Rant 83: Damien Hirst: Icon or Con-artist?

Rant 83: Damien Hirst: Icon or Con-artist? Carl Rowe, Blood Diamond, 2010

Damien Hirst has been getting a pretty bad press recently. His show at White Cube got bad reviews and he has become a figure of hate for the Occupy movement. In this Rant Beckie Jones asks if this is really fair and suggests that maybe he's not as bad as all that.

Few are subject to more criticism within the art world than Damien Hirst, a figurehead for all that is disliked about contemporary art.

Is Hirst a money-grabbing hedonist, a clever businessman conning a gullible elite and a pretentious art scene for all he can? Or is he the ultimate symbol of “art for art's sake”, someone who has inspired thousands and opened the world’s eyes to Britain’s creative scene?

An easy target for people's anger, Hirst is seen as a symptom of uncontrolled commerce. But, maybe the art world needs a successful outcast to hate and admire.

Hirst is by no means alone in exploring shock value within art. The 1960s gave us Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, the 80s Robert Mapplethorpe and Mark Kostabi. 

The controversy with his spin and dot paintings is that since 1993 he hasn’t produced one himself. But this employment of assistants is far from a new practice.

Seen as a symbol of uncontrolled commerce, Hirst was described by the Occupy Movement as the artist who “most defines the corrupt values of the financial world”.  Indeed, they used his sculpture 'For the Love of God' as their poster image in 2011. That said, is he really a figure to be loathed or is he just a good businessman who got lucky?

“The Artist” conjures up the image of someone who is poor, struggling and touched by genius, not successful and disgustingly wealthy or – even worse – entrepreneurial, media savvy and business

For better or worse, Hirst changed what it is to be an artist and joined the world of the high-flying city banker. This is what makes him controversial. Maybe it is time that we realise that this artist has put Britain on the map in terms of great contemporary art.

Read about Hirst's record breaking audience figures at Tate Modern here, and the review of the White Cube exhibition here.

Contributed by Beckie Jones
Beckie is an artist and writer. She graduated from Aberystwyth University in 2009 with a joint honours degree in Fine Art and Art History. As a practising artist, she uses art as a way of expressing her most personal feelings and beliefs in a physical medium.

The views expressed in The Rant are those of Beckie Jones and forum contributors and unless specifically stated are not those of Axisweb. See our terms and conditions


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