Thursday, April 30, 2015

What Are You Looking At? - Will Gompertz

The catch phrase on the book cover promises us it will cover "150 years of modern art in the blink of an eye" which is self-explanatory enough. You might argue that four hundred pages is a bit longer than a blink of an eye, but let's not be fussy.

In a clear-cut, concise and entertaining style, Gompertz does indeed examine a large number of -isms, starting with pre-impressionism and going via cubism, fauvism, futurism, dadaism and so on, all the up to today's young British artists.

Gompertz is a BBC Arts editor and as insightful as straightforward concerning art itself but also frequent reactions aroused ("My six-year-old could do this!") and the world of contemporary art, including the staggering prices and artists often as well-versed in marketing strategy as in art.

Several sound and enlightening ideas are expressed, too. Perhaps what most appealed to me was a quote from Tracey Ermin stating that what people tend to consider too simplistic to be a work of art - Ermin's own installations, Malevich's Black Square or Rothko's monochromes, for instance - is simply a case of having though of the idea first. 
I. e. originality in art is absolutely crucial. Much more so than technical difficulty. 
(I. e. your six-year-old could indeed have done it, only she didn't come up with the idea first, nor presented it as art.)

That said, I personally am having quite a hard time enjoying Hirst's shark, Ermin's bed, or almost any contemporary or conceptual art. Partly, I think, because of the indecent sums of money involved and partly because I feel outsidership, not being part of the establishment or businessworld, is almost as crucial as originality in allowing you the necessary distance to comment on the world through art or otherwise. I much prefer street art. 


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