But is it art?

I’ve been watching a documentary about finding the correct provenance of three painting attributed to LS Lowry.

It’s fascinating the way that television documentaries approach the work of artists. Out come the twinkling piano and the strings on the soundtrack, out come the talking heads, experts in their field, things are blown up, scanned, X rayed, put through electron microscopes and people waffle their way through finding out that these paintings are from the brushes of the man himself. 

Of course, good telly today has to be structured in a certain way to keep people’s attention, create suspense  and structure a narrative flow but I find it sad that, as someone in the trade, so to speak, you only really get the barest of details that the researchers dragged up.

I have a deep fondness for Lowry and ironically I learned to use oil paints by faking his, amongst other’s works. I actually took my mum to see a Lowry exhibition at the Barbican Centre in the eighties, dropped off by my Dad in his work van only to make it back to Edmonton on the bus, I’m guessing I was fifteen at the time. I knew then that I wanted to be an artist but I had no clue about how to do it. I don’t think I really became comfortable about using that word about myself until I was in my forties though. You can’t make yourself an artist, you just are or you aren’t, it’s a bit like being in love, you can’t make yourself be one, you go down a path and then one day you suddenly are, and once you are, you probably wish you weren’t as you realise that, like being a nun, or an academic, you have signed up for a life of poverty and social exclusion. You become slightly alien from observing the world more than interacting with it and you realise how drastic a life choice it is. 

No one really got Lowry, sneared at by dealers and gallery owners and other artists for the bulk of his career and only receiving success and money when he was too passed it and set in his ways to enjoy it. Few people realised just how good a draughtsperson he was or the level of figure painting and paint handling skill that was buried beneath those seemingly simplistic figures. Then when success knocked on his door people still didn’t realise the depths of what he did, the dark details, the paintings full of crippled and damaged people all skirted over with the final indignity of a terrible posthumous song.

Watching this programme and seeing the extent to which his work was and still is being faked and copied, it is interesting to think about just how much effort goes into authenticating something that at one point couldn’t  be given away. I don’t even sign mine unless someone asks as I think that if you need to scrawl your name on it it means that your style is too indistinct. It’s a strange thought though, the way people become so obsessed about the right paint, brush techniques, chain of custody and whathaveyou to the point that the don’t see the actual image. I’d think it hysterical if someone faked mine, it would probably be harder than most people think though, what with me poking fingers in wet paint to see if it has dried yet and the wonkey dyspraxic curves. Knowing my like they would probably do a better job of it and they would sell better, typical!

Let’s face it, so much of the art world is a depressing pile of shit but then, for that matter, so is most of humanity and society. I vaguely take note of who gets there work in the various local galleries and why and it is either due to schmoozing or that someone’s work briefly ticks the right boxes for some passing fad or other. I had some terribly depressing conversations about the nature of art a couple of years back that related to how terribly irrelevant and unfashionable what I do is. Apparently I should be painting on old scraps of cardboard or old pizza boxes as painting on canvas conforms to a misogynistic archetype that goes back to the bad old days of the old masters. Personally, I think if someone cares more about what you paint something on than what you paint, then they have lost the plot, but then what would I know? 

The truth is, I don’t give a shit any more about what anyone thinks about my art, I don’t even care whether anyone even sees it. Granted, the money and success would have been handy but beyond that I just don’t give a toss about any of it. I love what I do though and it would be wonderful if I could carry on forever but when it comes to dealing with the sort of wankers I need to be dealing with, I have no patience left. Art and the art world is mostly a load of old bollocks.


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