Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Tracey Emin and Tony Hancock

What should we make of the news that Tracey Emin is threatening to go into exile in France as a protest against the new 50p tax rate?

Sometimes these cases are clear.

In the case of bankers, we clearly cannot afford the risk that we shall have to bail them out again, so it is better that they leave.

In the case of Michael Caine, it would be a shame to lose him.

Tracey Emin is A more difficult case. None of us wants to be the sort of philistine who thinks it is clever to laugh at modern art, but I share Nick Cohen's view that the rise of the Young British Artists makes a pretty good metaphor for the emptiness of the City boom under Labour.

I also have doubts about conceptual art. It makes the object to be admired, not the work of art itself, but an idea in the artist's head. This seems to put the artist beyond criticism and relies on a theory - that a work is given its meaning solely by the artist's intentions - that does not survive much study of aesthetics.

Still, I wish Emin well. It's just that I fear her exile in France may resemble that of Tony Hancock in his film The Rebel:
Frustrated by office routine and his landlady's lack of sympathy for his painting and sculpting, Tony Hancock moves to Paris, and falls in with an artistic set. His dreadful paintings are acclaimed by a collection of weird bogus intellectuals, and his room-mate, Paul, a genuinely good painter, returns to England in despair. Paul's paintings are mistaken for Hancock's by Sir Charles Brouard, an art critic and dealer, and Hancock finds himself acclaimed as a great painter on the strength of them. 
Commissioned to produce a statue of a rich patron's apparently nymphomaniac wife, Hancock presents another version of the monstrosity he had been working on in London. It is not appreciated. 
In London, Hancock finds himself having to produce a set of paintings in a hurry for a show arranged by Sir Charles. He calls in Paul - who is now painting in Hancock's infantile style. In Paul's hands, however, the results are once again acclaimed. Hancock abandons the pretence, introduces Paul to Sir Charles, and defiantly returns to his old rooms to resume his sculpting.
I suppose my attitude to Emin is rather like that of Hancock's landlady at the start of the film. Informed that the hideous statue taking up most of his bedroom is "impressionist", she replies:
"Well, it doesn't impress me. I want it out of here."


burkesworks said...

I'm still waiting for Tracey to produce anything with a fraction of the artistic merit of Aphrodite At The Waterhole.

Nich Starling said...

I wrote about this and her the other day.

I want art to be something I am incapable of producing, like good football or music. I don't want it to be something I could do better.

If I heard someone playing a guitar as badly as me or playing football as badly as me then i wouldn't pay to see or hear it. Sadly, what Emin produces is not as good as I can do I can art lesson with a bunch of seven year olds.