Thursday, 19 July 2012

Twilight of the Daubs

Oh, how we love to trample on our Fallen Gods. Now that summer is upon us, one can scarcely open a quality broadsheet (as they once were) without reading some critic's belated and shocking discovery that Damien Hirst Can't Paint, or that Tracey Emin Can't Draw ( she never said she could, did she?). The truth of the matter is, as ever, much sadder, in its own way almost poignant, pathetic. An artistic movement that was essentially and irrevocably identified by its Youth, has had the tastelessness and temerity - to grow Old. Erstwhile Naked Emperor Damien now gazes out at us sad, grey and bemused from behind his thick glasses like a Poundland Hockney. Tracey Emin chatters interminably to anyone who will listen about the effects of premature menopause, so harsh, so bewildering to one who has never resolved adolescence. We hear little of the rest. Sarah Lucas went to Rehab (Yes to Life, No, No, No to Immortality). Billy Childish still grinds out stubborn landscapes in his Mum's spare bedroom, his hostile stance now as quaint, antique - and relevant -  as that of the Pre-Raphaelites may seem to a modern art history student. In Charles Saatchi's fridge, sacrificial blood drips silently onto Ms Lawson's Meringues, ephemeral as a Chocolate Jesus. The Tents of the Philistines burn unmourned without the city gates. (How ironic that we use the name of the cultured Philistines to denote Art-Haters, when it was the austere, image-phobic Hebrew nomads who were themselves the icon-smashing Islamist Fanatics of their day). Now we jeer and defile the carcase of the murdered Winter King, as we look for something New and Young to take his place. History is rewritten to fit the cycle. True Artists die young - Mozart, Vincent, Keats and Carravaggio. No matter that Picasso was poor into his fifties, or that Kandinsky was over forty when he first turned a painting on its side, lost figuration and founded abstraction. Helen Chadwick did it right - killed by the bacilli whose forms she was attempting to coax into her images, a living but deadly Magic Lantern Show. Yet I am sadder that I shall see no more of her work than satisfied to see the circle properly squared and the myth fulfilled. Once it was the case that the artist grew old and died, but his art lived on. That was true immortality. Over the last century (and a half, more or less), thanks to the Alchemists who gave us the cruel preserving juices of the silver nitrate, we see the artist forever young, frozen and trapped in time, while his work withers and fades in the unforgiving light of the natural calendar. Poor, poor Dorian Hirst with his Botoxed shark, as fresh and lifelike now as Mr Disney's head in its cryogenic vat, emptied of the ideas which gave it purpose, a macabre relic devoid of beauty, devoid of meaning, formaldehyde tears seeping from the seams of the glass coffin where Great Snow White awaits, not the life-giving kiss its puckered, decaying lips still gape open to receive, but the charity of decent burial. In the meantime, Mr Barnum steps up to the tank with a contract, and another pot of Rouge.

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