When I was the object of desire of a mover/shaker in the Art World, she observed to me, one afternoon, that the employees of a monster bank, whose expensive Art acquisitions she had curated, “Resent or maybe they even fear the Neo-Expressionist works in the collection, because they don’t understand them,” and because I was 24 or so at the time, I held my tongue. I didn’t understand how much potential power I had in the relationship; I certainly had enough leverage to speak my mind. What I wanted to say was, “That’s not the problem at all. It drives them crazy to look at one of A.R. Penck’s whimsical stick figures and realize that it’s currently valued at more than they make in five years of soul-sucking labor. They feel like French Serfs in 1788, L____ , and you’re fucking Marie Antoinette.” If I’d been as cool as I thought I was at that age, I would have delivered that speech to L____ in bed while smoking a roll-up.
L___, born to the upper ranks of Serfs, was not in touch with the lower ranks, and the lower ranks do not understand that the obscene over-evaluation of, say, Cy Twombly’s nice-at-best oeuvre (well at least he’s better than that worthless decoupage-merchant Rauchenberg) was always the point of the game. Serf-twitting is what Modern Art is all about. Épater la Bourgeoisie has changed a helluva lot since the 18th/19th century because A) there’s not much genuine Bourgeoisie left to épater and B) the ones who are left are terribly difficult to épater, since they now dedicate themselves to cracking the code to aping The Ruling Class, just like Hoi Polloi do. Is the gaudy dynamo of the Global Big Ticket Art Market driven by the sheer pleasure that plutocrats get from enraging and crushing the educated sensibilities of the petite pseudo-Bourgeoisie of educated careerists like L___’s irritated bank workers? Yes… plus, in no small part (of course) the eternal lure of money laundering. Arms Dealers need to decorate their uninhabited mansions too, no?
No Serf would give a damn about the billions shelled out on Koons’ absolutely meritless experiments in gargantuan kitsch, and Abramovic’s narcissistically soft core nonsense, and Hirst’s glitsy tripe, and Douglas Gordon’s silly, pot-fueled conceptual shrugs… if we didn’t have to read, or see, or hear about the lurid price tags as part of the Celebrity Gossip economy. It’s got nothing to do with Us or Art; it’s like the high-end market in horses or show dogs. If the price of 1.6 million for a Tibetan Mastiff didn’t fuck with any (or many) educated Serfs’ heads, why should we care that that idiotic Banksy stunt (the self-shredding doodle) went for 1.4 million (and actually appreciated in value after the shredding)? Those of us who do care, that is. The few of us who rolled our eyes. Why are we bothered?
Well, because: words. Words and their definitions. We think it’s about Art and we hold Art sacred, we of the educated micro-minority among the Serfs of the pyramid’s sumptuous Socialist Realist base. But none of these nauseating feints, dodges, finger-pullers, moonings and pissed-in-punchbowls of Big Ticket “Art” have anything to do with ART (even if a real Artist is sometimes sucked into the stinking mouth of the machine, a la Jenny Saville, Kara Walker, L. Freud). Take back the definition of ART and make it mean ART again. Here’s a working model of a possible (wonderfully circular, very Zen) definition: “ART IS THAT WHICH IS MADE BY ARTISTS WITH ARTISTIC GOALS IN MIND”. And here’s a simple utilitarian test: if you put “Art” in a Dumpster and it doesn’t look out of place…
If generations of poor Black kids hadn’t been pied-pipered by Evil Media to participate in the toxic pseudo-culture of “hip hop” (as presented post-1990), these kids could instead have been exposed early to state-funded Studio Arts programs and be sculptors, painters, dancers, filmmakers… working in cheap materials and competing to produce masterpieces to sell and collect within the modest local markets of their own neighborhoods. Why not? It’s just as easy for Evil Media to manufacture 10,000 dedicated Art Visionaries (of varying talent) as it is to generate 10,000 aspiring convicts. A kid who cares more about the Aesthetic of a line, or the juxtaposition of two color values, than about Nike trainers, or the i-phobe (sic) 11, is a child with one foot in the puddle of the Meaning of Life (which being: creating Meaning for Life). That has nothing to do with the market-inflated pseudo-value of Rothko’s loft-scale decorative trifles (which would make really interesting designs for sheets and pillowcases).
Listen. Be as subjective as you like about establishing the Aesthetic Criteria necessary to judging the work itself, but if you anchor the definition to Artists (vs careerists) and filter out Money (vs Inspiration) you can take back the concept and go about re-evaluating the decades of bullshit that was shoved down your Aesthetic Cakehole by thick-fingered vulgarians (and flimsy pseudo-aesthetes) who only wanted to confuse and/or piss you off while getting sucked off by supplicants (and laundering bad money) in the process. Yes and all those Cold War High Culture diddlings too, of course.
I’ll tell you how to spot an Artist (not a good one, just a sincere one): when I knew L___, I painted pictures. The pictures I painted were merely okay, but they were all about girls I had fucked, or wanted to fuck, and the energy I put into the totemic (or incantatory) work was intense, relentless, and had nothing to do with cash or my career prospects. Art is something you do despite Money (or the lack thereof) and that is why Art is, properly, the Serfs’ Salvation. Poverty, which is there, and will always be there, doesn’t have to be a killer (in the “first world,” at least). Poverty can, and must, be beautiful.
Well: that’s your starting point.
ADDENDUM: On the other hand, there is an Art to writing the torturous apologia of Carrollian Artspeak mumbo-jumbo they use to make this Shit seem like Chocolate Mousse to the credulous, ignorant and/or blasé collectors. One would almost hate to see it disappear from the Earth…