I’m not pretending I don’t ‘get’ art…..

Today’s facebook repost was an article by Glen Coco, deriding the latest exhibition by Tracey Emin.

The article is pretty funny and I do get why people shared it, honestly I do, because it made me chuckle as well.  Thing is – I also was left wondering: why is it cool to shout about your lack of knowledge and understanding?  Is it supposed to make one look clever?  Am I missing something here?

You see, it may not make me look clever and witty, but I kinda DO get it.

Emin’s work is very much about provoking the exact reaction in her audience that the article expresses – shock, confusion, ridicule.  That’s the whole POINT!  The work is banal, it’s immature…… Emin is well known for this style of art.

But here’s the thing….she’s not making art like that because SHE is banal and immature, she’s making it because, well, we are – and that’s what she’s pointing out.

People’s expectations of what art is meant to do (for the most part, look pretty) are severely at odds with what artists actually set out to do with their work: which is generally to react to, comment on and critique the world they live in.

The most common argument (it appears in this article too) is that art ‘used to be good’ but ‘now it’s rubbish’.

Her example is John Martin’s ‘The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah’ and she ponders how art went from that (a painting of two figures huddled in a fiery landscape) to a neon sign saying ‘My c*nt is wet with fear’ by Emin.

Thing is, do we care about Sodom and Gomorrah?  Do we even really know the story?  Because when that painting was created, people cared about it.  A lot.  Yes, sure, Martin shows some great painterly technique in the work and that’s worth admiring, too, but the subject matter is the main thing… and we don’t give a toss about bible stories these days.  At the time he painted it, lots of people probably hated it and said ‘That’s not Art’ (well, he’s not the best example of that as he was pretty well accepted, but still, I bet lots of people hated his work).

Now the subject of Emin’s piece – those are a different matter.  We care a lot about what’s between a woman’s legs, and what state of moisture it is in, and why.  We care a lot about extreme emotions like fear and sexual arousal, we want to know what everyone is feeling (why do you think reality TV is so popular?).  So I really can’t see why there’s a problem with somebody making a piece of art about the things which are actually relevant to the world we live in.

And let’s be brutally honest here.  Art that comments on our society in an authentic way just has to be a bit tacky, a bit rubbish, a bit brash… because (in case you haven’t noticed) so is modern Western society, at least most of the time.

I’m not saying I’ve ever been a huge Emin fan, but to say ‘I don’t get it’ in a bid to look cool (it seems to have worked – ignorance is held as a high virtue these days) is frankly a bit lame.  Especially when you haven’t exactly made any ground breaking art yourself.

Like Glen Coco, I don’t get the poncey individuals who stand and stroke their chins at art openings.  I don’t get that art is valued only on how much it sells for.  I don’t get that the media have no interest in art unless it has a swearword in it, or costs a packet so they can moan about how much it costs when schools are closing.

But most of all, I really don’t get why it’s seen as cool to act stupid about art and not even try to understand it.  Because it’s not frikkin’ cool to be closed minded or ignorant, or to get your kicks by taking the piss out of somebody else.  It just isn’t.

So, at the risk of being horribly uncool.  Tracy Emin’s work – yeah, I get it.

Can you copyright ‘The Sacred’?

There’s been a little social media storm in the pagan community recently over a facebook post by Zsuzsanna Budapest, writer of the well-known chant ‘We all come from the Goddess’.

She’s got two issues – one is that some people have recorded her song without permission or giving her credit, which is a fair enough thing to gripe about.

The other is that people have added a verse about the God and she’s not very happy about it.  So unhappy in fact, she’s threatened to hex anyone who does it again.

She concludes her argument with the statement that her song is ‘sacred’, which left me feeling confused.

Now, I get the idea behind copyright – it protects people’s work from being claimed by others, or profited from without the original artist being paid.  In a world where art is bought and sold, this protection is needed.

However, the idea of ‘authorship’ is a relatively modern construct, and a particularly Western one. Most cultures have songs, artworks and ideas which are claimed by the entire tribe, not one individual, in most cases nobody will even KNOW who wrote, drew or designed something.  Songs and ideas that take this form are a living entity, they change, evolve and are added to as the years pass.  

The idea that art ultimately belongs to the culture it arises in is not such a ridiculous notion.  No artist could create in a vacuum, we all build on what has come before.  Even the very tools we use to create (colours, words, materials) are not our own, they are the invention of thousands of other people.  So are the styles we use, the references we make…. it’s hard to tell where our ideas start and everyone else’s finishes, to be honest.

With the Goddess song, as with so many works of art, humans did what we always do with art.  We took it on board, we added to it, it became OURS – ours to sing, add to, play with, fit in with other songs we knew. It became a living thing, in short.

Problem is, art is only yours in in our culture if you PAY FOR IT (and even then, it’s usually only partly yours, or yours for a set period of time, and with conditions attached).

Whilst we were all happily singing along, we forget the fact that it ‘belongs’ to the person who wrote it, not to us at all.  Our audacity in adding verses to it has, in fact, enraged the author to the point of threats of hexing!

The trumpeting of ‘authorship’ by the art community does seem to me to be particularly insidious, undermining a great deal of what art is meant to be about, and severely limiting us as artists and as a culture.  

Let’s be perfectly blunt here: if there was no money involved, we’d probably be a whole lot less bothered about it.  We’d be thrilled that lots of people were enjoying our work, that it had taken on a life of it’s own, that it had grown wings and flown the nest.   

Which points to some pretty shallow motives for the whole ‘I made this’ obsession – in short, we want to be acknowledged so that we can make money and bask in personal fame from our work – hardly noble causes, either of those things!  Money and fame are nice and all, but when they become the motive behind art, well….. we all know how that story ends.  They’re a nice perk, if you can get it, but they should never be a major focus.

Now, let me make it clear that, if somebody else is making money from something we created, then it’s only fair they share the money with us.  But other than that, once you put an artwork out into the world, I believe it belongs to the world (at least if you’re really lucky it does, most artwork just vanishes into obscurity).  

So, protect yourself from financial exploitation by all means, but put the damn thing in perspective!  Your art isn’t YOURS, not once you share it.  It’s bigger than that, and far more important.

To kid yourself that you can control the meaning or evolution of your art once it leaves your hands, is the ultimate self delusion.  Ask poor old Yves Klein (well, you can’t, because his distress at how HIS work was interpreted was so great, it is said to have killed him).

Which brings me back to Zsuzanna.  Her song, she says, is sacred – implying that she wrote it in honour of the Goddess, that in fact it BELONGS to the Goddess.  Since, in the words of this very song ‘We all come from the Goddess’, does that not mean the song belongs to …. well …. everyone?

All I know is that I was pretty tired of that song anyway, and her commodification of it has made it less than sacred for me.  I’ll be singing another song from now on!

Missing the fun, whilst having fun (or, ‘I wish I had a clone’).

Right, so I had a great, fulfilling night last night at The Art House, watching young talented folks do their thing.  We provide a  space which is very important to artists who are emerging, or who need to try something a bit experimental and that’s exactly what last night’s event was all about.

Which is why, when these young folks approached us about 6 weeks ago, wanting to do a music/performance night based on ‘Through the Looking Glass’, and the only night available was also the night a good chum of mine had invited us to her 60th Bollywood party (which I was super looking forward to) I gritted my teeth and crossed the party out of my diary.

It’s an interesting balance, and something nobody warns you about when you start to do what you love full time.   The boundary between your private and work life gets very, very blurry indeed.  You have to consciously make time for things which are totally not ‘work’, even though you really love your work and it’s with you all the time.

You also, sometimes, have to give up the personal time and the fun, especially as our working hours are often at the exact same time that our friends are kicking back and partying.

Of course I don’t regret it, even today when I’m looking through pics on facebook of some of my absolute favourite people at a party, looking glam and having a fabulous time.  I’m just really, really glad that I love my job.  I’d rather like a clone sometimes, so I can be in two places at once!

I also REALLY appreciate that my true friends understand 100% why I’m not always there having fun with them.  That level of support and understanding is crucial to anyone who is following their dream and I’m always reminded of the wise words of  Dr. Seuss:  ‘Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind’.

To be fair, the cake does also compensate for quite a lot.

Using Niccolò Machiavelli as a training tool :)

My focus this month is empowering other volunteers at The Art House to take on more tasks.  As part of this process, it’s important not so much to tell people how to do each little task (I figured it out myself, they probably can too!) but to convey a sense of HOW we like to do things as a community and enabling them to learn what they need to.

Last night, we had ‘Shift Co-ordinator’ training for some of the crew, to help them be able to look after the cafe peeps and make sure all runs smoothly.  “Look after” is the operative phrase – so many management positions are seen as somehow higher up than everyone else, when in fact a good manager (or in this case, Co-ordinator) works FOR and WITH the crew, not above them.

To make it more fun and get the discussion going, we looked at Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power, which were inspired by the writings of Niccolò Machiavelli and Sun Tzu.  Now, it may seem very bizarre to use this list to train a group in non-hierarchical working, but quite a few of them illustrate the ways in which individuals try to grab and hold onto power in a group.  When you’re trying to work ‘on the level’ it helps to play the opposite game, recognise the behaviours of those who are trying to gain power in a group and do something which counteracts it.

Non-hierarchical working is a constant challenge within an organisation and, I reckon, you never get it 100% right.  We’ve been participating in a study into non-hierarchical working, acting as a case study, and it’s been a really interesting process.

Our legal structure doesn’t really help us, as there are four directors, around 8 members, and everyone else.  We talked early on about being a Co-operative, but in my experience these rarely are as democratic as they are meant to be, there is still usually one individual, or small group, who run pretty much everything.

We thought it made sense to have a structure where extra responsibility was held, but when somebody was viewed as ‘the boss’ or tried to take a higher position