Superb John F. Kennedy quote:
‘When power corrupts, poetry cleanses, for art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstones of our judgment.’
Taken from an article on the politics of liberalism in the context of warmongering
I read JFK to be referring to art-cum-poetry as something aspirational and something that transcends ego in its conception, creation, and presentation.
I wonder how my brother would respond to JFK’s perspective, then, in the light of his disillusionment with Damien Hirst’s latest piece of grotesque-ry, the skull of diamonds. I hope, like me, he would question whether Hirst’s piece is, indeed, poetry or art. Its nifty form of (self-?) marketing, rather than the object itself, might be the real artwork. The Independent’s Thomas Sutcliffe writes of the pricetag of £50m (compared with the raw materials cost of c.£14m) being integral to the object,
‘encrusting the most universal symbol of the futility of worldly goods with a skin so precious that the viewer almost forgets what lies beneath.’
(I myself don’t experience any forgetfulness of ‘what lies beneath’!) Apart from the layers of paradox, does the skull have something useful to say? For its future owner, I’m pleased the skull comes with written guarantees that all the diamonds are sourced from conflict-free zones. And my curiosity in the piece is certainly piqued by the titles Hirst has given five reproductions, on which my brother has commented. (I wonder what God makes of this offering; a sixth print might be titled, ‘For the Love of God, Look After Yourself’.)
Taking JFK as my cue, I’m not clear what ‘touchstone of our judgement’ Hirst is providing, nor the generic human truth to which he might be referring. Could you imagine the skull enabling the formation of a sacred, reverential place, a place of worship? Might it not be a tad distracting?! These for me are the crunch questions. Skulls and skeletons have, after all, been used for aeons to provoke observers into reflecting on their place in, and how they belong to, the world – all those Italian Last Judgement frescoes, for example. If Hirst’s diamond skull is to be bought, would its buyer present it in a place where the masses could reflect on its significance, if it has any?
I for one would like Hirst at the very least to recoup his expenses and reinvest the profits in worthwhile causes. Maybe that’s what he already has in mind, but I’d like to see him undertaking artistic works of more-concerted activism – if, that is, he has the capacity to transfer his creativity to that domain of behaviour. As such, he’d be taking on board the analyses of the likes of Suzi Gablik, the art critic who wrote ‘Has Modernism Failed?‘ and the superb ‘Re-enchantment of art‘.