Brothellian response to the Stuckist Painter Floyd Alsbach’s statement on Critics and Criticism.
“Criticism is good, the more harsh the better. It only makes the critics look like the fools they are as time goes by.”
Floyd, I’m not sure if I agree with this statement; it may be true in certain exceptional cases (Charles Dickens on the Pre-Raphaelites, for example), but honest critics are still lauded in posterity for their courage in being true to taste, regardless of fashion (John Ruskin, to use another example from a similar time). I personally hold post-modern culture in utter contempt, vehemently attacking conceptual ‘art’ (or ‘visual philosophy’, as I prefer to call it). I do not believe these thoughts will eventually be ridiculed; in fact, I envisage numerous History of Art essays on this period of nullity entitled ‘In Praise of Shit’. However, if taste remains dulled and sophistry endures, I may be considered a fool, but I’d rather be considered an honest fool than one dishonestly pandering to a bad fashion.
Brothellian arm/wristband (embroidered) - available in very limited numbers at Gomorrah 27.08.11 www.gomorrah.co.uk
- Taken from the Bankrupt Beats Project -
There’s often two hookers at the end of my street, old Emily and fat Anna, but the other night there were three. I had no idea who the new girl was; Em mentioned they hadn’t been introduced, but went on to speculate that she’d soon suck their regulars dry - and presumably knew little English.
Now, I was dressed up to the nines with my waistcoat and collar turned up, so I didn’t really feel like street-talking, but there was something about this girl which intrigued me - something different: she looked almost intelligent (not the kind to tread spattered pavements without a knife in her pocket anyway), and dressed pretty sharp. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t exactly want to see her red hair engulfing my pillow (I’ve got my own girl), but that didn’t stop me from wanting to know her.
I remember how she leant against that Irish Bank, and when I crossed to her corner she greeted me with a puff of cigarette smoke and a delicate “Hello”, (in what I’d like to describe as a ‘girls boarding-school’ kind of accent). She gestured to the wall next to her and drew out a silver hip-flask emblazoned with a phoenix. “Come, share this with me” she cooed, unscrewing the cap. I guessed my being there would put off potential punters, but before I could voice my concerns she laughed “Ah, fuck the punters” and nodded towards the girls, taking a drag. I took a space on the wall beside her and she handed me the flask.
She asked why I was dressed like a twat. I told her I wrote poetry. “Ah, that explains it”, she smirked. I took a swig from the flask, coughed, and handed it back to her. It was stronger than I expected, but the more we indulged in that fiery liquid, the more we talked – and not of trivial matters: we voiced opinions on artistic truth and discussed the unsettling saturation of celebrity culture. I was surprised but invigorated, to say the least.
Her cigarette slowly fizzled out, but as soon as she realised she crushed the filter beneath her right stiletto, pulled out another and flicked open a Zippo. The shadows instantly disappeared from her face and I saw her eyes, I mean really saw her eyes, and through those thick, green-speckled windows, I could see nothing - but pain.
“You working, Pandora?” A dark Chevrolet had pulled to a stop in front of us. “Of course, sugar, just give me a second”, she replied, kissing me on the cheek and walking over to the passenger door. I made it clear that I still held the flask, but she just smiled. “Fill it with ink”, she said.
The shadows of the Chevy engulfed her body but her eyes still found mine, and somewhere behind the car windows, within captured clouds of cannabis-cologne, I caught one last glimmer - of hope.
- Best read out loud to Michael Silverman’s Piano Rendition of Scarborough Fair -
Monday 11th July - Tip Five
Make your own theories on [art], tell people what you think and encourage them to form their own. The Aesthete Oscar Wilde once said “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation”. I recognise the irony in quoting this statement, but whereas it’s important to appreciate others’ views (Oscar Wilde included), it’s vital to consider your own - even if it’s unpopular. This method also applies to your [art]: there is always a level of external influence, but you must look into your own core if you want to remain true to yourself.
In The Moon Her Majesty, the writer Jack Kerouac muses “I mean, this is prose, not poetry, but I want to be sincere.” He knew the importance of ‘telling it how it is’ - for him, in order to remain true to his [art], he needed to write in the language of the streets; the language of life. Through his professional work and ‘sketches’, we gain the ability to see the world through his eyes - not the beautifully romanticised world of fiction, but the world uncovered, warts and all. It was in these little, oft overlooked details that he noted what he believed was the true beauty of the world - and shared his vision of it, with it.
Trawling through books of quotations may be an interesting exercise, but those thoughts of real value are the ones that hit you unexpectedly - the ones that make you truly think, feed your work and stay with you over the years. These ideas stick because they speak to your true self, challenging or reinforcing beliefs and helping you come to your own conclusions. If you don’t share these thoughts with your peers, they’ll never truly understand your [art], and if they don’t understand your [art], they won’t care about your vision. So next time you air an unpopular opinion, don’t be afraid to stick with it. You’ll never be able to surf if you don’t first make waves.
Fri 8th July - Tip Three
Don’t be afraid to be different, but never be different for its own sake. We live in an age where [artists] think more of originality than they do the craft of their [art], with each subsequent piece becoming more shocking or inflammatory. The Victorian Arts Critic John Ruskin once wrote “Great [art] is precisely that which never was”, but doubtfully foresaw this provocative statement being taken quite literally. After the age of Victorian conformity, [artists] set out to create what they wanted to create, and although they still possessed the technical knowledge of their masters, they felt freed from such disciplinarian fetters. This tumultuous time was aided by the rise of government-funded cultural organisations; the power of patronage went to the state.
With no patrons to impress but those working at the central body, [artists] became increasingly aware that in order to gain funding for their work, they’d have to justify why they wanted to create it; they weren’t being offered jobs by patrons who’d seen their previous masterpieces and wanted to commission them especially, they were having to apply for work. Out of financial desperation, [artists] started putting their efforts into making each concept sound unique, neglecting the importance of technical superiority and sense of aesthetic principles within the work itself, instead preferring to indulge and celebrate mediocre talent with sophistic speculation on the subjectivity of [‘art’]. The plague of post-modernism was the unfortunate, inevitable result.
In wanting to create something completely different, [artists] usually end up creating unoriginal, sub-standard pieces of work which in reality reflect poorly on their potential as a[n artist]. This is why craft is so important (see Tip Two for my thoughts) - of course you’re expected to experiment, but once you’ve found your niche you should remember to hone it with time, dedication and/or lessons, because this is how the artistic voice (or personal ‘style’) will emerge. If you’re too busy trying to be ‘different’, you’ll remain [metaphorically] mute.
The worst thing [artists] find in the process of developing said voice is that their work isn’t particularly liked, but the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge defended his then-unpopular peer William Wordsworth with “Every great and original [artist], in proportion as he is great or original, must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished; he must teach the [art] by which he is to be seen.” Critics may brand your personal style as ‘over-exposed’, ‘unoriginal’…even ‘rudimentary’, and this isn’t to say that they’re not correct (only a fool ignores criticism), but if you remain true to the development of your own style, your work will inevitably gain the distinction it deserves. Remember never to pursue difference; let difference discover you.
Thurs 7th July - Tip Two
Remember to put care and attention into the craft of your work. Most contemporary [artists] put thought into a concept (be it a single piece, multiple pieces or a veritable Niagara of a project) but forget that a clever idea is one thing, making it accessible to others is something entirely different.
The painter Picasso noted “An idea is a point of departure and no more. As soon as you elaborate it, it becomes transformed by thought.” Neglecting Picasso’s code of elaboration is where a lot of [artists] slip up; they are obsessed by taking raw concepts and displaying them at their most base form. Some of these ideas may be very clever, but no more clever than an article on philosophy. Great art should not just make one think, it should make one feel, and it should make one crave reignition of that feeling until said work is revisited - like an artistic opiate addiction.
The question you face is: do you want to be great? Artistic success is rarely weighed in money, fame or accolades. It’s in the [metaphorical] durability of the product - will people still like it in one, two, three hundred years time? Yes, we won’t be alive, but surely true success lies in the immortality of a name…or an ideal?
Let’s return to my original statement of being meticulous in one’s craft. The great Leonardo da Vinci once said “Art is never finished, only abandoned”, which is true, but the important dilemma all [artists] face is when the right time to abandon it actually is. Martha Graham (the ‘Picasso of Dance’) believed “No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” I agree with this line of thinking; perfection may be unobtainable, but the struggle through perfection’s frontier is often what sets greatness apart from mediocrity.
So, when do I personally believe is the right time to ‘abandon’ one’s work? I’ll answer this with a question: what do you want people to see in it - and think of you in three hundred years time?
Weds 6th July - Tip One
Stop telling people you want to be a[n artist] - whatever the discipline - you’re either one or you’re not. A good friend of mine (Nathan Leverton) once told me a story about a creative seminar: the speaker asked “How many of you want to be [artists]?” and when everyone raised their hands, he shouted “No! You’re all [artists]! Go out tomorrow, make some business cards; make sure they all say your name and the word [artist] underneath!”
Kevin Smith, before starting out on his successful film-making career, once said to his sister that he really wanted to make films…so she gave him some similar advice. When he told her that he feared people wouldn’t take him seriously, she said something like “Look, you are a film-maker, and a good one at that - you just haven’t made a film yet.” The ‘old’ Kevin Smith reportedly went to bed that night, and Kevin Smith: Film-maker woke the next morning. The rest, as they say, is history.
These examples both illustrate one important point, and that is that perceptions are everything when it comes to starting out. You need to instil faith in your art and in your abilities - if you don’t take yourself seriously, neither will anybody else. In Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, Yvaine tells Tristan ‘There are shop [people], and there are [people] who just happen to work in a shop for the time being’, so from now on, when people ask you what you do for a living, don’t say “I work at Tesco”, tell them you’re a God-damn [artist]!
Any writers out there? I’d recommend reading this inspiring article on Hemingway, writer responsibilities and the literary ‘calling’. Warning: it may start a fire in your stomach!