Going to a press showing of John Singer Sargent’s watercolours at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in South London. A terrible schlep in this hot weather and you may wonder why I want to do it. This is the first major showing, eighty of his watercolours, in a hundred years, which is not that surprising; who wants to look at a load of old watercolours even if they demonstrate fabulous virtuosity, a dazzling sense of colour and a subtle individual imagination.
All those Alpine glacial moraines, Renaissance and Baroque buildings rising out of the Venice Lagoon were surely no more than travel souvenirs for rich, bored, narcissistic white men and their abused wives in ridiculous hats. They demonstrate the politics of ownership and little else. Why bother with all that dubious stuff when you can have the work of Sam Taylor Wood OBE, which no one would want to own as it’s mainly film, ironically described as creating, ‘A feeling of bored and narcissistic affluence.’
In a Telegraph magazine article last week she was photographed looking svelte and appealing holding up a stiff dead hare, a very similar pose to one adopted by Josef Beuys for an installation in 1965, but never mind that, in conceptual art the bourgeois notion of originality, which might privilege the artist as a special person, is as suspect as ownership.
Wood must be a really special artist though as in 1997 she was awarded the distinction of becoming, ‘The Most Promising Young Artist at the Venice Biennale.’ She didn’t get that by spending her time floating past elitist buildings in a luxury gondola while trying to capture them in paint. For not doing any such thing she and was duly rewarded a year later by a nomination for the Turner Prize, for a film of herself sitting in a chair fidgeting.
In 2002 she was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery no less to make a video portrait of David Beckham, who she showed sleeping in a glass case. She became even better known for her work, ‘Crying Men’ featuring many of her Hollywood contacts, including Robin Williams, Sean Penn, and Paul Newman.
In 2011, she directed a music video starring her then-fiancé Aaron Johnson, who made some kung-fu kicks, attempted pirouettes, prances, a chicken walk, punched the air, tried out some bunny impressions and fondled his own bottom. To fondle anyone else’s would have been politically unsound and too shocking. Wood then went on to direct a film adaptation of that distinguished work, Fifty Shades of Grey.
In the Telegraph article she explained her success: ‘I was depressed,’ she said. ‘I saw the T-shirt with the slogan ‘F**k, Suck Spank, W**k,’ and it was exactly how I felt. I took a photograph of myself in it and suddenly the whole world opened up.’
So there you are – the key to being a successful artist today; attend Goldsmiths College in London, which has boasted that it provides no artistic tuition. Be nihilistic almost suicidal with pessimism but make sure you look fashionably attractive while doing it. Wood normally wears Prada but when she married in 2012, serenaded by Elton John, she wore a dress designed by Sarah Burton, OBE, who created the wedding dress for Kate Middleton.
At the start of your career you must embrace a fashion item, which is obscene in some bamboozling way so you start to get papped. Once the public have seen enough tabloid pictures of you at parties, move to the US. Mix with Hollywood celebrities and try to marry one, failing that an Old Etonian art dealer will do. Contemporary art may be right on and right down there with the street with the kids, but it is not about socialism. Once you have become a celebrity with major celebrity friends, return to the UK to collect a gong.
Follow Sam Taylor Wood’s recipe and you cannot fail, and of course it goes without saying, you must never ever attempt to do any drawing or painting in a gondola or anywhere else. A camera is just about acceptable but soon even that will be seen as far too skilled.