I have a colleague who, while always striking me as a little odd, has recently astounded me by admitting to a conceptual art project of staggering strangeness. (To me anyway.)
Before I talk about that though let me remind you of my definition of art – "It's art if the person who makes it says it's art." In the case of conceptual art you may have to substitute "does" for "makes".
I invented my own conceptual art form once. Like all of my best inventions it came to me in a flash of genius while drunk. (Let me help you out on interpreting that sentence. Something that is "genius while drunk" doesn't mean that I was drunk and came up with something that was genius, it means that I came up with something that was only genius because I was drunk.)
I found myself walking along the road from the bus stop to my house composing poems in my head. For me this is as inevitable as the drinking that preceded it. When drunk, I always compose poems in my head. When sober again I always have an incredible sense of regret that I can't remember anything about them other than the fact that they were sublimely beautiful and intensely profound.
And then it struck me. Why not do that deliberately? Compose poems entirely in my head. Polish the words until they gleam. Set the lines together like jewels in a Fabergé egg. And then, without ever having written them down, without a single other human soul ever having seen them, forget them completely. I called it "transient poetry". Boy, if only you could see some of those poems. They make the best of my written-down work pale by comparison. At least I think they do. Kind of hard to say as I have, by definition, forgotten them entirely. And the only person who has ever seen such wonders is me.
You'll take my word for it, of course.
Anyway, while I do still mock and deride a lot of conceptual art and art installations, I never do so from the standpoint of claiming that it isn't art. I only ever claim that it's bad art. Even then, I find myself with a sneaking admiration for the sheer bravado of those standing in front of the critics and saying "Hey, what do you think of that, then?"
And of course much of it I find fascinating. Anthony Gormley's Angel of the North I can take or leave but his Event Horizon was one of the spookiest things I've ever seen, all those silent unmoving figures on the rooftops. He probably wouldn't thank me for the comparison but it reminded me of the Cybermen marching up the steps in
Even things like Martin Creed's "Lights Go On… Lights Go Off", in which an empty art gallery is alternately lit up and then plunged into darkness over and over (winner of the Turner Prize in 2001), amuse rather than irritate me, especially for the bemused look the artist had when interviewed later on the news. Along similar lines was the piece by 2007 winner, Mark Wallinger, who – dressed in a bear suit – filmed himself walking around an empty art gallery.
For me these things, though they may well be risible, are nevertheless art. Other people don't even find them risible. Some people think they are terrific – and who am I to say they are wrong? You must make up your own minds about the quality but to refuse them the label "art" is just to show that you think your taste is superior, to give yourself the label "supercilious".
And my friend's conceptual art? (You knew I'd get back to it in the end.) Well you can see it for yourself at sneezecount. He is writing down the time, location and brief description of all of his sneezes. He puts them on a blog. Why? Buggered if I know. Is it an ironic comment on the trivial nature of blogs and blogging? Quite possibly. Is it, perhaps, a comment on our modern predilection to reveal intimate details of ourselves and our lives to complete strangers? I expect so. Is it something that started as a brief in-joke (like the OEDILF) and has taken on a strange and unlikely life of its own? Seems perfectly plausible. Maybe he just likes counting stuff.
Above all, is it art?
And there, I am sure, is where we may have to agree to disagree. If it gets nominated for a Turner Prize, it has my vote.
And now to my poetry bit. It's so tempting to sit here and write a poem in my head. Then forget it. Then tell you that I've finished and invite comment.
But I won't. I'll post a couple of ones that you can actually read.
First of all there is my limerick from the OEDILF, on "abstract art". This, of course, does not actually represent my view. It's in the voice of those critics who think only representational art is art.
abstract art by BobHale
A painting of nothing's not the done thing.
Ev'ry painting should represent something,
But too often, in fact,
That's the one thing that's lacked,
Which is why abstract art's such a rum thing.
Then there is this piece that was written after visiting the Saatchi Gallery. This isn't meant to be critical, simply descriptive. The question posed at the end is for the reader's contemplation. The writer has already made up his mind.
Oil filled rooms,
towers of mice,
the slice and dice
approach to art.
and bloody heads
and candy hearts.
a butcher's blade,
of death displayed
in separate parts.
Cows, pigs, sheep,
a sense of balance,
raw egos that
outstrip raw talents –
they call this art?
And, on the same theme, a variation in the form of a double dactyl