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Friday, 12 September 2008

Tracey Emin : two questions

I came across two observations by Tracey Emin in The Independent of 08/08/08 which I thought might be worthy of further consideration and comment. I had planned to use the following in a somewhat longer post at some time in the future, but then reading comments to my Heads, tails, both or neither post, thought it might be more relevant and to that extent more intersting to post them now.

The first followed a description of the effort involved in the installation of her retrospective exhibition at The Edinburgh Festival,
as part oof which she complained about how personal were most of the reviews - not surprising really, I thought, given that the exhibition, like most of her work, is focussed on the personal aspects of her life and its hardships. Then came a comment about how great it would be if she was to die and it turned out that all her work had been made by a really thick-jawlined 6ft 2in Geordie guy and that she herself had hardly ever existed. It's a topic that comes up frequently in one form or another, Tracey just makes it personal, because that is what she does, life having made of her what it has. The basic question, though, is: What difference would/should it make to a work of art if it was suddenly discovered to have been made by someone else? (You could argue, of course, that the question cannot be asked of Tracey, because the work, being what it is, could not have existed in her absence. That does not affect the validity of the question, of course.


She then went on to suggest that most of us, given the choice, would not have come here (i.e. been born) to this planet, to everything I know, uninvited. But this is why I feel so lucky. Art came and got me. Art with its big ideas and its engulfing arms picked me up and swept meaway to another world. It is another of our familiar modern cries: does evrything (life) have to have a meaning? If so, where does that meaning originate?I have to agree with Tracey that life has no meaning except we human beings give it one. (I have not always thought that.) Where she and I part company is ober her contention that art can supply The Big Idea that will give life meaning. It is not the artist's role, I fear, to do that. The artists role, it seems to me, is to work within the framework of the big idea, to express, expound - and maybe to extend - it. Michelangelo did not originate the big ideas on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. He expounded them, developed some, propogated some offshoots, but the big ideas themselves he had found in the scriptures. The scriptures themselves were not the source. The big ideas predated even them. The scriptures, too, were working within the framework set be society. The scriptures have long ago lost their pre-eminent position. So have the priests along with them. There are various candidates out to succeed them: artists, philosophers, scientists. The latter seem to be winning - is that where society took the wrong turn?

19 comments:

Dick said...

I'm assuming that Tracey Emin, somewhat like Vladimir and Estragon, is still awaiting the arrival of the art-borne Big Idea. I see little evidence of its embodiment in her work so far.

Jim Murdoch said...

On her 'Geordie guy' comment, this brings up an issue I've had with art every since I learned about Warhol's Factory, although I know the practice precedes him, and that is the relationship between the artist and his or her work. It's becoming more common for an artist to step back from the coal face and leave the grunt work to others. I saw a piece recently – a cube made out of staples or some such stationery item – where the artist never touched the thing, they sent the components to the galley with a sheet of instructions on how to assemble. This bothers me. I know that ghost-writing happens but it's looked down on. What would happen if I sent a pile of words in a bag to a magazine with a note: 'Some assembly required'? That said, IF Emin's art had been assembled by some Geordie does that take away from the quality of the art? The only difference surely would be who should get the plaudits at the end of the day.

Now the subject of meaning is one that has fascinated me for years. The answer is, no, things can exist quite happily without meaning but there exists a compulsion in humans to impose meanings on things and quite often things that were never designed to support meanings, like clouds, stars and blobs of ink. I've been thinking of doing a blog around the subject of artist's statements some time and, of course, there are those in favour and those opposed. One of those in opposition argues that people have become lazy and expect meaning to be laid out on a plate for them rather than examining a work of art and attributing meaning to it themselves. It's an interesting argument. As a writer I've long realised that a book or a poem is a collaborative work and both the writer and the reader brings something to the table which is why the same piece can be both loved and loathed with equal passion. To take up Emin's point: art is a medium, it is the thing in the middle; it does not supply anything but is a conduit – it is the table around which we all sit.

Lucy said...

I'm not rooting for Tracey, particularly, but I often do feel that the big ideas are simply too big, and the creative response to them is the best I can do, that it supplies the nearest I'll get to prayer and the nearest I'll get to an answer to it. Perhaps because I'm woefully aware of the inadequacy of my intellect to grapple with and express the ideas themselves. The thought of losing the will and ability to respond with my own creativity, be it never so 'umble, quite frightens me...

The Weaver of Grass said...

I sometimes think we place too much importance on the authorship of any work of art. A "good" work of art of any kind should stand by itself and sometimes the authorship gets in the way. The purple which Degas uses in some of his work is such a thrilling colour and has such depth for example that I don't think about who has painted the work - the colour transcends that.

Dave King said...

Dick
I think you are mistaken. I have it fom several sources that Tracey believes she has hit on the big idea, indeed, that she regularly hits on it. I hope I am not doing her an injustice. I believe I am not.

Dave King said...

Jim,
I absolutely love your bag of words idea - you should follow that one up, you'll make a million.
Speaking of the relationship between the artist and the work, I read that Damien Hurst had all his several (twelve is the number that springs to mind, but I am not sure of the actual figure) studios dotted around the world working flat out for a year to prepare a body of work for his current sale by auction. That seems to me to be so remote as to be no longer his work inany real sense.
As for meaning, I have a notion that meaning is more personal than we normally allow. I doub there is usually A meaning or the meaning to be gleaned.

Dave King said...

Lucy,
You have brought into the daylight there a feeling with which I am very familiar. I understand exactly what you are saying - or, at least, I think I do, as far as that is ever possible. I have tried on occasion to explore this feeling further, But find it surprisingly difficult to do so. Nice to know I'm not alone, though.

Dave King said...

Weaver of Grass,
Some would like to gt rid of the whole concept of an author or an artist, I know. Personally I think that is taking things too far, but the ground you have opened is the familiar plot of (for example) if you were to discover that a Dregas was not by him, would it matter?

Rachel Fox said...

Hey, Dave...your Tracy posts have brought on various thoughts and now a related a post over my way. Take a look. Your comments required!
x

Dave King said...

You have to hand it to her - our trace is always bringing on new thoughts... or old ones recycled. That must be part of her success.

annie said...

Thanks (belatedly) for the interesting discussion, Dave (and by extension, other commenters).

My mind is on so many trails it's difficult to capture and digest all of them.

I'm trying to answer your last question, but before I can, I think you'll need to convince me that society has taken a wrong turn...

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