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Saturday, 1 September 2007

on beauty

It must be fashionable just now to speak of beauty as being unfashionable, at least so far as art and its practitioners and admirers are concerned. I have latterly come across several, some from either camp, talking as though beauty was either something to be weeded out of a "serious" piece of artwork or something of no consequence either way. Sometimes it is a question of one man's beauty another man's yuk, or even the confusion of "serious" with beauty. For me the whole issue was somehow encapsulated in the sad story of Jack Vettriano, he of "The Singing Butler" fame (£744,000 at auction), he who was originally, just plain Jack Hoggans. Jack Hoggans made an executive decision to change his name (a marketing ploy) and put commercial success before critical acclaim. Some would say before art, certainly before serious art (a definition of which must wait for another post). He succeeded, surely beyond his wildest dreams and now finds himself irritated by the carping and sniping of fellow artists who are obviously not a little resentful of his success. He is entitled to be. But he is equally at odds with the critics for their low opinion of his work, though it is not so easy to see why he should resent them. He deliberately turned his back on what he knew to be their standpoints. They sre not only within their rights, but duty-bound to say "We think this is not how it should be!".He went a different road and cannot now complain if they say so.

I suppose it was always so: there must always have been portraitists who were willing to flatter sitters (perhaps forgetting why they took up their brushes in the first place) for popular success - and artists who, sticking to their first principles, became jealous of that success. And from very early days there were probably artists frustrated when work was rejected for for not matching the wallpaper or some other trivial reason. And feeding that frustration, there would have been those who were willing to sacrifice other things in order to match the wallpaper for the sake of a few bucks - as they were perfectly entitled to do. Nothing wrong with that.

On the page facing the Vettriano story Grayson Perry was interviewing another artist commanding six-figure price tags, the sculptor Gary Hume, a workaholic and a man consumed by self-doubt, but one who does what he does from a "love of seeing and making".
Nothing wrong with that, either. Just don't compare Vittriano and Hume or judge one by the standards of the other. They are in different occupations. They are doing different jobs.

The two images are from the Wikipedia site. (Click for Gary Hume
Click for Jack Vettriano) They are: The Singing Butler and Gary Hume's Water Painting, which is in The Tate.

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