[A thought experiment]
Let’s be honest – deep down many of us fear advertising is inferior to art. And (less deep down) many others fear that advertising aspires to something loftier but pointless, namely art. However, nobody need worry. For art – the contemporary visual kind – isn’t anything special. Including everything and excluding nothing, it has disappeared up its own backside in a puff of regarding self-regarding meaninglessness.
Novelist, essayist, and copywriter Sean Condon skewers the empty, limitless megalomania of ‘Art’:
For people like Tracy [Emin] and me, Art and Life are both capitalised and inextricably intertwined: everything we do, from getting up in the morning and not showering, to sitting at the kitchen table sucking on a fag and lovely cup of hot, sweet, milky English tea while flicking through Tatler magazine looking for pictures of ourselves at cocktail parties, is about Art. We are never not thinking of ways to make Art. It’s almost like a sickness, a disease we have contracted – but one which we have the grace, generosity, and first-class college degree to share. We are merely the hosts of an exclusive virus whose effects can be enjoyed by everyone. All we require is a sneeze of inspiration, the wet, hacking cough of execution followed by the fever of a gallery bidding war and, BANG – Art!”
Similarly, philosopher and cultural critic Nina Power points to all-encompassing nature of art:
The art market has expanded exponentially and has been losing its shape to achieve monstrous proportions. It is occupying all the space, wildly metastasizing in every possible direction. It is so bloated at the core that it doesn’t seem able anymore to digest all the data. It is on its way to surpass its function. … Today it is difficult to imagine anything that could be excluded from art. Its field has expanded exponentially to include the entire society. Along the way, it has grabbed anything that could be used for its own purpose, recycling garbage, forging communities, investigating political issues and perfumes, tampering with biology etc., simultaneously appearing and disappearing with an ambiguous promiscuity. Art has finally fulfilled the program of Dada with a vengeance, embedding art into life.”
When, as Google have recently done with their Deep Dream project, you take what you yourself confess “is just random noise”, put it in a frame, declare it to be Art, and get people buy it for thousands, we know that what Duchamp started has reached its logical and terminal conclusion. Art is dead. Now we’re just dancing on its grave.
Small wonder that sociologist, philosopher, and cultural theorist, Jean Baudrillard was moved to write art’s obituary:
The adventure of modern art is over. Contemporary art is only contemporary of itself.”
It has ceased to matter in Western culture, and does next to nothing to shape or challenge how we think about ourselves and the world around us.
Granted, there might be some quite wonderful exceptions, but the fact of the matter is that contemporary art’s only consistent line of vigorous enquiry is what it – Art – is. Its only real concern is to declare and sustain its existence. One need look no further than the language it wraps itself up in. With its tortured syntax and breathless insistence on its own perceptiveness and iconoclasm, it serves only to signal that it is Art, and to exclude everyone else:
Combining radical notions of performativity and the body as liminal space, my practice interrogates the theoretical limitations of altermodernism. My work, which traverses disparate realms of object-making such as painting and performance, investigates the space between metabolism and metaphysics and the aporia inherent to such a discourse.”
Self-aggrandising, infinitely self-regarding, endlessly self-examining, incapable of having anything other than a conversation about itself with itself, contemporary art is entirely self-serving. In its bid to draw attention to itself, as the philosopher Roger Scruton puts it:
It is indistinguishable in the end from advertising – with the sole qualification that it has no product to sell except itself.”
Art may well give us the occasional cheap thrill of spectacle – so Instagram-friendly, so good for cool-signalling. But it has no claim to moral, spiritual, or ethical superiority. It isn’t anything special, isn’t anything exalted, and rises above nothing. So we really need not fear that advertising is inferior to art.
Indeed perhaps it the artist who has reason to be fearful. For I would suggest that advertising is eminently superior to contemporary art. It has a purpose beyond its own existence in the pursuit of which, its craft and aesthetics are marshalled. Unlike so much of contemporary art it seeks not to merely proclaim its existence (“I am Advertising!”) but actually to make a difference, to have an effect in the real world. In doing so it publicises the things that give us pleasure and satisfaction, it recognises that it is nothing without the engagement of its audience, and it seeks to find a common ground of interest and meaning with that audience. It is transparent about that purpose. And there is no conspiracy and no con-trick.
So fuck art.
Jean Baudrillard, The Conspiracy of Art
Sean Condon, The Secret of Success is A Secret
Freize Magazine, ‘A Serious business: What is means to be a professional artist’, 12.03.09
Roger Scruton, ‘The great swindle‘