When Is Art Worthless Instead Of Priceless?

Media, The Arts

When it’s not actually art at all, according to Julian Spalding, the head of some of Britain’s top public galleries. He reckons the bubble will soon burst for zillionaire Damien Hirst and other “con artists” – that’s “conceptual artists”, the art of ideas wherein you think of something and pay someone else to create it for you. Spalding likens this art bubble to the sub-prime mortgage crisis. It will crash, he says, as soon as collectors realise how “seriously worthless” conceptual art is.

This is on the eve of the Tate’s massive Hirst exhibition, about which he says, “The emperor has nothing on. When the penny drops that these are not art, it’s all going to collapse. Hirst should not be in the Tate. He’s not an artist. What separates Michelangelo from Hirst is that Michelangelo was an artist and Hirst isn’t.”

I have no problem with art of ideas, but I’ve always disliked the sheer effrontery of Hirst, who has never made any bones about being in it for the cash. A few years ago, real artist Graham Humphries (of entries passim) was hired by a New York conceptual artist to take a frame of film and blow it up into a gigantic canvas, which said NY artist then labelled as his own. So although everything that made the art work was done by Graham, his name was hidden in exchange for money and the artist was feted for having the idea. But if he’d picked a different artist, the work would have looked different.

Having ideas is part of being sentient. It doesn’t make you an artist. When a taxi driver tells me he’s got a great idea for a book (which happens frequently, London cabbies being a garrulous lot) that’s exactly what it is, an idea for a book, and that’s all it will remain until he writes it. Unless he commissions someone with the talent to write it.

As for the Hirst exhibition, well, there’s be plenty to see, just nothing at all to think about.

11 comments on “When Is Art Worthless Instead Of Priceless?”

  1. Sparro says:

    It would be quite entertaining watching the bubble burst on this form of con-art. However, it’s such a shame that the business of pretending it’s art is not confined to the private sector. I suppose public galleries have some sort of obligation to represent all forms of art, even if they are chiefly composed of The non-existent clothing of the emperor. (Surreal potential there, methinks!) Then the mugs who bought various pieces by such as Hirst can happily look at their Hirst-works and ponder on the meaningless of such things.
    I’d like to know who now owns the ‘piece’ he created that was composed of three black bin-bags of paper rubbish.

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    Isn’t “Dada” art, the non-art movement, which began during the bleak days of WW I, the start of all this? It certainly wculd seem to have set the stage for the more extensive “Found” art movement, which inspired “Trash-Can Art” and other slap-dash experiments, eventually inspiring the elaborate “installations” and “happenings.” (Flash-mobs?)And it seems to have end-of-roaded with the current “conceptual art,” or the “art” of the bald statement. Yawn.
    Up to ConArt, while it might take some work, the viewer could still discern the artist’s thought process, his/her shaping of the medium or making a statement.
    ConArt, particularly, that shark in a tank is more of a museum installation than art; although museum installations can be artful and educational.(You used a fish tank installation in a B & M novel, if I recall).
    Sorry for going off on this post, but here’s the point: Years ago in Hong Kong I saw an art school installation utilizing cockroaches -hey, this is a blog partly about urban horror, right? It started with a black and white photo of a kitchen floor crawling with roaches and this was labelled: “Life,” then a large dead roach on a pin mounted on a polished wood base: “Museum Installation,” followed by a truly amazing hand-made miniature table, chairs, lamps, etc. of six dead roaches playing poker called: “Kitch Art” and finally a large recreation of the floor in the first b&w kitchen photo, but with hundreds of dead, but real, roaches fighting over a large chunk of Swiss cheese and titled: “Night in the Kitchen in the League of Nations.” Burrrr….

  3. larryy says:

    Conceptual art can be quite thought provoking — Duchamp’s “Fountain” and Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” being classic examples, and certainly passing the muster as proper art for me. But an “artist” that doesn’t actually create the displayed work is at best a collaborator (the joint work *might* actually be interesting) who has misrepresented his role, and at worst a con artist, as observed.

  4. Dan Terrell says:

    Quite agree Larryy. I was thinking of Duchamp’s urinals when I started to write the above. His urinal(s) started out as a joke and actually launched a movement. Today many artist’s dealing in mediums requiring massive wood, stone or metal work, or more exotic and technical materials, have to work with experts in that craft. Of course this was done in ages past when the artist made a model and the bronze-caster and his crew made a mold (s) and cast it. And it’s done today with a lot of the huge metal constructions we see out of doors.
    But yeah right, if an artist orders a piece, takes delivery and that’s his/her input, it isn’t art. It’s probably interior/exterior design and decoration, which can be bought and changed with the seasons.

  5. glasgow1975 says:

    I remember going to The Guggenheim Bilbao & being utterly disappointed in the broken tvs, neon tubes & I kid you not, Armani clothes. Great building filled with crap.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Dan, that roach art installation most definitely was art and thought provoking. That I can understand, it’s a common object with no context that I have trouble with. I also have trouble with the horrendous prices for real art. Just because a person can pay millions for something doesn’t mean it’s worth that. It is always said that everything’s value is what people will pay for it. Art is a bit different, perhaps because each piece is a one-of, so it’s not as if you’ll find the item on sale next week in half a dozen different stores. I keep thinking this one through and still haven’t come to a conclusion.

  7. Steve says:


    There. That will be $2,000,00.00 please.

  8. Steve says:

    Hmm. Either too many zeros or not enough.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    Probably not enough. Especially as it’s a thought provoking little piece.

  10. Steve says:

    Can I expect a check from you then, Helen?

  11. Helen Martin says:

    Let’s see _/ That’s the closest I can get to a check Steve. You’re welcome. Oooooh, you meant a cheque! Well, that’s different & I’ll have to think about it.

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