Friday, May 20, 2011

Art, pleasure and Tracey Emin's bed

Critic Peter Craven reminds us that quality art gives people pleasure, citing recent scientific research:

It was reported last week that Professor Semir Zeki of University College, London, took a group of human guinea pigs and discovered there was increased blood flow in the part of the brain associated with pleasure and desire when people liked a painting and that according to the measurements - the MRI scan - the increase was a bit like looking at someone you were in love with.

Many people - and particularly fusty ol' tory types like myself - certainly concur with this view. We believe that there should be some grace and (dare I say it) beauty in art.

But many of today's culture vultures hold a very different view. They think that the main point of art should be to shock and confront people, particularly those who are a tad squeamish. Hence the obsession with body fluids.

A classic example is Tracey Emin's My Bed. According to Wikipedia:

The artwork generated considerable media furore, particularly over the fact that the bedsheets were stained with body secretions and the floor had items from the artist's room (such as condoms, a pair of knickers with menstrual period stains, other detritus, and functional, everyday objects, including a pair of slippers). The bed was presented as it had been when Emin had not got up from it for several days due to suicidal depression brought on by relationship difficulties.

If you had any knowledge of Emin's art, particularly her 1995 piece Everyone I Have Ever Slept With, then it's pretty easy to see why she had such, er, relationship difficulties in the first place.

Also, the public and critical revulsion at the piece's grottiness is also understandable considering that its creation clearly required no skill. It's just kind of plonked there in front of you. Sure, it's poignant in a way. But that's about it. It sure doesn't have any real grace, beauty or aesthetic value.

Well, at least not in the eyes of most normal folk. Perhaps her numerous supporters find it beautiful and pleasurable in the way that Craven outlined. If that's the case then they are even sadder than the piece. (Hey, there's an idea! Maybe Emin should just round up some of her screwed up devotees and have them stand in the corner of the gallery. She could call this living, breathing installation My Fans.)

Still, you've got to hand it to those sad sacks. They are numerous and influential enough to give Emin an international reputation. So much so that her seminal (or should that be periodical?) artwork will soon be displayed in the Art Gallery of South Australia. Say what you want about My Bed, it certainly does have legs.


  1. I'm sorry, it's difficult to take you seriously when you quote from wikipedia...
    I also fail to see why art must have 'beauty'. Most 'shock art' is made to challenge and break taboos.

  2. I see you haven't replied Mr Comedian... I was holding this hoping you would reply but since you haven't I'll just say it anyway.
    Avant-garde, possibly one of the biggest movements in art history, is all about pushing the boundaries and shocking the audience.
    But I suppose you could always go on Wikipedia and change it considering it's your only source...

    Thank you, I'll be here all week.