|Marc Quinn’s Alison Lapper Pregnant is a beautiful, difficult work that would not have been possible before the modern era.|
One of my children works with severely handicapped adults. His duties include stopping clients from smearing feces on the walls. These non-verbal, intellectually-broken adults share a means of communication with some of the more rarified intellects in the art world.
From left: Lucas, 2001, by Marc Quinn, sculpted of human placenta and umbilical cord. Self, 1991, by Marc Quinn, sculpted from the artist’s own frozen blood.
Last night my kids and I were discussing the worst trends in millennial art. We came up with the following list:
· Bodily fluids and excretions
· Nail clippings
· Placental anything
· Body parts
· Things in formaldehyde
What struck me was how self-referential this art is. They aren’t just Vagina Monologues, they’re My Vagina Monologues. It’s not just a bullwhip in an anus; it’s a bullwhip in Robert Mapplethorpe’s own anus. It’s not just art about abortion, it’s a project where Aliza Shvarts impregnates herself and then induces as many abortions as possible.
Piss Christ, 1987, by Andres Serrano, outraged the American public because it received public funding. It seems almost quaint in comparison with more contemporary bodily fluid art, much of which offends even my sensibilities and can’t be posted here.
This is the final step in Cartesian dualism: when you get to the point of ultimately rejecting the non-material, all you’re left with is your own body fluids. Can such art have any lasting meaning or value? I’m afraid it can; if we are the age of self-centered nihilism, such art perfectly represents us.
This is not to say that modern sensibilities cannot inform art beautifully. Alison Lapper Pregnantis a beautiful, difficult work that would not have been possible before the modern era, when our ideas of disability have undergone such a profound shift. But even this is a one-off in the oeuvre of its creator, Marc Quinn. He diddles endlessly with a work called “Self,” which is a frozen sculpture of his own head made from 4.5 liters of his own blood, and has been known to sculpt in feces.
But some of us are repulsed by this, which tells us that nihilism hasn’t completely triumphed. To counter it, we should ask ourselves why we are not nihilists—and then paint the answer.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!