By indexer
268 days ago

Damien Hirst: British artist

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Every so often an artist comes along who challenges the artistic establishment to such an extent that he (sometimes she) creates a total division between those who hate him and those who love him, poses the question “but is it Art?”, and indeed makes a large sector of the public wonder if it is being taken for a ride. Should we take this person seriously or regard him merely as a purveyor of artistic snake oil? One such to hit the headlines in recent years has been Damien Hirst.

Born in 1965 in Bristol, Hirst grew up in Leeds, northern England, the son of a motor mechanic who left the family home when Damien was 12. His mother found him difficult to control and Damien was soon in trouble with the Police, twice being arrested for shoplifting. However, he was reasonably successful at school, although his A-level grades were not outstanding; he achieved an E grade in Art, for example, which was enough to get him into a local art school.

He did not take to the discipline of formal art education, preferring to work on London building sites for two years before winning a place at Goldsmith’s College, where he was by no means the most successful student.

However, the combination of a modest artistic talent and the wisdom of the Leeds streets came together to produce someone who could see a way towards self-promotion. He created an exhibition of his stock-in-trade artworks, publicised it, and had the good fortune to have it visited by one of London’s richest and most influential collectors of contemporary art, Charles Saatchi, who bought two of the exhibits.

What set Hirst apart from his contemporaries was the nature of his exhibits, which consisted of animals, in whole or in part, preserved in formaldyhyde and presented in glass tanks. These included fish, a shark, pigs, cows and calves. Whether or not Hirst’s prime motive was to shock is not the most important point. However, he certainly attracted attention. Originality, coupled with revulsion, was always going to get his name in the newspapers, and Hirst know this from the outset. He won the Turner Prize in 1995 with an exhibit that included a rotting cow’s head, maggots, bluebottle flies, and a device to electrocute them.

He summed up his artistic philosophy by saying “I want to make people think, not to totally shock the s**t out them for the sake of it”. What he wanted people to think about was society’s attitudes towards death, and the relationships between humans and animals and between art and reality. These are universal themes, and many artists down the centuries have had similar aims. Perhaps the current generation, brought up on a diet of Hollywood-inspired violence, needs to be revolted in order to turn its collective mind to considering its assumptions. Placing a skull on a shelf behind a portrait subject no longer works as a “memento mori”.

Hirst has moved away from animals in glass boxes in his more recent work, concentrating more on collages and “spot paintings”, consisting of equal-sized spots of paint on a white canvas. These have made nothing like the same impact as the work that brought him fame and notoriety in equal measure, not to mention a lot of money.

However, he came back into public notice with his 2007 work “For the Love of God”, a platinum cast of a human skull studded with more than 8,600 diamonds, plus human teeth. It is reputed to have cost as much as $20 million to make, and was offered for sale at $99 million. When originally exhibited, viewers were only allowed into its presence for five minutes at a time, thus giving it a mystique similar to that of the mask of Tutankamen or the Mona Lisa. Whether the skull was worthy of such reverence is a moot point, especially as several critics have likened it to a very expensive glitter ball, a thought that had occurred to Hirst himself. It has however proved that Damien Hirst’s power as a self-publicist is far from exhausted.

Hirst has many years of work ahead of him, should he so wish, and it is therefore difficult to assess whether he will be seen in future as a major British artist, or as merely an interesting footnote in the history of art. This will depend in part on how future generations come to regard conceptual art, according to which it is the idea and the fact of existence of a piece of art that matter more than the object itself. Have we made it too easy for artistic snake-oil salesmen to prosper, and is Damien Hirst one of their number?
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Lucia5 Very nice post!
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soncee Very good post
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carmen3521 Good post, dear
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