We’re now well into the thirteenth hour, where basically all modern art is the epitome of what’s wrong with modern art. I try to read the culture pages of newspapers, but it’s hard-going for that reason. For instance, I’ve been stewing over a piece in the Christmas Eve Oz by Bronwyn Wilson for all these weeks. It has to do with Ann Thomson’s Change Takes Time, which Jason Smith awarded the Geelong Contemporary Art Prize back in 2002.
It’s utter, utter garbage. Wilson calls the painting ‘richly textured’, composed with ‘broad, confident gestures’, which ‘gives the impression of being freshly painted’.
Of course, it is ‘richly textured’. But so is my bathroom door, which was done by the old woman who owned the house before me. She, too, used ‘broad, confident gestures’ – over-confident, really, because she wasn’t very good and just lapped too much paint on it. If I’d hired her to do that job, I’d refuse to pay her – though I might offer Jason Smith $25,000 for it.
This is why our art galleries and museums are empty. It doesn’t matter what wine-and-cheese monkeys say: no one thinks this is good, or important, or meaningful. They don’t even think it’s ‘meaningful in its lack of meaning’ or any of that pomo nonsense. It’s just bad. No: it’s shit.
Let this be my great contribution to art criticism. We’ll no longer call modern art ugly or pretentious or any of that: we’ll call it shit. We won’t give the mongrels that birthed them the dignity of deconstructing it, of engaging it in any way. We won’t give them the privilege of calling us philistines. Simply dismiss them out of hand, which is exactly what they deserve. Heap scorn and abuse on them. Hurt their feelings until they snap their brushes and fling their easels out the window.
Now go to the nearest gallery or museum, plant yourself in front of the worst offender, and quietly whisper to passers-by, ‘Wow, what a load of shit.’ Hail the curator and complain: ‘Excuse me, sir, it looks like someone’s put a bit of shit on the wall there.’ Find a Q&A with a celebrated artist and ask why it is that he insists on painting such utter, utter shit. If there’s a public installation in your city or town, write to your local member and insist they strike that shit from the skyline at once. (If you’re in Sydney, I recommend the UTS tower, or whatever that shit’s called.) Public spaces are our spaces, and the bien-pensants have no right to stuff our eyes full of this shit. Our museums, too, are fundamentally ours: they’re repositories of our shared inheritance, our culture, and this modernist shit has no business loitering there.
You’ll say I’m crude and mean-spirited, maybe even a sort of cultural terrorist. Be my guest. But, like it or not, this would be the greatest service we could pay to these ‘artists’. As it stands, the shit they’re churning out now is generally ignored by the mass of men; those who are aware of it simply mock it. A few bum-sniffing snobs have made it their business to celebrate this shit and encourage those who produce it, which is truly cruel. They’re dooming these poor souls to permanent ridicule and infamy. Those with no talent should be told they have no talent so they might find a more useful occupation.
Those who do have talent, however, won’t be discouraged. They’ll find new forms to work in – classical forms, beautiful forms, forms with meaning and order and spiritual power – that will earn them the esteem and affection of untold generations. They’ll become like the immortal heroes of our culture, rather than discarded scraps in its rubbish-bin. Or, if you prefer, its shitter.
To this end I’m proud to announce the establishment of the Brian Sewell Memorial Foundation for Telling Shitty Artists Their Art is Shit. Please give generously, before it’s too late.
Illustration: Saatchi Art, Million Dollar Shit, Michal Trpak, Czech Republic, sculpture, mixed media on other.