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A Monumental Waste of Time, Energy and Money

Why exactly does modern art inspire such intense malaise and overwhelming nausea in Karl Morgan?

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by Karl Morgan, for outsideleft.com
originally published: October, 2006
I thought to myself, 'My God, Kirk...what have you done?'
by Karl Morgan, for outsideleft.com
originally published: October, 2006
I thought to myself, 'My God, Kirk...what have you done?'
Last June, I was talking to outsideleft's very own Kirk Lake about decent exhibitions around London. I told him I was going to Paris soon and he recommended the Pompidou museum, saying it's the best in Paris. When the day of the actual visit came, I was quietly excited. Kirk had been on the ball before about the Dan Flavin exhibition, which I really liked, and my trusty cohort Tim had been there a few years ago and liked it. The main exhibition was about film and cinematography, which bode well intially, but when we got in there it was like Tiananmen fuckin Square. Tim and I just looked at each other, stunned. It was full of modern art, or to put it more succinctly - pretentious, self-indulgent crap was dripping off the walls. I thought to myself, 'My God, Kirk...what have you done?' That was over four months ago, and it's taken me that long to recover from the ordeal. For as long as I live I'll never be able to forget this one piece in particular, it was by a gentleman named Bruce Naumann. It's title was something like 'Walking Around a Perimeter in an Exaggerated Manner'. It was absolutely horrific. This idiot drew a line on the ground, walked around it in a spectacularly stupid way and filmed it for our edification. How kind of him. No, it wasn't a joke, and no, it wasn't funny. After I'd finished dry-heaving, I gathered myself enough to grab Tim and run out of there as fast as I could. You should have seen me, it was like I had little wings on my feet.

Why exactly does modern art inspire such intense malaise and overwhelming nausea in me? Allow me to quote our beloved Morrissey and say that it "tells me nothing about my life". Art, for me, is the communication - through means of an artistic craft - of particular ideas, what Keats called our 'higher thoughts'. Messages of philosophical import and relevance. This is obviously a basic and brief formulation of it but for now it will suffice. Modern art rarely has anything relevant to say, and on the occassions that it does, it is executed so poorly and inarticulately that the message being conveyed loses all potence. Damien Hirst cuts a shark in half and stores it in formaldehyde. I'm assuming that was meant to be some sort of insightful meditation on mortality and the frailty of organic matter. Whatever. It tells me nothing about death that I haven't seen expressed far better elsewhere. Aside from it's all-consuming vacuousness, modern art is also lacking in craft and talent. We all know it took Michaelangelo years to paint the roof of the Sistine Chapel, and it was a long slog of blood, sweat and tears for the old boy. How hard was it for Tracey Emin to make up a tent with all her ex-boyfriend's names on it? Agonising and laborious? Doubtful. Some moron turning a shed into a boat and then back into a shed might be impressive from a technical standpoint, but WHERE'S THE TALENT?

In his essay 'On the Origin of the Work of Art', Martin Heidegger suggests that art, through the means of a craft and tools (i.e. raw materials), creates a 'world', which the viewer inhabits. I find this idea convincing because when looking at a beautiful work of art, it can feel like you exist within a world of the artist's creation. You're temporarily whisked away from everyday existence. Do Tracey Emin or Damien Hirst or Bruce Naumann create a 'world' for anyone? It's probably fairly eerie and unsettling seeing a dissected cow in a tank of formaldehyde, but does it have the same element of immersion and escapism that great art gives us? Dan Flavin, whom I mentioned earlier, came quite close to approximating this with his installations, which are very engrossing, but as a noble sage once told me: 'Dan Flavin was basically a glorified light technician'. So where are we left now? I, for one, am left hoping for an imminent global paradigm shift after which the world realises that modern art is a scourge, a virus, a threat to us all. The governments of the world then decide that the Hirsts, Emins and Naumanns all over the globe aren't real artists and they never were, and that they should therefore be fired.

Out of a cannon.

Into the sun.

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