Erotic Art31 mei 2013
I have begun writing this blog having just returned from a visit to the Erotic Museum in Berlin, which is really a collection of erotic art, ritual objects and curios. It has a good collection of Japanese Shunga prints and several 20th century collections. Why my interest in erotic art? Dirty old man syndrome? Repressed adolescence? Trying to renew the experience of when sex was fresh and new? Maybe. Apart from erotic art being about titillation, it can be about ritual and subversion. Not that I would belittle titillation, I'm no puritan and why shouldn't one indulge in such pleasures?
Modern life, despite its sexualisation of just about everything appears to kill off the innocent pleasures of personal delight. Sex nowadays has been commodified, a tool for the hard sell. Rather than opening up sex, such use tarnishes it with the exploitative nature of capitalist consumerism. Not that I am naive enough to believe there was ever a Garden of Eden where pleasures of the flesh were an innocent delight, ritual and taboo surrounds sex precisely because it has never been entirely innocent and has always been open to exploitation and abuse.
Let me eliminate the need for explanation, provisos, exceptions and exemptions and limit my meaning of erotic art to the context of western culture, whether the art be indigenous in origin or imported and viewed through a western prism, ignorant of its original context. This blog is after all, not a deeply researched intellectual tome but a personal view, written through personal experience and observation, as well as miscellaneous reading and the general baggage of being a westerner and viewing the world through generic western eyes. With that definition, let us consider erotic art.
One thing is clear, much erotic art is pornographic, that is its nature and that is its reason for being, it is to titillate, arouse and delight but in our day and age when one can tap into a whole reservoir of pornography with a few taps on a keyboard, what is the point and attraction of erotic art now, in regard to purposes of pornography? I think the main difference between contemporary erotic art and pornography, is that in erotic art the artist is often creating within a personal context, communicating an idea with individual personality of the artist. The pornographer’s sole purpose is to sell imagery by titillating and arousing a wider audience as possible, to make as much money as possible.
While film and photography are usually the mediums used for pornography and erotic art is more often than not executed through drawing, painting and sculpture, such division of mediums is not absolute. There are quite clearly many drawings where the artist has stamped no personality on his/her work and it functions for no longer as the viewer is aroused by it. Alternatively, there are photographers who clearly stamp their personal view on their work and who communicate more than the aim of superficial arousal. Like most things in life, there are no definitive borders, nor is the spectrum bilinear, it is a complexity of interrelationships but often we see the erotic artist's intent through personality and personal obsession. It has character. Like many things in life, such as race or politics, there is a lake where variety mixes while at its edge, clear definable tributaries run into it.
OK I'm going to finish this piece off some other time.
Exhibition And Nonsense11 mei 2013
Exhibitions are strange affairs because of the reason why they exist. It is to put yourself and your work out there in the world, which is fine if you are an egoist and flaunting yourself and your ideas comes easy but if you would rather in your studio working on your art, they can be stressful affairs. The openings are a weird mixture of stage fright and party, the artist is on display as much as his or her work. Well, that's how it is for me. Don't get me wrong, I would have an exhibition to display my new work as regularly as I had new work to display if I could but I doubt I will ever find exhibiting a comfortable affair.
Then there is the art itself. You tailor your choice of work to the appropriateness of venue and the exhibiting space. You then stress over your choice and the hanging of the work and then you relax, thinking you have it all perfect and ready for the big day. However, when the big day comes, you see all the problems in the work you have chosen, your stupid decisions in the hanging of it and how amateurish and naive it all looks. You know all this is nerves and stress but you can't get it out of your head there is some foundation in it all.
So come the big day and people start arriving, it's like looking through glass. You are in a gold fish bowl and everyone is staring in at you. Even your friends appear somewhat distant and alienated. You examen yourself to make sure you've put your trousers on or your shirt is not inside out. You know the problem is you but even friendly conversation and innocent questions about your work seem hostile. The only cure for this is a few drinks, create a alcoholic haze and relax and enjoy the day. You are the one who is paranoid and for no good reason at all, people will like or dislike your work but the world will keep turning and the beer tastes even better because of the stress.
What's The Point?25 september 2012
Two artists I know have recently given up making art in frustration at not being able to get exhibited or represented, mainly because they are seen as being too old. ‘What’s the point?’ said one. The point is there has to be an alternative to the mainstream, which claims to show the best art around. Well I regularly see museum quality art in artist studios that will never see inside of a public gallery and I regularly see pretty meagre fare in public galleries. OK, that is just my opinion but it is an opinion that is as qualified and as valid as any curator of contemporary art. One doesn’t need to be employed in a gallery to use ones eyes and experience to discern the difference between art and artists.
Most artists are not going to be represented by a commercial gallery (the necessary gateway to a public museum) but that is not to say they are no good. Commercial galleries are businesses selling commodities, one can accept and respect that, we all want to earn a crust but it shouldn’t blind one to the implication about the art that passes through them. Galleries choose art they think they can sell and to sell it, they have to promote it as the best or at least possessing special qualities, which it is doubtful the vast majority possesses.
Having just looked through an entire list of commercial London galleries and another list of commercial Berlin galleries, it is surprising how homogenous and monotone art in commercial galleries is. This marathon, which started out of curiousity became drearily long and tedious. I suspect most galleries and indeed artists think they are unique but they are no more unique than car manufacturers are who must have a model in each class of vehicle that is not too radical or dissimilar from their competition’s range.
So the point is, to all those who might think age and fashion is against them, keep going. You offer an alternative and probably an all too real alternative at that, to the mediocrity that is largely promoted by commercial galleries. Yes, it would be nice to be represented by a commercial gallery promoting ones work but it is also a brake on genuine creativity and freedom of thought. What you gain on the one hand, you lose on the other. Being a representative of the alternative is and should be good enough. Don't let others write the agenda, at least be a blot on their copy.
The Point Of Seeing Pointless27 augustus 2012
The genius of liberal capitalism is that it often makes a point out of the pointless. Enormous amounts of what within capitalism are considered productive activities could be described as pointless from any rational position. People produce vast quantities of pointless and useless consumer tat, administer, transport, sell, consume and discard it so the same people can earn tokens to exchange, not just for the necessities of life but for more useless consumer tat. Then there is enormous activity that doesn’t even produce resource wasteful tat but is there under the auspices of the management of, the administering of, the surveillance of, and the auditing of pointless activities in society. However, the one thing capitalism can’t make a point of, is the pointless imposed idleness, which is called unemployment. Here we come in contact with the pointless activities of the administrators of idleness who make sure people who’ve had idleness imposed upon them, remain idle and do not engage in any activity, which might be considered to have a point.
So if so much activity is pointless, why does it take place? It is bad for capitalism for people to be given tokens for not taking part in an activity, everything has to be bought and sold in the market place, even time and labour. If some people had to engage in socially necessary activity, would they engage so freely if other people were being supplied with life’s necessities for nothing? The logic of capitalism is to solve this problem through pointless activity, which wastes resources. This activity, also known as work, work being a euphemism for paid activity, not necessarily worthwhile activity. Of course work doesn’t produce wealth, land and resources are wealth, capitalist activity just releases wealth, distributes a little to those taking part in necessary and pointless activity and delivers the vast majority of wealth into the hands of a few. Apparent pointless activities connect with other apparent pointless activities to create a point, the accumulation of wealth. So while so much of the activity in society is pointless for the vast majority of people taking part because they won’t see any genuine reward for their labour, it has a point for the minority who control the capitalist market.
So what has this to do with art? Nothing but to illustrate activities which have no point, can be rewarded if the people with power in society deemed an activity had a necessary point ie. the accumulation of wealth into the hands of a few. Given that art cannot guarantee an upward trend in wealth, reactionary governments now see art as an unproductive activity that should be excluded and artists deemed idle, as in unemployed. Strange how pointless activities carried out by pseudo-scientific figures such as economists, particularly on campuses, are seen to be necessary for society by the said government, even though their advice was malign and they were too blind and ignorant to see the consequences of their advice. These figures who were clearly ignorant of their supposed subject, were clearly involved the equivalent of which would be in medicine, training witch doctors to carry out modern surgery. Now why are these economists deemed necessary and why are many economist employed on campuses also employed by political think tanks and governments and their agencies? Of course the answer is so simple we all know it. They give intellectual weight to the policies supported by vested interests who in turn pay the professors for their intellectual support, even though there is no intellectual foundation of merit to classic economics which professors are not so much educated in as trained in. In most areas of life, this would be seen as corrupt but as we know, the area of finance and economy, corrupt practices are often fought for and protected by governments whose ministers tend to have personal vested interests in championing what are morally corrupt, if not legally corrupt practices.
Pointless activities can always be assigned a point if it is in someone’s interest for an activity to be deemed to have a point. It is up to artists to make a point of their pointless activity, making art relevant to society rather than art being no more than an activity deemed to have a point or not by capitalist society. Art should be subversive, it should champion the pointless and it should question the point of capitalism by refusing to be just another piece of capitalist consumer tat. The how, is up to you if you are an artist, if not, you are free to remain cynical until an artist nullifies that cynicism or if you are an artist who is cynical, don’t complain about being pointless because that is your point.
Pointless Paradox13 augustus 2012
Art experiments are experiments into the absurd and the pointless. To me they are visual art’s equivalent of the literary nonsense poem. As to whether such experiments could be classed as surreal is of little consequence to me as my concerns are not about the surreal but the useless and the pointless. Without a hypothesis to test, the experiments themselves are arbitrary. They are simply a case of what if? If I did this and that and in those conditions, what would be the result? Whatever the result, it won’t result in an increase in knowledge or at least any meaningful knowledge, just an experience in observing the pointless. I’m not even interested in the possibilities of creating rich textures and visual experiences. It is about setting up a nonsensical experiment and going where nonsense takes me.
I suppose what I am involved with is a pointless paradox. There is no point and that is the point. If there is a point, it is a pointless point. It is all a bit like considering if there is a god or not, rather pointless as god’s existence can’t be proved one way or the other, short of god introducing him/herself or itself to the human race or whatever. Then one has to ask, would there be a point in that since no one knows who or what god is so no one could be sure if the god introducing himself was a god at all. So one has to ask, what is the point of this pointless point? To which my reply would be, like life, there is no obvious point at all.
At the risk of boring the reader to distraction by stretching this pointless point like a piece of elastic until it breaks, if there is a point, it is a metaphysical point. Just like the scientific method informs us of the world through observation and measurements and even here scientists recognize that cause and effect is a subjective observation, pointless art experiments also tap into the metaphysical. Nonsense is not nonsensical, pointless is not pointless, the meaningless has meaning. The pointlessness of life requires its own art.
The Joys Of Charity17 juli 2012
A couple of weeks ago I was asked, along with several other artists, if I would make a piece of art for a charity exhibition to celebrate the start of the Olympics and raise money for a charity. Why not I thought, no skin off my nose. So I mused over the assignment, trawling all sorts of ideas and eventually came up with the idea above which has little to do with sport but has tenuous links to the Olympics and should go down well at the recption, hopefully.
However, the biggest joy of doing this work was that it liberated me from my usual art work. It made me consider whimsical and ethereal ideas beyond my usual spectrum, where I usually think there should be some meaningful intellectual foundation to a work, even if the work is supposed to be humerous. It reminded me and its good to be regularly reminded, art can be trivial, fun and anti-intellectual. Let's be honest, anti-intellectualism has created some fine works of art. Sometimes it is just creatively fertile to go with the flow and see what happens.
I had so much fun pondering and executing this piece, I am looking forward to a similar assignment and it has certainly reminded me that going off at a tangent just for the hell of it is no bad thing and can be very rewarding in a creative way. One can get too bogged down with making 'art', one forgets that consciously making 'art' can kill art stone dead.
Art For Art's Sake. Politics For Christ's Sake?26 juni 2012
Art for art's sake is a laudable sentiment at the best of times but in our time of austerity and economic crisis when the poor are being hit and the rich are being protected, it takes on an air of complacency and quaint bourgeois navel gazing. Not that I think artists should be making soap box art, that only speaks to the converted but to ignore the current situation and carry on crafting art, it just seems a little irrelevant. That being said, many artists are quite happy to make irrelvant work or work that only appeals to the senses and why not, it's what the bourgeois art market wants and isn't work in the context of an art gallery neutered anyway by being assimmilated into the mainstream? Well, yes and no.
I don't think art can have a dramatic affect on public perception or opinion, it is not the right medium but it has its place. It can add to the general social conversation. It can be a feather amongst another ton of feathers which eventually tips the scale. It can add to the general disquiet that all is not well and something should be changed. Principle and relevant voices speaking out against economic and social policies are something politicians don't like. The point is, one hasn't to be partizan, one has to ask pertinent questions and point out injustices and inconsistencies in government stances. Though maybe the best way for artists to make an impression is to be subversive and undermine the status quo, mock the powers that be and launch an assault on their sense of rightness. When politicians have ceased to represent the people they are supposed to represent and instead represent powerful big money at the expense of the general population, they should be shown no mercy from mockery.
Sex and the absurd have often been used as weapons against the seats of power, as in the French revolution against the monarchy and in the Mexican revolution against the power of the Catholic Church. There is something absurd, demeaning and undermining about people with power being imagined indulging in sexual excess, particularly when it is coupled with avarice and gluttony. When it is not difficult to imagine politicians wallowing in excrement and sordid predatory sexual practices, it usually means they deserve such metaphors being used to describe them. Our politicians deserve no quarter. Society is in the position it is because politicians have utterly failed the people they are supposed to represent because they have proved to be incompetent, corrupt and criminally negligent. They have proved to be the lackies of greedy big money. Art should participate in their humiliation.
Art Rotterdam v Raw Art27 februari 2012
I spent the day a couple of weeks ago at Art Rotterdam and Raw Art with my mate Joop. Two parallel events that couldn’t have been more different. Art Rotterdam was rather depressing. I went to see what the large galleries were selling and really expected to finish the day wondering what the hell I was making art for. Quite the opposite, I ended up unimpressed with what was on show. Most of the exhibits were photographs, photos being the in-thing when it comes to fashionable galleries, that and faux-naïve drawing. There was very little painting and negligible fine art print, be that screen-printing, litho or etchings. Work by well known artists bordered on the rubbish and were really the barrel scrapings but then, barrel scrapings of famous artists still earns a crust I suppose.
Though to be fair, the depressing nature of Art Rotterdam might not have anything to do with the artists on display, rather than what the art galleries decided to display. Most galleries decided to exhibit a selection of their artists, which due to the space restrictions meant most artists had single pieces displayed which meant there was no context in which to judge the work. Though I have to admit, I can’t remember one piece of art that stood out from the crowd, it was all rather weak and timid work on display. It makes you wonder what art galleries look for and what their sales strategies are. I regularly see artists producing better work struggling to be exhibited. I even buy some when I can but even if I had the money I wouldn’t have bought anything at Art Rotterdam, it was all pretty thin fare.
Though there was one artist I thought was interesting and she drew large atmospheric charcoal drawings but I have to admit to being embarrassed by not taking note of her name. She was an artist I wanted to investigate further and despite going through all the websites of the Dutch galleries at Art Rotterdam, I have been unable to find her. Perhaps her gallery dropped her for being too good.
Raw Art on the other hand, when compared to Art Rotterdam was a fair ground, a positive celebration of art. Of course, this can have its down side because Raw Art was more like a flea market than an art fair and maybe this didn’t do some of the artists on display any favours. Good work can often suffer and be lost when exhibited next to so much cheap and cheerful work, while inferior art is never made better. Though this is the price one has to pay if you are going to have your work displayed at such events. Such events are a market after all, there is nothing intellectually high brow about them, it is all about earning a crust.
Still, Raw Art was all good fun, if you were a spectator that is. I’ve had several disappointed reports from artists who had their work at Raw Art, which I can understand. Most artists are serious about their work, often too serious and to see their work displayed in such a fairground as Raw Art might make them feel their work has been cheapened. Well all I have to say is, consider the artists who weren’t there, they probably wish they were. Though to be honest, I am glad I was a spectator rather than an exhibiting artist, it was more fun and there were no worries about ones work being exhibited next to work you hate.
I came away from Art Rotterdam and Raw Art not feeling in awe of fashionable work that is being produced and sold in fashionable galleries nowadays but baffled as to what gallery owners see. I just couldn’t get an angle on why they considered so much average work, worth exhibiting. There is so much more intellectually and artistically interesting work out there than was on display in both these events, different as they were. I remain baffled by both events, though they were completely different, for very similar reasons.
Lucien Freud Great? Then What About Arie Kater?19 februari 2012
The subtext of Lucian Freud: Painted Life, broadcast on BBC yesterday (18th February)was that Lucien Freud was a spoilt brat and if he was working class rather than affluent middleclass with well off and well known connections, he would have been declared a spoilt brat. He was the archetypal upper middleclass bohemian, an insider who pretended to be an outsider. It is not for nothing there are moody magazine type photos throughout his life, he was never an outsider, just playing one, with an eye for the future. He liked living in grotty flats and mixing with low life ie. workingclass ne'er do wells. How pretentious is that!!!? Strange how he couldn't manage to finish the paintings of the woman who wouldn't let him fuck her. Bit of a predator maybe? Still, the women were consenting adults and one assumed enjoyed the experience.
Despite many times during the programme it was claimed he painted from life, there were enough commentary and testiments to say this was not entirely true, he wasn't against painting some symbolism in his work and would have models take awkward poses and basically copying and pasting compositions. His style of painting is rather affected too, with his figures largely devoid of life, they are for the most part, corpses. He failed to give life to his subjects, though I suspect he wasn't interested in that aspect of his subjects, they were just that, subjects, their inner life not worth too much thought.
A far better painter than Freud in my mind who painted in a similar style to Freud's later style, though decades earlier, was the little known Amsterdam painter, Arie Kater. Born the same year as Freud, Kater was a genuine outsider, not a pretend one like Freud, who always had his family and contacts to fall back on and often did. Kater lived the life Freud pretended to live and paid for it by dying young. Despite his early death, his paintings were life affirming and vibrant and full of the humanity Freud's work are devoid of.
It is instructive that one painter is acclaimed, the other little known. This probably says more about the fickleness of the art world and how important influential connections are in art. Sadly, it appears it is not so important about how good you paint as who you know.
When Did The Museum Boyman van Beuningen Become A Design Museum?8 november 2011
When did the Museum Boymans van Beuningen stop being an art gallery and became a design museum? Maybe I’m suffering from false memory syndrome but I distinctly remember when I first lived in Rotterdam in the late seventies, early eighties, as an art lover, I found the Boymans exciting to visit. One was always surprised by the quality of temporary exhibitions. The art exhibited might not necessarily have always been to my taste nor necessarily the most fashionable or the latest out of the studios but exhibitions were always interesting and challenging. I often found the art making me question my own preconceptions about what is art, what art should be and what art should be trying to communicate and why. Even the artists unknown to me at the time were often first rate and to my regret, I wish I had taken more note of some artists whose names now escape me but were worth remembering for future reference. I suppose this excitement provoked by the the Boyman's must have been down to the curators at the time or maybe it was my willingness to absorb all that was put in front of me. I’m more inclined to think the former, which in turn, was responsible for the latter. However, I found myself unable to let a week pass by without a visit to the Boymans.
Now I can barely find the will to visit the Boyman’s, even on a Wednesday when it is free. So what has changed? Basically the Boyman's is no more interesting to visit than an IKEA store and even then, at times I think IKEA has more practical and innovative designs on display. Not only that, when you enter the Boyman’s you are confronted with a foyer that is a cross between a theatre and an upmarket department store with its innovative and somewhat novel cloakroom. A sort of over engineered coat hanger cluster that is neither practical nor space saving ( I suppose it is supposed to double as a sculpture) but takes up a huge amount of exhibition space, as does the reception and the glass box shop. If only the art on display received so much attention but then again it might because despite the attention paid on the foyer, it is a complete waste of space, both intellectually and literally.
The last time I visited the Boyman’s a couple of weeks ago, the wonderful exhibition space upstairs was taken up by a large futuristic plastic pod that looked like it had come out of a 1960s Bond film, which was somewhat dwarfed by the huge space. The pod was a sort of proto-type cabin ski-cabin designed by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen that was rather fragile and impractical though there were photos of it on a mountaintop. The pod sort of reflects the optimism of the 60s and I suppose, unintentionally, why the 60s optimism turned into a 70s nightmare. Was it art or was it design? I have to admit, once I had been inside, I didn’t care, as it was no better than my brother in law’s caravan. Did it have historical significance? Not really, it was rather impractical from the beginning. Apparently the hike in oil prices increased the cost of plastics and put an end to any chance of it being produced.
Though it isn’t just this one visit that has alienated me from the Boyman’s, it has taken quite a few years to get to the point of thinking it beyond redemption. What provoked me to write this rant is that I have aired these views to several friends and acquaintances who all felt the same as me and all who no longer visited the Boyman’s because they are fed up of the second rate design that is so often exhibited and really want to see some art when they go to an art gallery. All is not lost, Schiedam has a cracking little public art gallery.
Is Great Art Great?16 oktober 2011
Is great art intrinsically great or do we project greatness upon it and is this projection something that is learnt? Certainly we don’t come to an independent decision on whether a piece of art is great or not, that decision is usually made for us long before we ever see a work. In fact we are often aware of an artwork being great and why it is supposed to be great before we approach it. The notion of a work’s greatness has usually been absorbed subliminally through an ongoing background cultural dialog. We have little choice in the matter, we don’t get to make our own decision on a work.
I often wonder if this de facto status of an artwork is often the source of the disappointment I feel when I see iconic art for the first time. So rarely have I stood in front of a supposed 'great artwork' and felt in the presence of greatness, usually the opposite. I hear a little voice in my head saying, “Is that it?!”. Yet another masterpiece bites the dust. Though I have had the opposite experience with art that is often neglected. Recently I went to an exhibition of engravings by 16th century artist Lucas van Leyden in Leiden, which featured Durer. I was blown away by the sheer beauty and insight of the works on display. Though there were some very complex compostions on display, they felt effortless and simple, natural. No overblown statements, no brash showing off, no self proclaimed greatness by the artist of which is often found in so called 'great art'.
Maybe it is over exposure of icons in art, art’s commoditisation or the overwhelming amount of iconography in the contemporary world that creates such an affect of disappointment. Of course, this is purely a personal experience. I know plenty of people who seem to have no problem accepting great artworks as great and enjoying their greatness and would question my disappointment at the lack of fireworks much great art ignites in me. I do question myself as to whether I am just being bloody minded because I don’t get to choose myself which art is great and which is not.
The other point is of course, is it compulsory to like a work according to its supposed greatness? The answer is obviously no. However, questioning the allotted greatness of a work can provoke rather indignant and dismissive reactions in certain circles, as though one is obviously not the full shilling and rather ignorant of art. Though I am talking of a personal reaction to a work, not the affect a work might have had on art itself in terms of influence, whether aesthetically or intellectually.
I do have a whole list of disappointing masterpieces in my head, which I will gladly walk past as I seek out a postage stamp size Rembrandt etching or some little doodle. Bombast is a turn off in a world of 24 hour per day bombast. The unassuming, the quiet, that insignificant work in the corner of the gallery that glows and throbs with a stored energy that threatens to burst into a brilliant sun. Yes, great art is what you choose to be great art and you shouldn’t be dictated to by any academic or critic who claim to know better, no matter what their credentials.
A Case For Jack Vettriano16 oktober 2011
Jack Vettriano, has been ignored by the arts establishment for having no talent, even if they aren’t brave enough to come out and say it, we all know they think it. The one thing that the snobbish art elite probably despises him most for however, is true, he is a self taught working class artist who became popular without their intervention. Vettriano is dismissed for being unable to paint by the art elite, accusing him of just colouring in as in paint by numbers or as Professor Duncan Macmillan of Edinburgh University, who in his definitive history of Scottish painting wrote 'The analogy in fiction would be Jilly Cooper, Mills & Boon or Harry Potter - should J. K. Rowling win the Booker Prize because she's read by a lot of people? It's interesting as a phenomenon: he's obviously struck a popular note, but it cannot be translated directly into enduring quality.' Well, since when have the art establishment chosen artists for their longevity? Take a look back at many exhibitions held in this country’s leading public galleries and you will come across names you have never heard of and will never hear of again. The self chosen elite can’t even give criteria about what they are looking for in art, they just happen to like something when they see it one assumes. Well, since Duchamp put a spoke in the wheel and asked what art is, no one has been able to come up with an answer so anything and everything is art. All except Vettriano it seems.
OK, even I admit and Vettriano admits himself, he isn’t the greatest painter in the world but that is like the Beatles saying they aren’t the greatest musicians in the world, no one would argue but very few would dismiss them as irrelevent because of it. But since when have artists had to be the best painters in the world to be afforded the label, artist? Francis Bacon’s painting style conveniently covered up a lot of the short coming he had, both as a painter and a draughtsman. For one, he couldn’t draw hands to save his life and his paintings rather conveniently didn’t require anything more than painting rough surfaces. When Bacon’s screaming pope was exhibited next to Velasquez’s Pope Innocent X at the National, Bacon’s screaming pope looked positively amateurish. All this is not to dismiss Bacon, his paintings can be very disturbing, unless you see too many exhibited together, when they become somewhat numbing. The point I’m making is this, being a good painter is not a criteria for being a great artist and for further evidence, look at van Gogh and Gauguin, both hammy painters. I could draw up a whole list of painters who can’t paint but have made it into the canon drawn up by the elitist art establishment. In fact, while we are discussing painting styles, Vettriano’s painting style is not unlike the much acclaimed Edward Hopper so we can safely say his work can’t be dismissed because of painting style.
What about subject matter? Can Vettriano be nailed to the mast for this? Vettriano is accused of painting subject matter of times gone by but when has it been off limits to paint or even make films about bygone days? There are a couple of paintings in this year’s Johm Moore’s painting competition that make reference to the past with figures distinctly dressed in fashions of yesteryear. Making reference to the past does not automatically make something of the past without relevance to the present. Peter Greenaway said a friend said to him that the heightened 17th century fashions in his film The Draughtsman’s Contract were like historical science fiction. Fashions portrayed in art don’t necessarily pin down a work to a specific era, it can simply be a legitimate artistic device. Renaissance paintings aren’t scoffed at for portraying biblical figures in the contemporary dress of the painter nor do we scoff at Pre-Raphaelites painting medieval knights and damsels in distress, though maybe we should. Further more, such pantomine fashions as in the Pre-Raphaelite paintings haven’t stopped them being exhibited in national galleries. But what about the content behind the subject matter. Vettriano would say his subject matter is eroticism, some might say meloncholy, some might say it is sentimental. I have my own take which I will come on to later. Eroticism is something that has been dealt with by artists throughout the history of art and has pedigree so one can’t dismiss an artist for dealing in eroticism and the same is true of melancholy. Even the sentimental often rears its head in national collections, just take a look at Picasso’s pink and blue periods for a start. Picasso certainly didn’t shy away from the sentimental, if indeed he knew he was being sentimental but that is ignored by the curators of public museums, probably because it is an inconvenient side to Picasso.
Vettriano has been laughed and scoffed at for copying figures out of a ‘pose book’ for artists who can’t afford a model. Well, it is no secret Vettriano is self taught but why the fuss? Art has a tradition of copying and many great artists have copied or modified and reinterpeted work. We have already mention Bacon’s pope and it seems rather pointless here to make a list of artists that have copied work. Hell, many great artists have used photos to work from and before that used camera obscurers, camera lucidas and other drawing aids, it’s nothing new so why is Vettriano somehow supposedly inferior for using pose files while learning his trade? No doubt it is seen as his Achilles heal unless you want to dismiss all the great artists that have committed a similar crime. This is really another charge that doesn’t stick.
The case for Vettriano. I don’t see his work as being about an era gone by, the era Vettriano paints, never existed in the first place, it comes out of his imagination. It is a world that has never historically existed, it is a psychological world that exists in the artist’s head and he communicates it to us in painted images. Vettriano comes from the working class like me and like me he was an apprentice coal mining engineer, he couldn’t have known anything about the bourgeois people he paints other than through the media. There is something sociological going on in his interpretation of such a world, something deeper than the surface illustration and I wouldn’t be surprised if Vettriano realises this but would feel it would be pretentious to say it. No college educated middleclass artist would allow such a rich vein of meaning to escape without using it as a justification of their work, however, Vettriano doesn't but then, he isn’t a college educated middleclass artist. He is a self taught working class artist and I suspect like many working class people, he would feel an arse and a fraud for expounding deep and meaningfuls about his work. Maybe I am the only person to see this in Vettrianos work but I do not see the bourgeois in his paintings indulging in eroticism and hedonism or at least I do but I don’t see it as the main subject matter. To me Vettriano’s work has always had something disturbing lurking below the surface, something not quite right, something sinister. Vettriano’s characters to me are living through the eve of an apocholypse. Some disaster or something abominable is going to happen in the morning and consume or destroy these characters who are distracting themselves from the terrible fate that awaits them. They are aware all is not well, the end is coming but they don’t know what it is so they can’t do anything about it but just pretend that if they have a good enough time it will delay their fate or at least, won’t have to face it.
The truth is, you don’t have to like Vettriano, after all, art is subjective but it’s difficult to deny, he is not in any of Britain’s public galleries for several reasons, elitism, snobbery and he isn’t to the taste of elitist, snobbish curators. These curators who can give no concrete criteria whatsoever as to why a piece of art ends up in the public gallery they manage other than it is to their tastes. Of course, they indulge in the obfuscation of artspeak to wriggle out of this charge but the charge sticks because they can't dismiss it. Well, art shouldn’t be in public galleries simply because it is to the taste of the curators, it should be in public galleries because it is popular or culturally important. A curator’s taste doesn’t necessarily fit either of these criteria nor does critical acclaim. There have been many critically acclaimed artists that have come and gone that have never made an impact on the popular psyche or made a cultural impact in any way whatsoever so critical acclaim can be meaningless as a curators tastes, which have literally incorporated mops and buckets. If I was Vettriano, I would also be peeved about being kept out of national galleries while slight artists such as Creed and Leckey have made it in and let’s not forget Hirst, that bad boy of British art, who somehow manages to still be a darling of the art world despite his recent attempts at painting have shown his ability to paint to be on par with first year high school students. I don’t want to pull these artists down, I just use them to illustrate that quality isn’t keeping Vettriano out.
In Praise Of The Second Rate16 oktober 2011
There are many reasons to praise first-rate literature. It shares much of our formal reality and helps us understand it. It allows us to experience without experiencing, it teaches us about human dynamics and the human condition, it makes manifest our ignorance and our precarious position in our little known universe. However, these reasons for reading the first-rate are also reasons for avoiding it, for if literature is escapism and for many it is, one wants to seek shelter from our formal reality and what better, than second-rate literature.
Let’s not get snobbish about such things. One doesn’t need to love literature in proportion to its excellence. You wouldn’t place objective values on romantic love. Would you? OK, marriage maybe but romantic love, no. Though where I was dragged up, such social necessities never raised their head and neither did judging literature by its place in the canon. Literary snobs, were strictly consigned to late night cultural programmes and knowing such programmes existed, was snobbish enough.
First-rate literature exerts great control on the reading experience where the second rate expands like a wandering herd of cows, without reference to being and so much the better for forgetting the world. Like a stroll through a meadow on a barmy summer’s day, one needs long meandering verse that goes on forever and what better than the verse of Sir Walter Scott. This often thought, boring art, can afford great satisfaction. The vacuity of the words that lope endlessly before you like the yellow brick road means hours of escape unroll, brushing aside any inconvenience the formal world beyond your imagination will lay at your feet.
It’s all rather like sitting in a cinema and watching a sentimental formulaic Hollywood movie. You spend two hours in a darkened cinema secure from the city rush outside as you are lost in the predictable dialog. It matters little what the film is, you’ve seen it hundreds of times before only with a different title, theme tune and cast. The point isn’t to analyse or dissect the film or to question its validity but to consume time in a warm womb like bath of sentiment. Eventually you will surface and find yourself out on the busy city street, the previous two hours erased from your memory and you are left wondering to where those last two hours had disappeared. You have the faintest after glow, like the remnants of a dream that survived you waking and which you desperately try to recapture to no avail.
I could now quote you lengthy reams of Scott’s wide-open writing but I won’t. Everyone has to find their own vistas of banality in which to play. I am just reaching out to those of you who feel they must consume wholemeal literature for the good of their soul or not to, would be a betrayal of their intellect. I would argue being such a puritan is not good for the soul nor is it loyalty of your intellect, there is a need to accept at times, the flesh is weak and feasting on the second rate can be an oasis full of sweet waters and exotic fruit. A harem where the literary monogamous and the middle-brow literature celibate can run amok in an orgy of the second rate dream world. Though I suspect, behind some of those dust covers, you have hiding within, your own descent into the second rate, like a lover you keep secret from your spouse.
Mr Personality16 oktober 2011
I was mindlessly watching TV when an advert appeared advertising soap powder. I was slow to respond being in somewhat of a somnambulant state. The character in the advert was a sixty year old man wearing a brilliant white suit. Nothing out of the ordinary there, until you realize the man in question was a poet. A poet as a public celebrity selling his image? In our day and age where everything is for sale, why not? Let me explain. The poet was a local poet to Rotterdam called Jules Deelder, who has a somewhat of an affected image and always dresses in black, only this time he is in brilliant white. Soap powder, white, the line is obvious. Not that I am criticizing Deelder for his extra-poetic work, I’m not a purist or believe that his being so obviously commercial, he is lowering the tone of poetry. On the contrary, I’m all for people cashing in on their success and successful poets are in short supply, even to sell soap powder but it did get me to thinking of poets as celebrities.
Occasionally we see poets on TV on serious cultural programmes discussing their work in a wholemeal, this is good literature, way. They can even be interesting, though rarely as interesting as reading their work. But a poet as celebrity where the image comes before the work, this is unusual and had me wondering if this sort of exposure promotes his work outside the core poetry consumers. Seeing Deelder in this scenario did prompt me to check him out on the internet with the idea of reading some of his work and maybe, if I liked him, I would buy a collection of his work. Well the internet turned up little. I found one translated poem of Deelder’s on the internet about Chet Baker which was on a site with many other poems by poets paying homage to the jazz musician. Though I did find many sites that told me how I could buy one of Deelder’s books. Did I buy one? No, I eventually simply followed the hyperlinks of the other poets that were paying homage to Chet Baker. I’m the sort of person that tastes and tries before I buy and if I can’t taste I don’t buy, which is why I often buy anthologies or read reviews with samples and go from there.
Did this little exercise prove anything about the poet as celebrity? I suppose not since I’m already one of the converted. With Deelder being a celebrity and the only way to read his poetry is to buy a book, I imagine he sells far more work than the average poet regardless of quality. I’m not saying that Deelder doesn’t deserve his success. I really don’t have a clue. I can read his poetry in Dutch but when I read an English translation, I realize how much I miss in the original language. But am I jealous of Deelder’s success? No, more power to his elbow, I wish there were more poet celebrities because they get people noticing poetry. As to whether the people they attract to their poetry get beyond their work to look at the art in more depth, is what I would like to know.
Unfortunately I doubt that such poet celebrities attract a bigger audience to poetry. I know many people that read Bukowski and nothing else and who posthumous, still has a following where some read no other poetry but his. I remember the British punk poet John Cooper-Clarke who also seemed to have a following where many people read no one else’s work but his, as appears to be true of the reggae poet Benjamin Zaphaniah. These poets tend to be more akin to pop stars with their talent for self publicity than poets. But then, it was the Liverpool Scene from the sixties and Adrian Henri in particular that hooked me into reading poetry in the early seventies. Whatever, I’m all for these celebrity poets whether their work is considered good or bad because at least they do give poetry a headline and let’s be honest, that can’t be bad at all.
Bad Sex16 oktober 2011
What is the point of erotic and sexual poetry as opposed to love poetry? One could equally ask, what is the point of poetry but since this is a poetry blog let’s assume poetry has a point and purpose. Is the point of erotic and sexual poetry to titillate the reader or does it allow its writer to visit places of fantasy or to boast and or report back to the reader of the writer’s sexual experiences, be they disastrous or heroic adventures? Probably all and none of these things and attempting to explain and define erotic and sexual poetry, is probably akin to collecting one’s breathe in a bottle. With the advent of the internet such poetry appears to have boomed, allowing everyone who cares to share their innermost fantasies and most intimate experiences with the world at large. Great swathes of this writing is cringe worthy in the extreme as well as being amusing to the point of great guffaws of belly laughter at the impossible tales of heroic studs and shameless sluts. I just can’t help myself picturing in my mind’s eye, these impossible couples knotting into impossible positions with a stamina that would leave the fittest of athletes gasping for breath.
Thirteen times you took me to Heaven’s crest
Mindful now in your learning ways
My sweat’d back as your barometer to my pleasure
There is nothing more absurd in my mind than an objective image of two people in the act of coition. Imagine the person you find the most difficult to imagine having sex, then imagine them having sex. When I have done this, I find it difficult to get beyond any surreal and comic thought. Much of this world of erotic poetry has the same affect on me as it fails to take my imagination beyond pumping flesh. There is also so much of it, as one reads through the endless verses of eroticism and sex, one gets the impression that the only person not indulging is you as a reader. Though on closer inspection one suspects much of this pantomime eroticism is the product of wishful thinking on behalf of the writer. The one thing that takes much of this poetry into the realms of alternative entertainment is that so many people seem to take what they have written seriously. Bad poetry passed between lovers is understandable, not everyone can be a poet of merit and the idea of poetry does convey affection but why expose your self to the world as an unintended comic as in this quote I came across on the internet.
Squeeze your breasts together,
with your areolas at my ears
i could stay right here for years
There is obviously a need for people to impart with these intimate fantasies and experiences. Why else would there be such a quantity of such poetry thrown into the world like messages in bottles. News reports of erotic conquests, incredible carnal feats of perfect lovers, knotted clutches from which only Houdini could make an escape. Orgasms come so thick and fast that it is difficult to believe the participants didn’t pass out through oxygen starvation. The sexual boast has been around since man could verbalize his prowess, be it real or imagined. Women however, have had a little more decorum, being on the butt end of such boasts but as stories of such heroics of Messalina show as they escape from the pages of history, women have always had their carnal wants and needs too. Now they are out in the open and in verse of the most explicit kind. The man is no longer safe in the knowledge his boasts of seduction won’t be refuted or even worse, bettered by the fairer sex. If you believe many of the poems that wash around the internet, the woman has turned animal with a most predatory nature.
It's 2 in the morning
and I feel like boning.
Slide your pole
in any hole.
In wanting to escape cliché or maybe it’s the thought that poets being literate use unusual words, many budding poets appear to have taken to the thesaurus in a big way. One can find some remarkable syntax and words not commonly heard in everyday language. You sort of know what the poet is driving at but it’s not actually what they have written. In the process of trying to elevate their imagination onto a more spiritual plain in an apparent effort to be profound, they are in danger of short-circuiting the reader’s brain.
Are we objects of gratification and denial,
Or numinous, uncontainable symbiotes
Mutually nourishing our souls?
As you browse the internet for poetic sexual slapstick, there is the unfortunate chance of coming across good poetry which can be quite irritating with its sudden interference of self control and a critical eye. The one quality that bad sexual poetry has in abundance is its raw energy. One can imagine the writers living each pelvic thrust as they rattle away on their keyboards. For the motivation of such writing appears to be the poet’s own imagined gratification rather than an effort to convey an experience to a reader. It is a form of poetry that comes straight from the heart or maybe that should be, straight from the groin, it is masturbatory with little controlled artifice but what fun!
$elling Poetry16 oktober 2011
It appears to me when most people visit a bookshop they do not notice the poetry section, which is usually at the back of the shop or in some corner where it can’t be found. Should someone be perverted enough to seek out the poetry section, what do they find? The truth is you don’t really need to seek out the poetry section to know what is there, at least that is my experience. It is full of the same old suspects, the members of the canon, the new prodigies, which have incidentally been around for the previous ten years, plus Bukowski because he probably outsells everyone else because of his cult status.
Then there are the popular anthologies, which in Britain are such books as the BBC’s The Nation’s Favourite Love Poems or The Nation’s Favourite Comic Poems etc. full of poems that were etched into your skull in junior school, you get the picture. If you come across a new name, the publisher usually has a house style so you can second-guess the style of the poet. All in all it is usually a disappointing experience because there is rarely anything new or exciting, made all the worse by the dour and sombre design of the covers. Usually there is nothing about a poetry book other than its anticipated contents that is attractive. It is as though they are designed to indicate the contents are good solid wholemeal literature that any self respecting literature professor can be seen with in public.
I accept I am stating the obvious and I’m stating the obvious when I say it doesn’t have to be this way. With modern technology publishers don’t have to make huge investments. This means they don’t have to narrow their focus on what is and isn’t ‘good’ poetry down to highbrow poetry that will be acceptable in the academic circles of literary faculties. Though to me, it is this high minded approach to poetry which has all but succeeded in killing it off in bookshops. I’m not saying get rid of the canon or stop trying to second guess the next generation to enter the canon, though I think that sort of thinking is bad for poetry.
One should turn the poetry section into a vibrant display such as the magazine racks. Top shelf poetry for those who like to read their verse under the sheets. Comic verse you can quote in the pub to impress friends and prove you are not only intelligent but have a sense of humour too. Poetry on issues of the day for the serious minded and of course, tucked way at the back behind the porn poetry, the canon, left to gather dust as it does now.
When I lived in London and despite the size of the bookshops on the Charing Cross Road which have large poetry sections, I very soon found myself regularly cruising the secondhand bookshops rather than searching through the poetry sections of the large shops. On reflection, I think this was simply because experience told me if I was in for a poetry surprise, it would be the secondhand shops that would provide it. I found many wonderful poetry collections by poets I had never heard of, published by companies I had never heard of or just self published chapbooks. These books I assume were released into the market and for lack of marketing, immediately disappeared down the literary toilet.
While it is a wonderful experience to discover a poet that excited me, it was also a reason to lament that the poet had all but disappeared without trace. Poetry is not a huge landscape on which to leave ones mark nor is it desirable to have everyone leave their mark but new poetry should have its moment in the sunshine with the biggest names and it is here that poetry is failed. It is here that the marketing of poetry should be rethought.
I have often shown poems to friends I thought they might like and often been surprised at their positive reaction but ultimately poetry has a staid image that many people are put off by. Poetry needs to nurture an audience and not remain like a hermit on some remote hilltop. There is nothing wrong with poetry being fun, witty and whimsical nor is their anything wrong in poetry being packaged in a way that is attractive and catches the eye of the passing reader. Look at the fiction section in a bookshop, the canon is there amongst all the other brightly packaged fiction such as mysteries, thrillers, bodice rippers and just rollicking good stories to pass a summer’s day while on vacation.
Poetry can light up or cheer up a fleeting moment in ones life. It doesn’t have to be revered like a religious icon or dissected like a laboratory specimen. Most of all, it doesn’t have to be hidden out of sight so not as to infect the more lighter moments of our existence. Whether light hearted and amusing, sexually provocative or serious minded, poetry can say so much with such economy that in our time impoverished world it should be the ideal art form. What other art form is so condensed and handy to have on ones person ready to fill those wasted minutes while waiting for the next underground train or give a little mental and intellectual stimulation over a quick coffee?
Sadly bookshops don’t make a profit from poetry and obviously don’t see themselves as making a profit from it so don’t see a point in promoting poetry but tolerate a small section of the store being taken up by poetry for the sake of credibility. After all, if the Nobel prizewinner for literature is a poet, one has to give him or her house space. Meanwhile the small independent bookshops run by book lovers, don’t have the finances to stock a lot of poetry because the big bookshops have squeezed their profits by taking away the bulk of their business.
All this leaves the serious poets to find their own market and to promote their own work, which gives the perception they are not good enough to be worth consideration as serious artists. Never the less, if you believe poetry is worth the effort, then every poet has to be a writer, publisher, promoter and retail outlet because if poets won’t do it, nobody else will.
From The Book Case To Our Place16 oktober 2011
Affairs of the heart, is one thing but sex is another. Just as in life, when sex raises its head, critical faculties diminish. Let me admit that this is purely a personal theory without any evidence but the anecdotal. Feeling the flesh of another person is not an intellectual exercise to mull over, it’s an experience of the moment that by passes the brain and goes straight to the groin. Not the best place from which to consider the aesthetics of an art form. Is it any wonder why so many good writers become unstuck when tackling such subject matter?
To me there are two main types of erotic writers and writing, not necessarily mutually exclusive. There is the reportage writer who observes the carryings on like a war correspondent reports on a war and then there are the men and women in the trenches or should that be in the boudoir that write about personal experience, real or imagined. Whether voyeuristic or confessional, both have to negotiate the minefield of self-indulgence. So what makes for good writing and how do writers indulge in the sexual without becoming self-indulgent? There is probably no real answer to this but it does give me the opportunity to discuss a couple of poems by a favourite poet of mine.
One way of approaching eroticism is through association. Frederick Seidel’s poem Men And Women takes this approach. The eroticism in this poem is approached so obliquely I have had debates with friends as to whether this is an erotic poem or not. Though if one experiences this poem and it is a poem to be experienced rather than read, to me there is no doubt. My curiousity is caught in the first stanza with these lines Sandy Moon with her lion’s mane astride/ A powerful motorcycle waiting to roar away, blipping, by the time I got to the second stanza I was on full rev And before the helmet law, or/ Wearing her hair long, had made all riders one/ Sex till you looked again; not that her chest/...
Poetry Nostalgia16 oktober 2011I was browsing through my poetry books when I happened upon a book called The Mersey Poets, which was published by Penguin in their series of books Penguin Modern Poets in the 1960s. Each book in the series contained the work of three poets. The three in this case being, Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Pattern. My family come from Liverpool and moved to the coalfields of South Yorkshire in the late fifties when I was three and Liverpool remained the spiritual home of my mother, who would pounce upon anything that came out of that city. It was only natural that when she was studying to be an English teacher in the early seventies that when she came across this book she should buy it and this is how it came into my possession.
The reason for my being nostalgic about this book is not because I think it is full great poetry with Adrian Henri in his Batpoem referring to the BatPill that makes all the girls say yes or McGough’s comic verse or even Pattern’s yearnings for adolescent females in such poems as his Party Piece. It is because the subject matter of the poems was topical at the time they were written, for me at least. They were in fact the poetry equivalent of the Pop Art that was being made at the time. Henri was an artist himself as well as a member of the group The Liverpool Scene so this crossover should come at no surprise. What makes me give a whimsical sigh when I read these poems is that I recognize so much from everyday life. Henri’s poem, which refers to an encounter with paper panties or Pattern’s sentimental poem, about a girl who worked at Woolworth’s, immediately take me back to an era when these fads and brands were common place. When I had just started to listen to the blues which was the fashionable music for the poseurs at the time, with many British blues groups hitting the big time, Adrian Henri was there with the Liverpool Scene to put it into perspective with (I've got those) Fleetwood Mac Chicken Shack John Mayall Can't Fail Blues. They are poetic time capsules. They make no claim to be full of deep and meaningful musings about the human condition, they are happy to be what they are, a celebration of the moment. A snap shot of time we were all passing through, a glimpse of the collective mood. I remember reading these poems as I hung out in the bedsits* of friends and girlfriends, thinking, I recognize this. This is about me! It was wonderful to read about the world I inhabited in poetry form. It added relevance and meaning to the existence of my friends and I. The work of these poets is a sort of reportage on the whimsical, the mundane, the unimportant, the vast tract of our life that passes without leaving a trace. They evoke memories of a world that despite its problems, was easier to understand, more optimistic, warmer and less alienated.
Society tends to judge the quality of poetry like any other art form, on criteria that have been formed by the consensus of those who we assume know best. The assumption being, these shadowy people have made measurements of the human condition, by which we can evaluate quality. That certain works having been passed down through the generations have stood the test of time and are therefore deemed worthy. But this is like a church guarding its dogma against heretics while people simply ignore it and only attend church for the three major events in their lives, christenings, weddings and funerals and then only out of social pressure or as an insurance policy, in case god really does exist. These foundations we collude into accepting as concrete because at heart we like certainty but in reality they are really shifting sands. Life is nebulous and transient and by the time we get to the end of our lives we would have forgotten ninety percent of it. In the grand scheme of things, the great river of life that flows down the generations, the poems of Mersey poets might be seen as junk poetry to be discarded and forgotten. However, in that small tributary that is my life, for a time at least, to me it was Shakespeare. *Bedsits (Bed-sitting rooms) cheap one room apartments.