Hirst: “Anyone can be like Rembrandt”

November 14, 2009 at 8:15 pm (Art and design, capitalism, Jim D)

Hirst: (in the Graun):

“Anyone can be like Rembrandt…I don’t think a painter like Rembrandt is a genius. It’s about freedom and guts. It’s about looking. It can be learnt. That’s the great thing about art. Anybody can do it if you just believe. With practice you can make great paintings.”

(From the Indie):This week we may have witnessed one of the pivotal moments in the history of art. Not only has Damien Hirst, arguably the richest and most powerful artist in history, received the critical pasting of his life, but there’s a sense that our whole perception of what art is, or should be, may have subtly – or not so subtly – shifted.

In case you’ve been miles from the media over the past week, Hirst, the man who became famous by putting sharks and sheep in formaldehyde, who summed up the 21st century confluence of art and shameless materialism with a £50 million diamond-encrusted skull – none of which he actually made himself – decided to exhibit paintings executed with his own hand in one of Britain’s most august art institutions, the Wallace Collection.


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Here, Hirst’s daubs have been hung on walls newly lined in blue silk at a cost of £250,000, close to, if not actually alongside works by Titian, Rembrandt, Velasquez and Poussin. The result has been one of the most unanimously negative responses to any exhibition in living memory. Sarah Crompton, writing in this paper, was one of the kinder critics, finding the paintings merely “thin and one note”. “Deadly dull, amateurish”, wrote the Guardian‘s critic. “Not worth looking at”, said the Independent. “Dreadful”, pronounced The Times.


  • Damien Hirst
… Rembrandt (self-portrait):
Spot the difference in talent.


  1. Dave Semple said,

    Thank god for that. The man is a complete twunt. To even mention him in the same breath as Rembrandt or Poussin makes me want to throttle him and call it a performance piece a la Tracey Emin.

  2. Jenny said,

    Meh, I’m inclined to agree here too.

  3. Maps said,

    You haven’t been taking your view of modernist and postmodern art from your old chum Philip Larkin have you Jim? That old reactionary Larkin was still saying that Picasso was ‘awful’ in the 1970s!

    There seems to be an attempt here to enlist the critics of Hirst’s recent show in a more general rejection of his whole body of work and of entire types of modernist and postmodernist art.

    The view that installation and conceptual art is something of a sham, because it sometimes isn’t created in old-fashioned way by the artist, is not something that any of the critics who have panned Hirst’s latest show would assent to. Some of the greatest artists of the twentieth century – think of Duchamp and Joseph Cornell for examples – worked in those genres. You don’t become an art critic in the twenty-first century by being stuck in the nineteenth century.

    There is pretentious, arid installation art being produced today (I blogged about the problem a while back: http://readingthemaps.blogspot.com/2009/02/other-giovanni.html), but there is also some astonishing work being done in the genre. Consider the historically rich, politically charged ‘Black Phoenix’ by Ralph Hotere, one of New Zealand’s greatest living artists, which had a tremendous impact when it was exhibited here in the ’90s:

    The view that a painter who is, in pre-modernist terms, a bad draughtsman is ipso facto a bad painter would also be rejected by the critics who pan Hirst’s latest show. Relatively few of the greatest painters of the last hundred years – the last hundred and fifty years, even – could compete with Rembrandt or Poussin as traditional draughtsmen and women. The pre-Raphaelites were ridiculed by philistines for their poor draughtsmanship in the middle of the nineteenth century; so, over the channel, were the Impressionists. Jackson Pollock couldn’t execute the large-scale, Riviera-style murals that his conservative teacher asked him to do, and yet he changed the course of twentieth century art. Francis Bacon painted quickly, and his draughtsmanship is shaky, but that is part of the essential effect of his work.

    It makes no sense to try to judge Hirst’s new canvases by putting them beside work by Rembrandt and Poussin and asking which is ‘better’. They belong to different traditions. By the looks of it, Hirst’s new work would be better judged by comparisons to Bacon, de Kooning, and Kokoschka, amongst others.

  4. martin ohr said,

    I’m with Maps on this. When I was teenager it wasn’t uncommon to read savage criticism of picasso and the like in the popular press; you still ocassionaly bump into people who think that impressionism isn’t proper painting- god knows what those people think of the likes of Hopper and Hockney. I notice the latter has got rave-reviews fo rhis recent retrospective.

    I’ve never found anything of interest in Hockney’s work myself but I’m prepared to admit that I’m probably wrong on that.

    The anti-hirst bandwagon is led by a small bunch of tabloid editors despise genuine art of any kind- Jim should know better than to follow their moronic compass.

  5. John Meredith said,

    I broadly agree with Maps too, although I do think the critics have judged Hirst’s merits as a painter accurately. He can’t paint, and he clearly doesn’t understand paining in either of the traditions that Maps mentions. I don’t understand what made him think he could just turn himself into a painter (why not a composer, or an architect?) unless it was anxiety about his reputation (which will be as a much more minor artist that his current prices suggest, I think). But that is not to say that Hirst has not been a thrilling and gifted artist, he has. The talent has died (as so often) but when it was there it was vivid.

  6. entdinglichung said,

    as Joseph Beuys said: “Every human being is an artist.”

  7. Bruce said,

    Perhaps the question that is more interesting is what kind of society and people allow people like Hirst to become rich and famous for producing crap. Fetishism of the art work, the commodity and the celebrity. Adorno’s culture industry.

    I’m not against modernism, abstraction or all conceptual art. Pollock is a favourite of mine and I even like the odd YBA (mainly Rachel Whiteread). However I think there’s some rather wild comments here. Picasso was a fantastic draughtsman and Duchamp was not one of the greatest artists of the 20th century – his urinal was subversive and revolutionary in that sense and he also could draw (cf his glass construction with the millstones) but I don’t think he gets near the top.

    I saw the ‘Pitmen Painters’ recently about Durham miners int he 30s who took up art and became well known. The playwright (the bloke who wrote Billy Elliot) creates a scene in which the middle class tutor who has nurtured them says on the radio that their achievement shows that anybody has it in themselves to make art. To which two of the miners object vigorously that you need to be talented too. The play also makes tne point that anyone can acquire the technical foundations of drawing but that one also needs to be able to see the world in an original way to produce anything interesting.

  8. Matt said,

    The BBC2 programme last night in which Charles Saatchi set out to select six young artists as proteges (a sort of highbrow X Factor) revealed a few things about modern art:

    1. a lot of people are clearly just taking the piss: the guy who printed out two emails, screwed then up and put them on a table as a ‘statement about communication’, the one who linked together chairs in a circle on the ground and went on about the use of space or some such bollocks.

    2. it’s also about the ability to bullshit: while the above two chancers were swiftly shown the door, the woman who put a handle on the wall, hung a whistle on it and gave a semi-coherent presentation about her piece was hailed as a modern disciple of Marcel Duchamp.

    3. modern art critics and collectors are actually pretty conservative: preferring painting to film/photography/installations, using the ability to draw as the yardstick to measure an artist and asking ‘but is it really art?’ more times than you’d hear down the Dog and Duck.

  9. Matt said,

    Just a quick update for those who haven’t been watching the series. The ‘whistle on the wall’ woman won it. In the last programme, she confused the judges with a grappling hook stuck through a shelf but on her way home spotted a tree embedded in railings, persuaded the council to let her have it and entered it as her piece in the final exhibition. Cue panel of art critics falling over themselves to describe it as a work of genius and pack her off to study at the Hermitage in St Petersburg.

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