Dead Sharks and Unmade Beds

'Man Eater' copyright chris niblock 2010

In all the controversy over the availability or lack of it, of tickets for the London Olympics, the cultural festival that runs alongside it, seems to have been largely overlooked by the media. This could be set to change with the announcement that Tracey Emin, of ‘My Bed’ fame, has recently been named as one of twelve artists who are to design posters for the Olympic and Paralympic games. Miss Emin has a way with words certainly but judging by her artworks at least, has a somewhat limited vocabulary. When it comes to posters four letter words do have one advantage in so far as they are short and to the point, but unless the organisers want to add to the controversy which already surrounds the games, she’ll have to come up with some longer words. She also misspelled Picasso on one of them which doesn’t bode well.

For many of us, modern art is a bit like marmite– you either love it or you hate it. And the work of Britart artists in particular, has in recent years aroused a great deal of heated debate about the nature of art. Can a dead shark suspended in formaldehyde or a rumpled bed be art? I get out of bed every morning and leave the bed-clothes in a state of disarray: have I just created a piece of art or am I simply being a lazy slob? When I go back later to remake it, I often find myself agonising over the destruction of this masterwork of mine.

French playwright Yasmina Retza wrote a very clever and wonderfully funny play about modern art. Entitled ‘Art’, its plot is a deceptively simple one: three friends, Serge, Marc, and Yvan, are forced to reassess the nature of their long running friendship when Serge pays a huge sum for an abstract painting which consists of barely visible white lines on a white canvas. Serge and Marc fall out in a big way when Marc describes the painting as a ‘piece of sh*t’. Yvan’s attempt to reconcile his two friends succeeds only in widening the chasm that has opened up between them. It could be argued that the play is more about the nature of friendship than about art, but it provides plenty to chew over on both subjects.

Perhaps in the end, it comes down to this: it’s not what you see when you look at a work of art that makes it art for you, but what you think you see.

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