comment that rings a bell and is so very true Stewart!

  5. Stewart Cowan says:


    The auto-mod thinks it is naughty. I’m surprised you want to argue with it seeing how much it has persecuted you!

  6. English Viking says:


    I’ll argue with anyone, anywhere, any time.

    You know what I’m like! :-)

  7. English Viking says:


    If anybody is looking for a bit of European culture, have some of this.

    BTW Where is the African Beethoven, Tchaicovsky or Elgar?

    Sorry, I forgot, there aren’t any.

  8. Stewart Cowan says:

    Not sure what your point is, English. These pieces of garbage weren’t made by Africans.

  9. English Viking says:


    I know you are not sure-never mind, another time perhaps?

    Anyway, back to the topic. See how Frankfurt School have had a hand in this.

  10. Stewart Cowan says:

    Thanks for the link, English. Looks like an area for further research.

  11. Han van Meegeren III says:

    Oh dear, dear, dear. All people who cannot see the beauty behind these pieces of art work should clearly not be commenting on an art based website. You may be able to reproduce it yourself but the skill is being the first to think of producing the piece of artwork. You people are clearly extremely immature.

  12. Stewart Cowan says:

    “…the skill is being the first to think of producing the piece of artwork.”

    I think you are being far too generous. My brain conjures up all sorts of ideas, in fact, just before I got up I was thinking about this post and what I might do to “make it” in the art world. I came up with an original idea, and quite clever (I thought). It doesn’t make it art, though.

    So, what is the “beauty behind these pieces of art work”? What am I missing?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>