For the best part of two decades I was gainfully employed in an educational establishment which included a School of Art and throughout that time my peers always regarded me as an uncultured, uneducated Philistine. And why would they be so rude as to condemn me to the everlasting disdain usually reserved for the audience of the Jeremy Kyle Show? My lack of understanding of modern art, of the meaningless crap for which modern day artists are rewarded for believing that things, like flicking a light switch on and off repeatedly, or drowning a sheep in formaldehyde, are art. They’re not. They’re the deranged machinations of scruffy hippies whose only real purpose in life is to take the piss. And boy do they do it well.
Only marginally more deranged, but infinitely more immoral than the hippies, are the morons who encourage them, reward them for their time wasting with a suitcase full of used bank notes from a Lottery Fund that has been paid for out of the pockets of ordinary, decent working people. Don’t they realise just how insulting it is to the poor bastard who put the light switch together in the first place, sweating forty hours a week on a production line so that others might find their way to bed without hacking lumps out of their shins?
No, of course not. It’s art.
To prove my point, some time ago a young woman who toiled alongside me doing proper work expressed an interest in seeing the artistic creations of another of our colleagues, John (that’s not Dave’s real name, I changed that so as not to embarrass him), who is a sculptor; in truth he hacks indistinguishable objects out of, well, anything that’s left lying around really, mangled chicken wire, wood, metal, cardboard, a rusty old pram left lying in his garden to rot. Nothing is safe, not even the rabbit hutch that John demolished leaving the distraught bunny homeless and at the mercy of next door’s dog. Fortunately, next door’s dog was a miniature Dachshund and Jessica was able to see him off or John might have found himself weaning a litter of unwanted Dachbunnies.
On the morning following her vague expression of interest, John turned up with a box filled with photographs of blocks of stone and lumps of concrete hacked into – I was going to say shapes, but that would give credence to the idea that there was any kind of planning in his creations – which he spread out across a large table; and for half an hour I watched and listened with increasing disbelief as he enthusiastically interpreted every single one of them for the young woman whose squinting eyes and furrowed brow clearly attested to the fact she had not the vaguest idea what she was looking at.
The young woman took particular interest in one of the photographs, frowning quizzically as she turned it first one way and then the other; so John went to great lengths to explain it to her. But – and this is my point – if he had done his job properly in the first place, then there would have been no need to explain it to her, she would have known instantly it was meant to be a cow, a beast normally portrayed as having a shiny coat, doey eyes and milk filled udders that dump steaming pats in paddocks for unsuspecting ramblers and country folk to tread in. But what she was presented with was totally unrecognisable as anything living or dead, a hideously disfigured, concrete gargoyle that looked like it was the result of an experiment in triangular geometry that went terribly wrong.
The truth is, from the photograph the only hint that his creation might be the animal in question, a Friesian Heifer, was the watery substance dribbling down from what John insisted were the disfigured beast’s udders (why they should be in the middle of its forehead I don’t know). But his bumbling explanation didn’t hold water, and on taking a closer look it was patently obvious he had taken the photograph in the rain, the paint had started to run and he was making that bit up, thinking on the hoof, so to speak.
Finally, John turned to me and inquired with a warm and expectant smile “so, what do you think, Tez?”
I hesitated. “Yes, very nice, John,” I said trying not to hurt his feelings.
He’s not thick, John, and he has a very keen sense of knowing when someone is lying through their teeth just to humour him.
“No”, he insisted emphatically, “what do you really think?”
“I think it’s a load of arty-farty bollocks” I replied instantly feeling guilty I hadn’t even blinked before castigating his work. I needn’t have worried.
“That’s brilliant,” he chirped
“What?” I gasped nonplussed.
“At least it elicited a response”
“But I just called your work a load of bollocks”
“Yeah, I know” he replied beaming. “That’s great. It elicited a response… and that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Art. Eliciting a response”.
As John scooped up his photographs (some of them were out of focus, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and concede he was trying to be arty) he seemed genuinely chuffed. And when he had left I got to thinking, where did all this come from, where did it start? It can’t be that these artists are so inept they’re incapable of creating something recognisable, some of them are bright, funny guys, I really like them. So maybe, back in the day, one of them simply got up after a night of heavy drinking and inhaling opium, taken a look at what he’d created the night before while slaughtered and realised he’d completely ruined two tons of marble; and with marble being so expensive and in order to appease his sponsors and save himself from certain death (or worse still having to go out and work for a living) he convinced them it was the new thing that was sweeping Europe and the world, deep, philosophical works that can only be deciphered by those with the sharpest of intellectual minds… modern art.
And, of course, they believed him.
And it’s still bollocks.