still trying to figure out the damn skull


There are lots of things you can’t criticise Hirst for. You can’t complain about the fact that he doesn’t make his work by himself—neither did Rembrandt or Rubens or Warhol. You can’t complain that he’s made too many similar works—Pissaro, Magritte, Dalí and many others churned out substandard stuff on demand. The real difficulty with coming to a judgement on Hirst is that contemporary art theory does not permit one to assess whether an artist’s work is superficial or deep, because it’s virtually impossible to tell the difference between a banal work of art and one that takes banality as its theme, or between a simple work of art and a simplistic one. A critic could spend hours trying to decide if something is superficially superficial or deeply superficial—and never come up with an answer.

The contemporary theory of the icon is also relevant. Icons were originally images of Christ and the saints. Warhol revived the icon, by making images of celebrities who were already icons in the media. Nowadays, an iconic work of art is something even simpler. If a series of works of art are acquired by a sufficient number of collectors, or achieve such a media presence that they are instantly recognisable, then they become, de facto, iconic. That’s why the world’s best historians of modern art, Rosalind Krauss and Benjamin Buchloh of October magazine, have remarked contemptuously that, in the art of Hirst, the aura of artistic inspiration has been replaced by the auras of media celebrity and of luxury commodity.

more from Prospect Magazine here.