'Art': what does it mean to you? To me it is something uplifting, maybe thought-provoking perhaps beautiful. It gives me an insight into somebody else's view of the world and may, by doing so, expand my own understanding or insight. So how does what Julian Spalding refers to as 'Con Art' measure-up? Is it winning the race in terms of telling me something profound about the state of humanity? No. In fact it hasn't even got out of the starting blocks. Spalding's analysis of where Art 'went wrong' traces the various threads which have produced the fabric of the modern art world. Artists, dealers, collectors, curators, 'gallerists': the hall of shame is well-stocked. He takes us through the murky personal history of Duchamp and lets us peek into Warhol's factory. At the same time he deflates a few myths about how art comes to be regarded as valuable (in artistic, not just financial terms) with references to Van Gogh and Picasso among others. I won't rehearse the arguments here - suffice to say they are cogent, well-reasoned and, surprisingly, considering the enormity of the balloon to be pricked, really quite straight-forward.
Spalding is not one who insists that all art should be simplistic and representative and indeed, his understanding of recent and historical art movements and their social context adds force to his analysis.
The book is a relatively blunt instrument but it delivers its blow very effectively and I urge anyone with an interest in art, its role in society and its relationship with scholarship, and more particularly the world of 'Big Money' to read this. If you are not already sceptical about how art has progressed - or regressed - in the last century or so it may give you pause for thought. For those wondering where the alternatives lie there are hints at where to find real artistic endeavour still flourishing. Personally, I lost the plot with Con Art when I heard Mark Lawson on Radio 4 breathlessly running around a gallery in the company of a number of artist-athletes... from that point on I felt fully qualified to make my own judgement as to what constituted Art. Julian Spalding has reinforced that belief and I am convinced that he is not a lone voice in the wilderness. Read his book and lend your voice to the call to bring back some soul, some core of humanity into Art: an art which appeals to our true sensibility not just a debased pseudo-intellectualism.
In fact I take back my earlier assessment - it [Con Art] does tell us something about the state of humanity but what it says all has to do with avarice, gullibility, complicity and that poor-relation among human failings: the need to feel 'in on' the latest fad.