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Artist and writer; artworks, prose and poetry.

Answer: they don’t

When all else is said and done, an NFT is basically only a ‘cataloguing gimmick’, a digital ticket or catalogue card, listing (or associated with), an artwork (or other object) — but not even remotely offering a solution to the problems of marketing, authenticity or ownership.

(Basics: what is an NFT ? NFT stands for ‘non-fungible token’, which is a piece of cataloguing data stored in a blockchain (and linked to cryptocurrencies like Ethereum) and which, once recorded, cannot be altered. It amounts to something like a unique digital listing in a digital sales ledger which, underpinned by an open-access…

The critic Robert Hughes thought so

Ed & Nancy Kienholz installation; model dummy, lampshade, telephone, vase, side table, photo on wall.
Ed & Nancy Kienholz installation; model dummy, lampshade, telephone, vase, side table, photo on wall.

But he was profoundly wrong, because he never understood what contemporary artists were either trying to do, or managing to achieve. And in an odd way this is understandable, because in many instances, neither did they.

This may sound bizarre, but there’s a convincing logic to it.

Let’s start by analysing exactly what Hughes had to say, and work back from there.

This is a transcript of Hughes’s conclusion to his televisual survey of modern art (The Shock of the New), and the last words to camera in Episode 8 ‘The Future That Was [End of Modernity]’. …

Contemporary poetry

Sepia photo of hunter shooting with shotgun
Sepia photo of hunter shooting with shotgun

We had a family doctor
– called Merrick — who came round
whenever one of us was sick,
and somehow always
made us well again.
That’s medicine at its best.
He was ageless, and James Bond handsome
in his expensive suits, always carrying
a shiny black leather medical bag,
and always smelling strongly of some kind of
medical disinfectant, which made him
seem bracingly accomplished.
And his manner was just right too:
no small talk, just swift diagnoses
and clipped instructions;
and his pronouncements, like
those of our dentist and our vet,
were known to be infallible. …

Appreciating contemporary art

Art is about narrative, not beauty

Joseph Beuys sculpture, consisting of various objects including metal, felt, paper
Joseph Beuys sculpture, consisting of various objects including metal, felt, paper

Summary: The traditional conception of art is about sensual beauty and refined taste; modern art on the other hand has introduced an entirely unexpected dimension to the visual arts, namely that of ‘revelatory narrative’. Classical art aspires to present works which can be appreciated as sensually beautiful; modern art, when it succeeds, presents us instead with the unsettling narrative. This radical difference in artistic purpose is something relatively new, and not yet fully appreciated or understood.

What is art ? Art is popularly believed to be any example of ‘creative crafting’, from flower arranging in the home, to classical oil…

‘Getting’ contemporary art: it’s not always the garbage it might appear to be. This article shows how to penetrate the fog surrounding modern artworks — often perpetuated by the artists…

Understanding contemporary art

‘One of the stupidest people I’d ever met in my life’

Robert Hughes — the Australian art critic — described Warhol as ‘as one of the stupidest people I’d ever met in my life. Because he had nothing to say.’ Hughes was dismissive of much of modern art because, like many other old school aesthetes, he never managed to understand it.

And over the course of the ‘my life’ in question, Robert Hughes (1938–2012) established himself as perhaps the foremost art critic in the western world; a not insignificant achievement, though something of a let-down when you realise that he wasn’t exactly slugging it out with hundreds of other critical titans…

Appreciating contemporary art

Performance art may be baffling, but that doesn’t make it garbage

Chris Burden (1946–2015) an American artist working in performance, sculpture and installation.

Many of the talking heads interviewed in this film give little mirthless chuckles as they discuss Chris Burden’s early work, as if they’re still not really sure what he was up to. They’re telling us the whole thing might, in the end, turn out to have been no more than a joke. Burden also appears ambivalent about his own efforts in the sense that, although he doesn’t giggle when explaining a piece, he often opts for banal, non-artistic explanations — the sort of boilerplate anyone might come up with — thereby undermining the cogency of the actions themselves. …

Appreciating contemporary art

The solipsism of the ‘very last woman on earth’

There’s nothing essentially ‘wrong’ with treating each and every Cindy Sherman photograph in aesthetic terms, as if it were a standalone object, subject only to the rules of aesthetic beauty and craft. You would then be looking at the colours, and shapes, and composition, and the print grain. You would think about the formal arrangement, and the subject matter, and whether it’s better or worse or the same as a similar work by another photographer. You would assess its impact on you, as a function of its size and shape and framing and overall appearance. Perhaps the image reminds you…

From ‘Tom & the Thumbscrews’

Contemporary poetry

She was a beautiful silver-blonde girl, not exactly Swedish but not exactly not either, married to a most likeable guy, widely considered handsome, upright and decent. So far so good. But after fifteen years or so of marriage they divorced; and she soon married again, this time to an ‘unknown’ who had not really registered with anyone, least of all me. I knew nothing about the divorce, so of course I didn’t know anyone had been replaced by someone else. And it turns out this unregistered guy — essentially a ghostly cipher — was not a happy chappie either, so…

Appreciating contemporary art

Commercial art for the transgressive and deranged: thank you Andy Warhol !

As a boy I remember being deeply unsettled by the posters and lobby stills for a sci-fi disaster film that was showing at a local bug house. The title alone was enough to scare me, and the mystifying stills pointed towards some kind of inexplicable horror. The film had an age restriction — thank God — so the closest I could get to its content were the teaser pictures. …

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