Following on from what we actually judge as art, I mentioned briefly the dominance of the celebrity artist as a factor in how art is perceived by the public today. And this is very much true, ever since Andy Warhol revolved his art around his persona, the artist as art has since dominated contemporary trends in visual arts today.
Thanks to Warhol, not only the visual arts were influenced by his “fifteen minutes of fame”, but also popular music. Glam rock stars such as David Bowie cited Warhol as a major influence on his art as well as adopting stage personas (such as Ziggy Stardust) in a Warhol-equse vain which continues on till today with Beyonce’s Sasha Fierce and is also a major influence on Lady Gaga: the idea of a stage or all encompassing persona which becomes a brand. It’s more about the artist than the music (think Britney Spears), and this is also true within visual arts as well.
And there isn’t a more evident use of this trend then in the British art establishment. And there are no two greater examples then Tracy Emin and Damien Hurst. The majority of Emin’s art is about herself. From ‘Bed’ to ‘Everyone I Ever Slept With’, ‘Bed’ is of course her infamous installation piece, which as the title suggests is her actual bed. Complete with used condoms and period stains. ‘Bed’ is perhaps the most audacious piece of self art to have been exhibited. It isn’t about the bed featured, or the items around it, but the person who used it – Emin. There could not be anything more personal than private items which most of us wouldn’t want another human being to see. But these are only remnants of Emin, it was her autobiography Strangeland which left no small secret unturned.
Strangeland, other than being a piece of self art in it’s self, it’s is a seminal piece of non-fiction. Written in child-like prose – there is no extended Dickens-like metaphors and description; it is blunt, tactless, honest and completely compelling. It’s not like an average biography of a celebrity; it feels realistic and entirely personal. Strangeland is, of course a prime example as an artist as a brand. However, whereas Emin gains prominence through the power of her art, her equally infamous contemporary Damien Hurst monopolizes visual art.
Hurst is a direct descendent of Warhol’s ‘factory’ production techniques, designing the art, but doesn’t actually make it himself. I see Hurst as designer-art, whilst Emin is about the persona; Hurst is about production and prestige. His ‘Dots’ painting are a contemporary version of Warhol’s Marilyn screen prints. But nevertheless Hurst is a celebrity artist. It’s the brand and Hurst’s name that attracts its buyers.
I believe there are plus and down sides to contemporary visual arts. One point of view is that this encourages other prospective artists to study art, as there could be gold at the end of the rainbow (so to speak), but at the same time unless you are audacious and incredibly charismatic, you won’t get very far in today’s art world. But then, has Emin and Hurst not gained our respect? Emin lays every bear for us to see and Hurst is an excellent business man. There is a reason why they are as notable as they are. But the popularity of the celebrity artist still leaves a lot of good visual arts out of the lime light.