I stood in the gallery and watched people pass through. Seldom did anyone stop and pause for more than a few seconds. Everyone looking but none seeing. No-one seemed to be interacting with the art in any way other than how one might with products in a supermarket. Art as a global corporate entity, consumed in the same way as any other tourist attraction.
Sounds like a Warhol/Pop Art fantasy? Perhaps, but perhaps not. I watched people pose beside his cow wallpaper as they would the Tower of London. Their friends and partners snapped photos on their phones. Proof of their existence. A reminder that they were there. A moment already forgotten even as the shutter snapped closed. Not even fifteen seconds of fun or fame.
Elsewhere on the walls his skull paintings sulked, all but ignored. In the next room a self portrait sang with a blue that vibrated as exquisitely in the air as Poussain’s. A phrase that now takes me back and makes me smile.
I stood and enjoyed the sound of the blue alone. If I had counted I would have lost track of how many bodies passed by in flickers of emptiness. If I were capable of plumbing deeper depths of sadness in that moment I surely would have.
I wonder though if it is really so much different to the past? After all, didn’t Quentin Crisp sum it all up so eloquently? What can I add? Well, quite.
Later in the book shop I stared at a deafening babble of media. A t-shirt recommended that I ‘Arty Hard’. I scowled in disgust, as any sane person would. A voice somewhere outside my head was telling me to lighten up. I told it to fuck off.
In the past I have argued that modern technologies have allowed everyone to engage with the creative process because the means of publication have become broadly democratic. I have argued that this is a good thing. These days I am not so sure. It reminds me of the supposedly ‘D.I.Y’ ethics as espoused by Punk Rock: anyone can do it. Well, yes, but that doesn’t mean that everyone ought to. Not everyone can be an artist. Perhaps we should stop telling people they can, or should be. Perhaps we should celebrate Gove and his Tory fiends: a culture and a curriculum that attempts by subterfuge to devalue the arts may end up being their greatest ally. We should not ignore the power of filtration by struggle and elitism.
So ‘Arty Hard’? I think not. Instead let us make it once again harder to create and share. Let us celebrate the pleasure in exploring in depth. Let us take the time to delight in difficulty.