Stuckist Critique of Damien Hirst (2000)

by Billy Childish, Charles Thomson
December 2000

By the Stuckists (est 1999) / anti-anti-art / the first remodernist art group

In the 19th century, the art establishment was sure of its greatness. Critics, artists, collectors and curators agreed that the standards they proclaimed were of great art and would endure. They were wrong.

The current art establishment is likewise sure of its greatness. Critics, artists, collectors and curators agree that the standards they proclaim are of great art and will endure. They are also wrong.

The fact that this current establishment is only open to those who put themselves forward as anti-establishment is its truest irony.

In fact, the career of Damien Hirst, its most successful proponent, was launched by advertising mogul Charles Saatchi’s invention of YBAs rather as one might launch a new product such as a jar of coffee.

Art, to have value, must have meaning and the first person to experience this is its creator. This is why an artist such as Vincent Van Gogh could endure hardships of poverty and obscurity.

It is inconceivable, on the other hand, that anyone would spend 20 years pickling sheep for the sheer love of it. This is because the primary motivation of such work is not its intrinsic worth but its employment as a commodity and for the celebrity status it brings its manufacturer.

Hirst’s best known work is a tiger shark in a tank of formaldehyde. It is titled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. This purports to address a profound issue but renders its author not an artist but a cumbersome poet with a rather excessive visual aid.

A major current critical fallacy is to assume that the display of an object, which is an intrinsic part of an experience, in any way interprets a theme or deals with the issue of that experience.

A dead shark displayed as an art work does not tell us anything about death (or for that matter about sharks) that we would not know through the ordinary experience of seeing a dead shark, completely regardless of its art context.

A dead shark in a tank of formaldehyde does not address the issue of death: it is just dead. The only possible comment that it makes is that to be dead is like being in a contemporary art gallery.

Though best known for his installations, Hirst also paints. His spin-paintings are produced by pouring paint on a spinning canvas; his dot-paintings are rows of randomly coloured dots. This mechanical method of painting is said to mirror the processes of contemporary society.

Thus again we find a direct equivalent to Victorian academia, whose sentimental, moralising genre pieces did exactly the same for their age. The fact that Hirst’s work does mirror society is not its strength but its weakness – and the reason it is guaranteed to decline artistically (and financially) as current social modes become outmoded.

What Hirst has insightfully observed of his spin-paintings in Life and Death and Damien Hirst is the only comment that needs to be made of his entire oeuvre: ‘They’re bright and they’re zany – but there’s fuck all there at the end of the day.’

Billy Childish and Charles Thomson
Co-founders of the Stuckist Art Group
December 2000

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