Mr. Thin Ideas

Irish News olumn
Irish News 3rd April 2000

A favourite to win next year’s Turner Prize must be the Danish artist, who fills cows’ udders with milk, then hangs them on clothes’ lines across the ceiling of the Tate Gallery where they drip their contents on to the visitors below.
Sounds like a winner, doesn’t it? However its not true; I’ve just made it up. But why should we be disposed to believe that such a nonsense might be true? An unmade bed with soiled sheets, dirty knickers, condoms and all the inconsequential detritus of some sloven’s bedroom almost won the prize last year. Its perfectly plausible, therefore, to believe that the cows’ udders might be a potential winner.
The Advertising Men who have taken over the art world like that sort of thing: It makes them feel at home by reminding them of the inanities of TV commercials and Pop Videos. The perfect advertisement, we are told, should neither contain words of more than two syllables nor sentences with dependent clauses. This is to ensure that the public remembers the product without the necessity of thinking.
Charles Saatchi is an advertising man.
His gallery in London is staging an exhibition this month and its title ;- “ Ant Noises”, reflects the sound-bite thinking behind it. “Ant Noises” is an anagram of “ Sensation “, which was the title given to Saatchi’s own collection when it was on show at the Royal Academy in 1997. That exhibition, to Saatchi’s delight, gained notoriety by reputedly causing offence to some people.
This year’s exhibition has caused offence before it opens. The offending artwork is Damien Hirst’s 20 ft bronze, torso of a man, partially sectioned to reveal the internal organs; Lungs, heart, stomach and outer sinews. The people who are offended by it are the manufacturers of a child’s educational toy. They feel that Hirst’s sculpture is simply a twenty foot, bronze copy of their plastic, anatomical toy. The plaything in question can be bought in any large toy-shop for approximately £15. Charles Saatchi, however paid Hirst £ 1million for his bronze version.
Hirst has called his sculpture “Hymn”. This clever play on words is typical of the complex thinking which underpins all of Hirst’s work.
Incidentally, I was speaking to a staff member of Goldsmith’s College where Hirst studied. He said to me,
“ Did you know that, MR.THIN IDEAS, is an anagram of DAMIEN HIRST?”
The real casualty of such exhibitions, however, is not the sensitivity of the audience, but the sensitivity of the artist. Hirst himself maintained that he always wanted to be a painter, but that he was; “ overwhelmed by the infinite possibilities of painting.”
It was in fact too difficult and too demanding for him so he took the advertiser’s road to success where fame is more important than artistic achievement. Today’s aspiring young artists now feel, that in order to achieve success, they must ignore their hard earned skills, forget about the complex world of visual sensitivity and, cultivate instead, the big signature and the trite message.
The result has been the proliferation of “rag-day” art; all stunt and no content::- The tinned turds of Piero Manzoni, the juvenile, toilet obsessions of Gilbert and George and even, unnecessary surgical operations for Art’s sake. Imagination has become detached from creativity allowing mental dysfunction to become art practice.
Of course we are offended by some of today’s art. We are offended by it in much the same way as we are offended, when, an insurance salesman masquerades as a financial advisor;
Both insult our intelligence.
Intelligence. That’s the crux of the matter. People, artists included, don’t like to appear to be stupid , so sometimes they allow self-deception and pretence to replace their judgement, and, like Polonius are prepared to see whales and camels in the clouds.

I am reminded of a time when I worked at Art College.
An amorphous mass of undifferentiated rubbish was lying on the studio floor. The day was done and the cleaners had arrived for their shift. A colleague and I were about to go home when one of the cleaning ladies approached us; Pointing to the tangled mass on the floor, she said; “ Is that rubbish or art?”
My colleague raised an eyebrow questioningly at me;
“ Is it an MA student’s work?”
We looked at the jumble on the floor and decided to play safe;
“Better leave it there, it might be art”

© Joseph Mc Williams 3rd April 2000