"No Sleep" a 1994 Drawing by Tracey Eim
The good news is that I did not write about many of the horrible wrongs in the art world during the holiday season. The bad news is that the holiday season is over and I have to explain the persistent rumbling you hear below ground.
Rumbling, you ask? Yes, what you hear is William Turner and John Constable and dozens of other great masters rolling in their unquiet graves. And what disturbs their well-earned rest, you ask? Simply this – England’s Royal Academy has appointed Tracey Emin as Professor of Drawing.
Take a moment to pull your chins from the floor.
Emin is perhaps best known for deluding an alternately arrogant and ignorant art market into believing that her unmade bed was a work of art. This work, called My Bed, had yellow-stained sheets and the surrounding area was festooned with condoms, empty cigarette packets, menstrual-stained underwear and her slippers. This Post Modern joke was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1999. One amusing story about My Bed is that the museum cleaning lady tried to tidy it up, and had to be stopped by security… Another work from this period was Everyone I Have Ever Slept With, which was a tent embroidered with (you guessed it) the names of everyone she had ever slept with.
A youthful folly, perhaps? Perhaps not. Emin has recently spent her artistic energies (just writing that phrase makes my fingers cramp) “creating” drawings rendered out of stitching, which she often accompanies with various bon mots, such as: You Cruel Heartless Bitch Rot in Hell and, my favorite, Harder and Better Than All of You F---ing B------s.
The Royal Academy Schools form the oldest art school in Britain, and currently about 60 students study in the Schools on a three-year postgraduate course. This important link (or former important link) to the studio-based practice in all fine arts was a haven for students who had demonstrated ability, commitment and potential for significant work. Under “Professor” Emin’s tutelage, who knows what they may accomplish? An over-used duffel bag, perhaps? Or maybe scuffed and muddy shoes, filled with sand? Dentures floating in a glass of cloudy water, anyone?
For those of you think my objections sound like a bachelor uncle shocked over naughty words scrawled in his art history book, think again. My objection has nothing to do with her lack of talent, or that fact that Emin is less an artist and more a publicity stunt than anything else. My fundamental objection lies in the fact that we (yes, the collective “we”) are willing and eager to toss aside our important artistic heritage to accommodate frauds, mountebanks and hucksters. I’m appalled that theory has taken precedence over emotion, that human connection has been sacrificed to “cool” and that we have become as a people so afraid of beauty and its expression. Have we gone so far in our flight from the beautiful, from the sublime and from the transcendent that now we rob our young artists of achieving these things by putting them under the influence of the scribbling huckster?
Emin is quoted as saying: “being an artist isn’t just about making nice things, or people patting you on the back; it’s some kind of communication, a message.” I believe, in her heart of hearts (deep down where one may still reside), Emin’s message to the world is: “sucker!”