13 Sep

ArtBTheatreTitleMy original commentary on this text is here: An experimental, rarefied field for the art exhibition. Scroll down for the video. As usual, I’ve beeped out the perp’s name because I find it funnier. Discover the identity of the person who made a fool of themselves by following the link.

This week’s dramatic reading of an artist statement involves a fundamental building block of the artbollocks edifice: rather than being a mere maker of images, the artist is supposedly some kind of metaphysical investigator who is questioning life, philosophy and reality with the paradigm-busting rigour of an Einstein, a Nietszche or a Darwin. Occasionally some artists do exactly that and so they should, but the ones who genuinely are avant garde rarely go around trying to impress everyone with how clever and 4 REALZ they are by saying (or implying) that their art is so vital it shatters the very fabric of reality.


I make a good Sherlock though, don’t I? When you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

Sherlock Holmes is a consulting detective, and a sociopathic genius. He investigates crimes that stump the ordinary police force because the logic of the situation is not amenable to solution via conventional ways of thinking. Artists: you may well be sociopathic, you may enjoy illegal drugs, and you may dress like an “unconventional” (i.e. mentally ill) heiress who fell over in Oxfam, or like an unconventional, colourblind Young Conservative farmer… but you are probably not a genius and you are almost certainly no Sherlock Holmes so could you please immediately and henceforth stop saying you’re investigating things.

Many artists don’t even grasp the basic concepts of rhetoric, arguing a proposition, practical, methodical and replicable research methods or any of the other borrowed clothes they like to swan around in from time to time. Despite this problem– or perhaps because of it– it’s become very fashionable for artists to claim that their work is research-based. Like any art world or pedagogical fad, this one has swept up a great many artists whose work does not benefit from the company in which it finds itself, except as a self-conscious fig leaf for lack of intelligent content and/or any discernable talent. Anyway, there’s nothing wrong with an artist being concerned with aesthetics, expression or process instead of pretending they’re some kind of pseudo-academic.

I think the whole thing is a major unintended consequence of so many artists having to support themselves by teaching, or being more or less forced onto a BA>MA>PhD treadmill that eats up the best years of their youth to no particular avail, or (often) both of these situations simultaneously. In particular the neither-fish-nor-fowl Masters or PhD by Art Practice type of study infects fundamentally non-academic artists and art practices with an inferiority complex and an accompanying fear of and disdain for art that can’t be justified in the context of critical theory, or doesn’t need to be.

I’m not dismissing research or academic approaches when they actually serve a purpose. I’ve always worked with a sense of methodical inquiry, but then I really do understand logic, empirical research and the scientific method, and I also have sufficient knowledge of (for example) genetics and genomics to work successfully and credibly with some of the world’s leading scientists in those subjects. I do not have an MA or a PhD, although I’ve been reliably informed that I could do. There are many other artists who work in very interesting, innovative ways with science or technology. It’s fairly safe to say that few or none of the good ones ever indulge themselves in woolly talk about “questioning notions of [x]” or “investigating the [something] of [something else]”. Instead they work out what they want to achieve and then they experiment and research ways of doing so. QUIETLY AND WITHOUT SHOWING OFF LIKE A BABY WHO JUST DID THEIR FIRST PROPER SOLID IN THE POTTY.

Previous episodes: Oscillating, Noesis, Pschogeography, Haptic.


  1. erickuns 13/09/2013 at 11:22 AM #

    Wonderful commentary. Ah, when I was in art school my fellow students were always “investigating” things which were really, very “important”, and their work was justified in critical theory. The placard said it all. I rejected the paradigm and was rejected by it. I went to work in a warehouse.

  2. Alistair 19/09/2013 at 5:18 PM #

    Reblogged this on Alistair Gentry.

  3. Alistair 10/10/2013 at 8:27 AM #

    Vimeo had one of its occasional random funny turns and created a few seconds of black in the video. I’ll get this fixed ASAP.



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