Damien Hirst is one of those artists that most people tend to have an opinion about: some would question whether he’s an artist at all, whilst others would consider him a genius. Personally, i’m not overly enamoured by his creations, but i do think he’s remarkably astute when it comes to capitalising on public opinion. Whether you think sawing cows in half and pickling them is art, butchery or just plain weird, the chances are it’s not something you’re going to passively go along with – you’ll either feel passionately about it, one way or another, or at the very least, have something to say about the subject. In provoking us, he achieves something that a great many of the acknowledged masters of the art world singularly failed to do – that is, to reach a whole cross-section of society through his art, and to achieve fame/infamy for his work in his own lifetime. That’s really quite an achievment.
Personally, i’ve never had strong feelings about Hirst’s work – sharks and sheeps’ heads in tanks of formaldehyde may well stir strong feelings in the minds of others, but they barely register with me. In fact, i find myself positively ambivalent about most of his stuff, with the exception of three(ish) pieces…
His spot paintings make me question the sanity of the art world. That these canvasses regularly fetch sums in the region of £20K, (that’s about a billion USD, i think), simply beggers belief, especially when the vast majority of them aren’t even produced by Hirst himself. To be fair to the guy, if people are going to be that stupid, then they probably deserve it, but my feelings on the matter are best summed up in the words of the artist himself:
Hirst said that he only painted five spot paintings himself because: “I couldn’t be fucking arsed doing it”; he described his efforts as “shite”—”They’re shit compared to … the best person who ever painted spots for me was Rachel. She’s brilliant. Absolutely fucking brilliant. The best spot painting you can have by me is one painted by Rachel.” He also describes another painting assistant who was leaving and asked for one of the paintings. Hirst told her to, “‘make one of your own.’ And she said, ‘No, I want one of yours.’ But the only difference, between one painted by her and one of mine, is the money.'” By February 1999, two assistants had painted 300 spot paintings.
So there you have it.
Then there was For The Love Of God… which to me is pretentiousness personified – it is the ultimate symbol of someone whose self-worth has become over-inflated beyond reason. i think it’s a travesty.
Finally, there’s one of his most recent works – Gone But Not Forgotten – and it’s one that i find it immensely difficult to articulate my feelings about. Had Hirst – well, his team – gilded a plaster of Paris replica mammoth, i’d have had no problem with it – but to take the real thing and cover it in gold leaf just feels incredibly wrong to me, in every possible way. Yes, i do understand the point that’s being made, and yes, i can entirely relate to the concept… but however i look at it, this particular piece grates against my sensibilities and disturbs me, in much the same way that others might be disturbed by the sight of bisected and pickled cow and calf. It’s odd how some things affect us.
It’s no secret that sl has – in pretty much equal measure – both vocal supporters, and detractors, and, no matter what innovation, change or glitch happens to be the virtual news of the moment, the same old arguments will be trotted out that we’re so used to hearing on both sides of the debate. It doesn’t matter whether the news is good or bad – it makes no difference, the same responses will be held as equally valid, whatever the circumstances…
Massive problems logging in? The naysayers will hold it up as an example of the fundamental borkedness of sl, wave their placards of impending doom and threaten to leave sl forever, (if indeed they were ever there in the first place). On the other hand, the sl patriots will defend it to the bitter end, maintaining till they’re blue in the face that sl has a rosy future and that the best is yet to come.
Then again, whenever an announcement about an improvement to sl surfaces, (or – heaven forbid – SL2: This time it’s personal!), the patriots come out in force to proclaim that sl is far from dead and it’s just getting better every day, whilst the doom-mongerers shake their heads, sigh and call it a desperate attempt to compete with all the new kids on the virtual block, who’ve had far better technology since the year dot. You just can’t win!
Essentially, what we have here is Damien Hirst’s mammoth.
The optimists primarily see only the gilding: the shiny outer surface that looks and feels so good; a bright, sparkly proclamation that all is well and the future is brilliant. That’s not to say that they don’t acknowledge that, beneath all the glitz and glamour, there is a lumbering, aged and fragile old behemoth – but, whatever lies beneath that shiny gold leaf is hidden away, out of sight and pretty much out of mind, whilst the polished and captivating exterior hides away the blemishes, and makes us feel good.
The pessimists are not fooled by the glitter. They will tell you that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and all the gold-plating in the world isn’t going to change the fundamental truths that lie underneath its sheen. The venerable old bones beneath are crumbly and decrepit, held together by twisted wires and and more than their fair share of good luck: they can barely support themselves, and someday soon, all that extra weight that’s being piled on with every beaten sheet of gold, is going to eventually bring its downfall. It doesn’t matter how good the veneer may look, the superstructure is fatally and irredeemably flawed.
And that’s pretty much how the arguments go… they’ll twist and turn, thrust and parry, stagnate and burst back into life again, but they are missing one vital point. This is not an argument where either opinion is wholly right, or wholly wrong, but there is in fact a third – and wholly accurate – summation of Second Life’s dichotomy.
Hirst’s mammoth cannot simply be defined by one set of observations. It is patently a mammoth skeleton, it is also a piece of art – your can argue for both perspectives, and both arguments would be correct, however it is wrong to say that it is either one or the other… it could be said to be a Shrödinger’s mammoth, neither collapsing into the one state nor the other until it is observed from the individual’s own perspective, but that does not change its inherent basic state: simultaneously both artefact and art. To fully understand what it is, we must necessarily put aside our own aesthetic perception of the object and consider the facts.
These are the facts: It is the reconstructed skeleton of a long extinct animal, artistically gilded with gold leaf and mounted in a glass box. Acknowledging this, enables us to understand each of the underpinning qualities of the object, without all the vagaries of what we think it is, to confuse the issue. Using this holistic approach, we can make a practical appraisal based on its factual merits, rather than emotion and our own alliances and leanings.
The same holds true for sl. If we leave our respective camp – whether that be optimist or pessimist – just for a moment, and find our way to the no-mans’ land of ‘realist’, we can come to an accurate appraisal of sl. The facts in this case are: It is an aging and frequently temperamental platform, but no more so than many others like it. It will struggle to compete on a technical level with new innovations, but vigorously supporting it there is considerable background knowledge, experience and skills, and a very loyal user base. We have no hard evidence that it is going to disappear any time soon, and equally, no hard evidence that it will go on forever. There are good things about it, and there are bad things – the shiny gold veneer is inseparable from the crumbly old infrastructure; but, add all those facts together and you come to a blindingly simple conclusion… There is no ‘all-singing, all-dancing, best thing since sliced bread sl’, neither is there a ‘falling apart at the seams, it’s only a matter of time before they pull the plug sl’. A straightforward, honest appraisal of sl could well be stated as simply as: ‘sl is ok’.
That may seem a somwhat lacklustre position to be in, but compare it with all the other things in life that can simply be stated to be ‘ok’, and it fits in rather well – and that’s all i’m going to say on the matter.
Now, let’s return a moment to art… because i would like to present you with an exclusive and utterly amazing opportunity!
Inspired by Hirst’s Spots, i have been dabbling with my virtual paintbox; and so here is my own groundbreaking artwork – spots with a twist, (they’re square – or as i like to refer to them: Squots!). This is a unique opportunity to own a remarkable and challenging piece of art – and when i’m famous, you’ll see its value soar! So let’s start the bidding at £10000 and see where we go from there?
Picasso Moon, fractal flame
Blazing lace filling every frame
Picasso Moon, wheels within wheels
What’s true when everything’s real?
Grateful Dead – Picasso Moon