You’re keeping in step
In the line
Got your chin held high and you feel just fine
’cause you do
What you’re told
But inside your heart it is black and it’s hollow and it’s cold
Just how deep do you believe?
Will you bite the hand that feeds?
Will you chew until it bleeds?
Can you get up off your knees?
Are you brave enough to see?
Do you wanna change it?
What if this whole crusade’s a charade
And behind it all there’s a price to be paid
For the blood on which we dine
Justified in the name of the holy and the divine
[Trent Reznor The Hand That Feeds]
“Remember what the fella said: ln ltaly, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed. But they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. ln Switzerland, they had brotherly love. They had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce?
The cuckoo clock.“
[The Third Man]
“The classic enemy of art has always been the marketplace. There you find the merchant and the charlatan—the man with goods to sell and the man with the snake oil. In the old days you had merchant princes, ex-pushcart peddlers turned into Hollywood moguls, but by and large honest salesmen, trying to give the public what they believed was good—even if it wasn’t—and not seriously invading the artist’s life unless the artist was willing to make that concession. But now we’re in the hands of the snake-oil boys. Among the advertisers, you find artists who have betrayed their kind and are busy getting their brethren hooked on the same drug. The advertising profession is largely made up of unfrocked poets, disappointed novelists, frustrated actors and unsuccessful producers with split-level homes. They’ve somehow managed to pervade the whole universe of art, so that the artist himself now thinks and functions as an advertising man. He makes expendable objects, deals in the immediate gut kick, revels in the lack of true content. He paints a soup can and calls it art. A can of soup, well enough designed, could be a work of art; but a painting of it, never.” [Orson Welles in conversation with Kenneth Tynan for Playboy]
Modern art was born ugly. “It was Matisse who took the first step into the undiscovered land of the ugly,” an American critic wrote, describing the 1910 Salon des Indépendents in Paris. “The drawing was crude past all belief, the color was as atrocious as the subject. Had a new era of art begun?” Even Matisse himself was sometimes shocked by his creations. According to his biographer Hilary Spurling, “His own paintings filled him with perturbation. At some point in 1901 or 1902 he slashed one of them with a palette knife.” [Paul Trachtman Matisse & Picasso]
When Henri first went public with his paintings the audience (and the critics) lost their damned minds. All manner of bad news must have rained down on him. “A pot of paint has been flung in the face of the public…” Critics were routinely merciless, fearful, spiteful and vindictive about his painting. How many of us could take that kind of beating? Not many I can assure you.
But even if you are being called the world’s worst you’ve still got to make a living – in spite of the critics and anyway you can. Bring home the bacon – as Andy used to say so that you can keep working. After all you have to feed that money hungry art monkey on your back. But let’s be real here – very, very few of us ever make a living from art. And that monkey is a horrible, greedy beast. That’s why if you talk with an artist during those hungry times many of them sound like they’re in desperate need of a twelve step program.
“What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, an art which could be for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.” [Henri Matisse]
Always loved the irony in Matisse’s armchair sales pitch. Without any doubt – that Geezer’s work was all about pure rebellion, challenge, questions, and as Hilary Spurling said above – ‘perturbation’. He was trying to upset the system and doing whatever he could to make that happen. Of course he wasn’t serious about that armchair – was he?
And yet – there he is in his three piece tailored combo, posing in that very bourgeois parlor. Why? Well, you’ve got to understand – at times, especially with big money on the line – you just can’t scare the straights – at least not too much. Most collectors are comfortable with the idea that an artist is a “bit off”, but only just a bit. They’re paying for that credenza, the lifestyle in Nice and the next project while hoping that somewhere down the line their investment in this artist will pay off – big. Look, some wild eyed louche douche in a garret doesn’t inspire long-term confidence. Well, maybe in the music business – but not in the art world. Stability, steadiness, reliability – that’s the thing.
Henri’s career-making lesson wasn’t lost on Jeff, of course. Monsieur Koons certainly looks the part of the NeoLiberal CEO. Tom Ford suit – carefully cultured hairdo – private jet – family man with a spiritual plan – outsourced everything – the perfect culturally inclusive rap for the masses. It’s all very tenable and respectable. But he’s also the appropriator, creator and star of “Made in Heaven” – a sybarite’s dream! And it all works for everyone involved…
The 21st Century’s idea of irony is that there isn’t supposed to be any irony – just like IPO valuations, CEO salaries and bankers’ bonuses. Success comes down to this: understand that packaging sells, look like your audience, talk in measured tones, and anything you market, say and do will be acceptable. Anything.