Rant 78: Sharpen up!

Rant 78: Sharpen up! Lesley Guy, Double Bowie (Ritual Divining Mace), 2013–2014

We all hate it when the press make glib statements about contemporary art. Our Content Curator Lesley Guy suggests we all need to be more rigorous when judging 'what's hot and what's not'!

In Julian Schnabel’s 1988 film, Basquiat, there is a scene where Andy Warhol is looking at a painting he and Jean-Michel Basquiat are working on together; Basquiat has just scribbled, daubed and written over Warhol’s carefully stencilled logo. After a moment of troubled reflection, Warhol (played by David Bowie) puts his hand on his hip and says, ‘I can’t even see what’s good anymore!’

Warhol was notoriously vague, and when you’ve got the world telling you how wonderful everything you do is it must be easy to lose critical judgement, but at least he was being honest; he couldn’t see because his criteria for good had got lost somewhere along the road to fame.

When talking to other artists and curators I’ve experienced both extremes of this spectrum of lazy thinking, regularly hearing phrases such as ‘That’s cool’ and ‘It’s rubbish’. 

A friend of mine recently complained about a gallerist wanting her work because it was ‘cool’. She felt that he didn’t want to engage with what the work is actually about.
Personally I dislike Damien Hirst’s diamond encrusted skull, but I don’t think I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about why, I’m aware that it’s got something to do with the amount of money it cost to make, but that doesn’t really cut it as an argument.

So you see, it's fairly easy to be obtuse, and we give the popular press a hard time for making glib statements, but really, those of us in the art world can be just as bad.

Frieze editor Jorg Heiser in his book, All of a Sudden: Things that matter in contemporary art, writes that it is a lack of criteria that leads people into making sloppy judgements. What we should be doing is thinking about how the artist employs their methods and materials and how they function to make the art work. Is it making space within the viewer’s imagination to create stories, meaning and disruption?
Most of us know this; we’ve just become complacent. Applying these criteria when looking at and making art might help us to sharpen our critical thinking, and therefore our credibility when talking about what we think is good art.

Contributed by Lesley Guy
Lesley is an artist, writer and curator based in Sheffield. She is a Content Curator at Axisweb.

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