i happened to find myself watching an inconsequential little show on BBC 2 yesterday called Art School. quite impressively, in its ever-so-brief 30 minutes it managed to demonstrate a whole variety of things that are wrong with the public perception of art, or more specifically the Daily Mail-led grab-your-torch-and-pitchfork philistinism in the face of any conceptual art.
in everything but it's name, Art School is essentially the beeb pandering to ITV's shameless tactic of carpet bombing any formula or idea with generic celebrities (and you can be sure that if this show were on ITV it would be called Celebrity Paint-a-thon or something equally awful). a variety of bemused 'stars' (ulrika johnson, john humphries, keith alan and the one that's not dead from Two Fat Ladies) are given a crash course in a modern art school, with each scene bookended by talking heads giving their advice on art.
now one of the fundamental problems with this show should be already obvious. two friends of mine who are on one of the best art courses in the country are presently wading through the middle of an intensive 5 year long period of study. 5 years. to reduce the work and development that is covered such an extended period of study down to less than a week renders the entire process absurd. no one would think of getting a bunch of pointless nobodies in Celebrity History school into a room with a couple of important dates and asking them to demonstrate how these reinforce the power-centric narativisation of history. yet with art this kind of reduction is entirely acceptable. and it is acceptable for one reason; namely that bbc, and the daily mail et al, feel entirely justified in refusing to take any art Post Andy Warhol seriously.
the media constructs a parodic caricature of modern art rammed full of dirty beds, shameless attention seekers and men in polo necks nodding furiously in empty white rooms, while the lone voice of reason in this carnival of superficiality is, of course the media folk (all agog with their Emperor's New Clothes fantasy) screaming 'look... it doesn't mean anything. its all rubbish.'
hence in this show we see this same absurd parody constucted, as john humphries rummages in dustbins and takes poloroids of trees, and we are enjoined to smirk contentedly at the how ridiculous it all is. and just to add insult to injury, who might the talking-heads experts be, the defenders of their art in the face of these bemused celebrities? oh wait. its another bunch of celebrities who happen to pick up a brush once in a while. under the mind numming caption actress/artist, we are forced to suffer the likes of Jane Seymore and Vic Reeves waxing lyrical on what makes an artist. because in the mind of the beeb, art is that simple. it is someone who has painted once. and to give it any pretensions to a serious (and studied) endevour is just plain silly (after all, at the end of their 'degrees' their only going to be fobbing us of with more dirty beds and piles of poo).
it is exactly programes like this (and undending articles in the papers that can't decide between amusment and outrage at the thought that someone could make art out of a bed, or bricks, or elephant dung) that have as their consequence the shameful public response to the Saatchi warehouse fire. whereas a similar disaster destroying say, the origonal manuscripts for Salmon Rushdies Satanic Verses (or even the Harry Potter books) would be treated with sadness and respect, because art is so parodied and belittled the response in this case was the very worst kind of ignorant smugness.
oh what a shame, they burnt a soiled bed.