Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Teaching you a lesson.

I'm in reactionary blogging mode. I know this isn't the best time to sit and analyse something properly but I'm not sure I'll ever get the time/feel strongly enough about it again.

I've just watched 'School of Saatchi' and my instant reaction was something approaching horror. I don't know why I wasn't expecting it to be what it was, but I wasn't; which is a complicated way of saying I went into it a little naïve.

The show (in case you haven't seen it) is essentially an 'Apprentice' or 'X-factor' for new artists and almost an absolute replica of the recent product design focused 'Design for Life' featuring one of my heroes Phillipe Starck. In an interview Starck gave after the airing of 'Design for Life' he complained of the direction of the program being taken out of his hands and it essentially just using him as bait to entice people to watch the show. Though I pretty much agree with his viewpoint on how the show was handled it was at least entertaining,
this was due mostly to Starck's personality and occasional threats relating to killing the contestants and covering the walls with their blood.

Anyway I was expecting 'School of Saatchi' to deliver something maybe a little more philosophical and interesting. I was hugely mistaken. It started off with 4 judges (standard) Tracy Emin, Matthew Collings, Kate Bush and Frank Cohen but it turns out these four were essentially only there to judge the literally shit from the not so shit. Which in my opinion they didn't do a great job of.

What they ended up with was a final 12 who then were tasked with doing some life drawing, while this was going on we had a brief interlude in which the nation was informed that life drawing no longer happens in British art education. Bit of a sweeping statement that. I've had a British art education and I did do life drawing, a whole excruciating and utterly hilarious week of it. I stared at and drew a nude lady for a whole fucking week. Non-stop. I also had the option at university too.

Back to the point, I'm not entirely sure of the purpose of this exercise. They said it was to do with skills that could be deduced from looking at the fruits of this life-drawing class. Contemporary fine artists are not all skilled painters and mark-makers preferring instead to explore a wide variety of media to find a way of expressing themselves and basicly finding a medium through which to convey their ideas. So predictably some of the drawings were pretty bad. The crap drawings looked even worse when placed next to some of the artists whose work was sculptural and good.

The way this sequence was shot was fairly rubbish as it only contained little segments about those people who eventually made the final six. It was at this point it really started to bug me, the final 6 were pretty predictable and the show just fell apart. All 12 were called to defend their work in front of the judges but you just didn't see much of a couple of them. The others all pretty much had the back-stories to provide the meat for something that's becoming a horrible device for shows like this, the 'journey' of the contestant.

Well anyway.

A girl called Eugenie especially infuriated me, she used a tactic I know all too well; the 'bullshit' defense. I know it because I was very good at it, it's primarily deployed when there is very little substance to a piece of work. To use it you have to be pretty quick mentally and you also have to be fairly good at answering back as sincerely as you can. What you say doesn't really matter because at this point you will have been put through the art school jargon mill to the point that the words will just come naturally tumbling from your mouth. It's essentially an exercise in saying nothing with as much feeling and sincerity as you can muster. Not easy but effective. I was surprised then when Tracy Emin was the one who called for her to be put through, I thought that Tracy of all of them would recognise this trick when she saw it. She should have. She's bloody excellent at it.

They essentially put through the eye-candy. I did think two deserved to go through although I disagreed with their reasons about one guy. He was the only one who'd never been to art school and was a commercial artist who did his own work on the side. The piece he showed had never been seen before and was beautiful, it was also a testament to how personal his work was. The reason they put him through was because he'd never been to art school and as such he was a 'normal guy'.

The BBC have a history of making some fairly decent programs surrounding the subject of new artists, even shows about art that have had a competitive edge to them (the celebrity filled 'Art School'). These shows have been fairly enlightened and have pretty much explained the bones of an art education in layman's terms. This is an approach that does well when talking about something as self-involved as the art world with all its in-jokes and reliance on academic criticism. The producers of 'School of Saatchi' on the other hand seem to have abandoned this approach and gone for one which celebrates the worst attributes of modern art.

It's the focus on celebrity that really gets under the sking though, especially that of Saatchi himself. It's so very disconnected Saatchi just wasn't even in the fucking thing he was just off-handedly alluded to. Like he was to busy trying to force feed another billion pounds down the throat of some 'next big thing' that we won't have heard of because we aren't art dealers. They referred to him the whole time as the 'Reclusive Charles Saatchi'. They also referred to him as a 'king-maker' at least three times. The reverence with which they spoke of their lord and master was humbling and reminiscent of the way people talk publicly about the guy that signs their paycheques. The whole program was rammed so far up Saatchi's arse there's no way he could have been in it without some weird yoga lessons first.

Good luck to the winner. I'm sure you'll get the respect you deserve.

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't agree more.. I've had many issues with a lot of the programs they've shown as part of the "Modern Beauty" season they're doing at the moment, I thought this one and the "Why Beauty Matters" program they aired the other day were particularly bad.

    Tonights show simply did for boring artists what fucking X Factor does for shit singers. It's nothing more than a fame machine, powered by society's ridiculous celebrity obsession. Making art more accessable and getting people talking about it should not entail making crass television programs about it.