Michael Vestey

Dispiriting age

Dispiriting age

Someone asked me the other day whether or not I listen regularly to Desert Island Discs on Radio Four. I told her I don’t, and she asked why. All I could say was that quite often I am simply not sufficiently interested in the studio guests to hear about their lives or listen to their choice of music. Occasionally, when I tune in, someone’s life grips me, but not often. Last Friday morning, I forgot that the repeat of the previous Sunday’s programme was on, and thus it was that I found myself listening to the glottal stops of Tracey Emin discussing what she does for a living.

I don’t call it art. I’ve long felt there needs to be another name for the rubbish which the art establishment persists in calling modern or contemporary art. One day, of course, people will look at Emin’s unmade bed, tent and other detritus and laugh that generations of people could be so gullible as to pay for them or take them seriously. Tate Britain, it emerged, has an entire room dedicated to Emin’s silly bed. She is certainly self-obsessed. One of her videos pictures her riding across Margate beach; another is about why she never became a dancer. Some watercolours she exhibited along with her usual tripe were of Emin sitting in the bath.

Sue Lawley asked her if she would have achieved fame if she’d stuck to her watercolours. ‘We don’t know, do we?’ she replied. I think she probably does because she added, ‘To get some kind of notoriety or some kind of credit or fame, then you have to make a seminal piece of work. You have to change the face of what people understand as art.’ She had done that, she went on, with the unmade bed and the tent.

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