Tracey Emin is Britain’s most famous living artist. She recently sold her self-portrait for £2.2 million at an art auction in London. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding this work… “It’s not art!”, “I can make something like that every morning!”, “That’s disgusting!”, are some of the commentaries of this piece. However, I have a different take on her piece, and I can definitely see it as art – she exposes a hidden side of some people.
Art is supposed to evoke emotion, and this is what makes it different from design – design is specifically arranged elements into a pleasing way. Sometimes painters – depending on the genre – can be seen as designers. The first take I have is that studio artists (“traditional artwork”) inadvertently make art as home decor. That is their goal… for someone to buy it and place it in their home. However, anyone who is truly immersed in the world of art understands a secret of the art world. Emin believes that her work is meant to change people’s perceptions of art. This is exactly what the art world is becoming and it always has been.
As an artist myself, I have seen this with the success of my artwork. Emin’s piece is traditional, but stretches the perceptions of that tradition. I remember taking painting classes in college, arranging objects on a table and painting a still life as a self-portrait for a final project. Emin does the same thing…. except, she doesn’t paint it or arrange it and leaves the objects as they are… it’s an In situ – an artwork that was created on site – a term I learned while studying African art. While, the self-portrait isn’t all that interesting or unique and different, considering that it is from Britain’s famous living artist speaks for itself.
Think about the celebrities in the USA (and all over the world for that matter) – we worship the things that they eat, wear, and own – this self-portrait is not much different – except the purchaser gets to OWN the original items belonging to the celebrity – artist. It’s no different from an estate sale auctioning off items belonging to a famous person that has died.
So, before you start criticizing someone’s work because it doesn’t fit your ‘world view’ try and think differently about it. Think of things that you may have experienced that it could relate to and see how it is different from what you are used to… chances are that the things that are different from what you are used to is exactly what the artwork is supposed to accomplish.