25 August 2011 3 Comments

More Passion!

British Prime Minister David Cameron recently invited Tracey Emin, a purveyor of work which is shit even by the standards of contemporary art, to produce something – they probably call it “an installation” – for Number 10, Downing Street.

Emin, who won the Turner Prize for exhibiting her own used-condom-strewn bed some years ago, is a fan of Cameron. Yes, can you believe it, an artist supporting the fellow who abolished the Arts Council. She has been quoted as saying that his government is “the best government at the moment we’ve ever had.” Which shows that she’s as much of a political analyst as she is an artist.

Now, I don’t know why they’d need any new “art” in Number 10. Surely the place is chock full of Nineteenth Century paintings of horses. And at a time when the government is cutting back every ministry’s budget by at least 25 percent?

So what did Emin do for Cameron? A neon sign emblazoned with the words: “More Passion.”

Yes, indeed. The artist whose works evoke only negative passions (in me, for
one) urges the starchy Old Etonian and his coterie of distant, heartless
nobs to show more passion. No doubt she intends for them to throw caution to the winds when wielding the red pencil over university budgets and healthcare costs for old people. Show some passion; cut another million quid.

Here’s the true irony of Emin’s neon nonsense: politicians always claim to
be operating on the basis of passion and so do contemporary artists. Yet
both are clearly more interested in cash and have a corrupt ability to manipulate others into swallowing their feigned feelings.

I’ve always thought of art as going directly to your heart or your stomach.
Which is why “contemporary art” leaves me so cold. Art which requires
explanation before impact isn’t art. It may be “design,” but most likely
it’s faddish and aimed to shock. Take passionate Tracey Emin’s famous tent
installation onto which she attached the names of all the people she’d slept
with. Makes you think, eh? Well, no, actually it doesn’t. Unless it makes
you think that it’s a waste of time and that you’re lucky your name isn’t

As with contemporary art, I hold similar opinions – and there’s a similar
irony – about so-called literary fiction, as opposed to crime fiction.

I’ve long since ceased to care when people say to me, “You’re a fine writer,
so why don’t you write a real novel instead of crime novels.” These are
well-meaning people who don’t know what it takes to write a novel of any

But here’s the comparison with Emin’s codswallop: literary fiction aims to
tackle big themes, to show passion; but it ends up being pedestrian and
soulless. Crime fiction, however, takes readers to places where people are
in extreme situations. Murder and violence, desperate neighborhoods, the
lives of people who don’t live in Hampstead. Literary fiction always seems,
by dint of its distant Number 10-ish intellectual perspective, to be outside
looking in. Crime fiction is right there. It’s the difference between reading a list of Emin’s former lovers and actually being in bed performing the act of …passion.

3 Responses to “More Passion!”

  1. Gail Bentzinger 25 August 2011 at 10:14 am #

    I’ve given up trying to understand canvases with huge swaths of color higgledy piggledy which is called “art” and may cost hundreds of thousands. I like paintings from the Hudson
    River School, or Western Plein Air painters. Or those that have lace painted so realistically that it looks like you could touch it and feel the threads. What is artistic about a bed covered with used condoms? Why would a gallery or museum think that it has artistic value? Why would they pay a lot of money for it? I hope she had to install it herself or pay for the decontamination of the employees who did. My lack of understanding makes me a commoner, I guess and not one of the high-flyers who claim to “get it”.

  2. Matt Beynon Rees 25 August 2011 at 11:32 pm #

    In this case, the confluence of bad art and bad politics only makes it more disturbing, right, Gail?

  3. Gail Bentzinger 1 September 2011 at 3:40 pm #


Leave a Reply