Comments on: Damien at Tate: the Revenge of Subject Matter http://abstractcritical.com/article/damien-at-tate-the-revenge-of-subject-matter/ Abstract Critical is a not-for profit company aiming to establish a new critical context for all generations of artists involved with ambitious abstract art. Sun, 09 Nov 2014 17:23:33 +0000 hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 By: Robin Greenwood http://abstractcritical.com/article/damien-at-tate-the-revenge-of-subject-matter/#comment-158974 Tue, 14 May 2013 12:31:49 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?p=4478#comment-158974 ‘A plastic purpose…’, to quote Mr. Gouk from his recent essay. I’m thinking really here about ‘content’ in art, or lack of it; what the work actually physically/visually does, as best we can discern it. Does that make sense? I’m not quite clear what you in turn mean by ‘engineered visual spatiality’.

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By: Julia Cooper http://abstractcritical.com/article/damien-at-tate-the-revenge-of-subject-matter/#comment-158490 Mon, 13 May 2013 21:10:41 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?p=4478#comment-158490 ‘meaningfully visual’do you mean engineered visual spatiality?

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By: Alan Fowler http://abstractcritical.com/article/damien-at-tate-the-revenge-of-subject-matter/#comment-11768 Sun, 06 May 2012 22:34:53 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?p=4478#comment-11768 It’s tempting to do a Julian Splading on the whole of Hirst’s ouevre – but I’ll limit this comment to the vacuous spot paintings. Hirst clealy doesn’t see the difference between paintings of spots per se, and the use of spots as a constructional aspect of an expressive abstract image. To see the difference, just look at how effectively Sophie Tauber-Arp used spots way back in 1950s. She knocked spots off Hirst.

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By: John Holland http://abstractcritical.com/article/damien-at-tate-the-revenge-of-subject-matter/#comment-10160 Thu, 26 Apr 2012 22:37:46 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?p=4478#comment-10160 I don’t agree that Hirst is a surrealist; none of his works use the kind of uncanny juxtapositions or supposed mining of the subconscious that classic surrealism attempted. He’s not really interested in the processes of psychology.
Robin’s reference to academic art seems more pertinent. Maybe he’s the contemporary Landseer; he uses ‘subject matter’ like the Victorians, only instead of religion and sentimentality, he presents us with nihilism and extinction, because that’s what we’re comfortable with. People like to feel that art ‘deals’ with the big themes, or at least ‘references’ them. Hirst treats subject matter like a substance one can pour into things; he has said that he admired Minimalism, but he wanted to give it a subject, to make it mean something. This is why he is not a genuinely visual artist- for him, the look of art and its meaning are somehow separable.
He is certainly visually competent, in the sense of designing well edited and striking pictorial metaphors. He stole Bacon’s invention of the vulnerable figure in the geometric cage, and his images are memorable and culturally quite potent, but, as Robin says, although they are visually striking, they have little serious visual content. The content lies in the power of the metaphor only. They are one-liners, illustrations of concepts.

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By: Robin Greenwood http://abstractcritical.com/article/damien-at-tate-the-revenge-of-subject-matter/#comment-9646 Fri, 20 Apr 2012 10:09:01 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?p=4478#comment-9646 Except that I didn’t say that those three artists (van der Weyden, Constable and Matisse) were not ‘engrossed with subject matter’; I wouldn’t presume to say that they were or were not. They may well have been, and I’d rather they were, in a way, rather than engrossed with formalism or other art issues; but both their subject matter and their intentions regarding it are obscure and irrelevant to me. What do I know of their relationship to their subjects? What do I know of the issues on or around Christianity in Northern Europe in early Renaissance times; what do I know about rural Suffolk farming communities in the nineteenth century; what do I know of Henri Matisse’s obsessions with plants and models and morals? Their work remains nevertheless lucid and pertinent now because of what they built into their work, what it achieved visually.

Actually, I have more than an inkling that Matisse was not engrossed with subject matter at all. What one can observe throughout Matisse’s career, beyond all else, and in direct contrast to many of his contemporaries, is his relentlessly focussed pursuit of what is central and proper to painting (and, believe me, this is not an art issue and it’s not about formalism). I would hazard a guess that van der Weyden and Constable were similarly obsessed.

If what I said is ambiguous, let me re-state it: their work has in common a meaningful visual content, in contrast to Hirst and also to much abstract art. I would stand by my assertion that Hirst is engrossed in subject matter, to the exclusion of all else. Of course, like many contemporary artists, one of his subject matters is the art world itself.

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By: Sam Cornish http://abstractcritical.com/article/damien-at-tate-the-revenge-of-subject-matter/#comment-9641 Fri, 20 Apr 2012 06:10:45 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?p=4478#comment-9641 There is no way we could really say that Hirst is ‘engrossed with subject matter’. Surely Hirst is just a combination of PR, the need for investors to make sure they don’t lose their money, and a gift for a easily readable, direct visual statement. Of course these visual statements are also derivative, repetitive, facile, overblown, etc etc, but they are primarily visual.

I very much like Robin’s definition of the ‘meaningfully visual’ and agree with the suggestion that much abstract art only comes a little closer to it than Hirst himself does. However it seems strange to evoke as examples of artists achieving the ‘meaningfully visual’ three whose work was undeniably as ‘engrossed with subject matter’ as it was with a ‘complex set of relational forms… made … to work together, their diversity becoming transformed and unified into a conscious or unconscious purpose, all for the benefit of the eye and the delight of the mind.’

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