Friday, 6 April 2012

Damien Hirst & The Emperor's New Clothes

Yesterday afternoon I went to Tate Modern with my friend to see the Damien Hirst retrospective exhibition that opened this week, part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

Now I'll admit straight away that I'm fairly unimpressed with Hirst's work. But I'm also slightly intrigued by the manner in which his work is regarded among the general public. Indeed, while my friend was thinking out loud whether she wanted to see the exhibition, a woman standing in front of us turned round and exclaimed: "Oh you must! He's the BEST British artist! He has a shark in a tank!". It's hard to argue with such a rousing endorsement...

So we went to see the exhibition. And there was indeed a shark in a tank! And a sheep in a tank. And a cow cut in half in a tank. And a baby cow cut in half in a tank. There are probably 4 or 5 different ideas in there – dead creatures in tanks, spots, butterflies and things in cabinets... – and these are then slightly revised and repeated throughout. It's about death. Or it's about love. But is it art? Whatever it is, it is at least thought-provoking and creates debate. Me and my friend had a long discussion about the exhibition afterwards. And maybe that is what art should do? But I still don't understand this need to parade Hirst around with such acclaim.

Hirst's work reminds me of the story of The Emperor's New Clothes, where the Emperor is told that a stupid person is unable to see the clothes that the tailor creates for him. And so as not to look stupid, the Emporer parades naked around the city to avoid admitting that he can't see the non-existent clothes.

We are told that Hirst is a great British artist, and so we hold him up as such, for fear of looking ignorant if we question the hype...

The exhibition Damien Hirst is on at Tate Modern until the 9 September.


  1. I love Damien Hirst's stuff - although I do think it's overrated. It also annoys me that he gets technicians to do do most of it.

    I would to go out drinking with the bloke though.

  2. Yeah, it annoys me that he doesn't actually do the majority of his work himself. Surely that makes him more of an Art Director than an Artist?

  3. Similar type as Takashi Murakami I guess? They stand on the position to stir up the mass media. They always stand back and look things from outside, so dirting their hand makes their work too personal? I'm so tempted to put a sticker of Finding Nemo on the shark tank though :P Nice metaphor, naked king!

  4. Reading back my previous comment - I think I was probably drunk when I typed it.

    But everyone seems to have got the gist of what I was trying to say!

  5. I'd be more suprised if you weren't drunk...

  6. Paul,
    Here’s my tuppence worth:

    Firstly, I love your Hirst drawing, genius. But how did you persuade him to model naked for you?

    Secondly, *Rant Alert* every time I visit Tate Modern I am reminded of the Emporer’s New Clothes as I muse over some of the self-congratulatory ridiculous nonsense paraded as ‘art’ there (and I am being polite!).

    However, I am rather partial to Hirst’s work; I agree it is thought provoking, but not excessively profound; I find the hype surrounding his work amusing. If I experience a simple immediate pleasure from a piece then it gets my vote. I don’t consider myself a complete Philistine but I refuse to work too hard to ‘understand’ art.

    I’m not sure about the ‘technician’ / ‘art director’ criticism though. Didn’t all the Great Masters simply delegate the majority of their work to apprentices? If not an ‘artist’, would it be more accurate to label Hirst as a ‘Marketing Director’. In the Emporer’s New Clothes it is the tailors who swindle the Emporer and the general public into pretending that they can see and appreciate the beautiful new clothes. So I don’t see Hirst as the Emporer, but rather as one of the tailors: doing a great job of marketing his own work - whether or not we call it 'art' - and encouraging people to buy tickets to his Tate Modern exhibition . . . ;-)

  7. Wow! Good comment.
    I did think about the fact that a lot of the Great Masters had assistants and apprentices working in their studios and on their paintings, but I think that the main part of the work was still done by the actual artist.
    But I agree that Hirst is an expert at marketing his work to the public...