Hirst and Emin: Artists of Deceit

I have a dear friend – an immensely gifted writer and artist – who not only produces wonderful work of real craft and quality but is faithful to it also. He is his art; his art him. What he creates reflects his character, no more than this, provides a window to his soul, and the soul one finds there, in each work, is perceptive, honest, probing and rich in thought and feeling. His creations can never be described as mediocre, shallow and superficial, these characteristics that define so much of contemporary art and culture.

As I look at his drawings, which can be found everywhere throughout his home, in his kitchen, living room, hallway and landing, I wonder why on earth he is not more valued, his art more appreciated. His work is not only better than many well-known and successful modern artists, but possesses a greater depth and integrity as well. He is perhaps a victim of these noble qualities, however.

Many of us see clearly the shameless and greedy charlatan in Damien Hirst, the false and talentless exhibitionist in Tracey Emin, yet we dare not voice such truths, these faux artists lauded by so many. How can so many be wrong? Quite easily, as history testifies to, many artists though celebrated in their lifetime subsequently judged to be average and overrated. The public is easily led, the likes of Charles Saatchi acutely aware of this. The man can give anything value if he gets behind it sufficiently, puts his name to it.

And yet it is precisely Hirst’s and Emin’s capacity for deceit, and their complicity in Saatchi’s and other collectors’ mercurial profit-making dance, which explains their success. The hollowness of Emin is clear enough when we see her commission for David Cameron – a pink neon sign displaying the words “More Passion”. That is it, the kind of sign you’d expect to see on a shop front. It is not art. She claimed she wanted to give Cameron, the moral conservative, some “cool”. In truth what she gave him was the perception of cool, much needed after he’d locked up so many young people in the aftermath of the London riots. Where Ai Weiwei uses his art to challenge and subvert poor and immoral governance, Emin uses hers to prop it up, now little more than a Conservative Party lackey it seems.

Art must have a moral purpose, even if, in the case of Michel Houellebecq, the enfant terrible of French letters, this intends to illustrate nothing more than the utter foolishness and futility of practically all human endeavour. It must not be driven solely by profit and fame, Hirst and Emin slaves to both. There is little art in Hirst hiring others to make his art. Ai Weiwei might do the same, yet he is motivated by political conscience – to undermine the Chinese Communist authorities – rather than personal greed and vanity. And there is little art in Emin’s patchwork quilts, these works based on the hollow and unimaginative conceit of violent and sexual expletives expressed on something as “wholesome” as a patchwork quilt.

Houellebecq, the great cynic with his mighty sardonic wit, would likely concede this is precisely why they are so successful in this modern age of ours, which has made art out of that which is not art, wealthy fools like Elton John paying millions for their vacuous and unremarkable work. Behind the grand and provocative titles of their works, which you hope like Nietzsche’s writings will express something profound and prophetic about human nature and the human condition, they express nothing but the artists’ deceit – Hirst and Emin are brilliant salespeople, masters of presentation and hype, understanding fully the value of provocation and sensation in order to sell their work. Yet what they are selling is empty and purposeless, serving them but no one else.

About Nick Taussig

Nick Taussig is the author of four critically acclaimed novels: Love and Mayhem, Don Don, Gorilla Guerrilla and The Distinguished Assassin. He has also written for a number of publications including The Guardian, The Independent and The Huffington Post. Marcel Berlins, writing in The Times, called The Distinguished Assassin “gripping, passionate, political and emotional.” Love and Mayhem was described by Alain de Botton as “full of insight and genuine innovation in form and content…capturing brilliantly all the nuances of passion.” Matt Munday of The Sunday Times referred to Don Don as “a great book.” While Gorilla Guerrilla, according to Natasha Harding of The Sun, is a “thought-provoking tale…beautifully told.” He is also a film producer. His recent credits include producer of Peter Williams’ The Challenge, Jane Preston’s Gascoigne, Ron Scalpello’s Offender and Nirpal Bhogal’s Sket (Official Selection at the 55th BFI London Film Festival with two award nominations), and executive producer of Ben Drew aka Plan B’s highly praised BIFA-nominated debut feature iLL Manors and the BAFTA-nominated documentary film Taking Liberties. In January 2013, he set up Salon Pictures with fellow producer Paul Van Carter. Before his career in book and film, Nick studied literature and philosophy at Durham University, where he obtained a First, then went on to acquire a Master’s in Russian literature from the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies. He is also co-founder of Mtaala Foundation, an education partnership and sponsorship programme to create and support a school for vulnerable children and at-risk youth in Uganda; and a trustee of Harrison’s Fund, which fights Duchenne muscular dystrophy, getting as much money as possible into the hands of the world’s best researchers, who are working to find a cure for this horrible disease.

6 thoughts on “Hirst and Emin: Artists of Deceit

  1. It’s refreshing to hear and I agree….the Hirsts & Emins’ of this world have left me at times wondering what is wrong with people. I went to Emin’s last exhibition on the South Bank (I really had to see with my own eyes) and to say I was disappointed is an understatement… as I looked around me, there were people taking it all in, with very pensive looks and oh my god “what a load of old toot” (as grandad would say).

    I would also argue that the selling of ‘contemporary art’ has become big business and I simply see them as the ‘X Faxtor’ winners of an entertainment industry disguised as ‘modern artists’ Art galleries such as White Cube who represent Hirst & Emin are the Simon Cowels’ of this world, so lets forget about art, they are just very good at making money from people who clearly have it to spend and as for those buyers, well more fool them. Either they are buying for investment too or just haven’t got a clue….

    The bottom line, true talent such as Nick Green, will always belong in our hearts and touch our souls….will always be more valuable and precious than a strobe light, diamond studded skull or vulgar patch work quilt hanging…..and most importantly, will always be priceless.

  2. Does art really have to have a moral purpose?
    What of the art that has no moral message, has no conern for profit, and cares not of fame?
    The art that is there solely to delight the human eye….

  3. But art which is conceived solely to delight does have a moral purpose: it intends to uplift the sole of the viewer. What I object to is art, which in its concpetion, only benefits the artist. Such an artist would do better to serve others than merely his own whims and fancies.

  4. Great article, sycophants, emperor’s new clothes comes to mind when thinking of these so called artists. Con artists more like, just take a look at thomas Kinkade & then convince me these clowns are artists in the true sense of the word

  5. More and more people are catching on to the fakery of these ‘Faux Artists’. Also, more people are challenging the notion that their own opinion comes second to an art critic’s and defiantly stating what ‘they’ like and don’t like – ignoring the elitist sneers.

    I’ve gleefully slagged off Ms Emin on YouTube comments just now. I labeled my outburst ‘art’ – so I’m covered.

    It just takes a few more to shout : “the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!” and the house of cards will come crashing down.

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