Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

Why modern art really should be off the wall

Drawing the line: not all Andy Warhol's art was great

If you want to make me angry, you only have to mention two words – modern art. Call me a philistine if you like, but I consider a lot of contemporary art a complete con. Like the emperor's new clothes, it's an industry which trades on getting away with fraud by telling those who don't rate it that they're missing the point. You don't appreciate it because you aren't intelligent enough to get what it's all about. Your brain isn't creative enough to understand these depths of genius. What a load of rubbish, is what I say to that.

What I really despise is the conceptual and abstract malarkey. What some artists pass off as work is actually quite breath-taking.

My rule of thumb is whether or not I would be capable of doing a piece myself. And I'm not remotely artistic, so that's a pretty generous space to operate in. Am I capable of coming up with a thought-provoking Banksy? A simple image which conveys a strong political or moral message? No, I'm not. Could I mess up my bed, a la Tracey Emin? Yes, I could. Could I paint two different coloured stripes on a canvas and give it an enigmatic name? Yes, I probably could. Before you argue, it's the concept and not the end product, please save your breath.

Let me present you with some evidence to back up my rant. Take Andy Warhol, whose exhibition at the Mac I was unfortunate enough to visit and left full of rage. I concede that Warhol is a brilliant artist. He's a pioneer of pop art whose talent has deservedly given him a lasting reputation. But that's not to say he didn't get away with a few duds just because, well, he's Andy Warhol.

Silver helium balloons languishing on a ceiling? Children do that every day of the week and they don't go down in art history. Please tell me what the difference is. A film consisting of five hours and 20 minutes of someone sleeping? Give me strength. We'll be lauding the live night feed from the Big Brother house next.

I can already feel my blood pressure starting to rise in anticipation of the Turner Prize coming to Londonderry for the UK City of Culture later this year. Have you had a look at some of the previous winners?

In 2001, Martin Creed won for a piece called The Lights Going On and Off. It consisted of an empty room in which the lights ... went on and off. The 2007 winner Mark Wallinger is known for a film called Sleeper in which he dressed up as a bear and wandered through an empty museum. If I did that, I'd get arrested. When an artist does it, it's art, darling!

I'll make another concession; this year's nominees (perhaps disappointingly) are all people I would consider proper artists. I won't be in the queue to see their work, but I promise not to consider those of you who are complete mugs.

Before you think I'm a complete ignoramus of all art, I have tried to make an effort. I went to the Louvre once. Okay, I only looked through the panes of that pyramid-thing. I spent the next morning in Paris at the Musee d'Orsay. Trailing round the endless galleries gave me sore feet but it was worth it when Van Gogh finally came along. I had a fleeting moment of epiphany.

There is an argument that the beauty of abstract art is that it allows a large degree of personal interpretation. So if I interpret something as a complete con, isn't that opinion as valid as the next person's?

Here's my final concession on modern art. I accept that a good piece should have the power to provoke a strong reaction. And perhaps in making me as angry as it does, it has done its job perfectly well.

'I have tried to make an effort. I went to the Louvre once and looked at that pyramid thing'

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