Her teacher smiled. “Just make a mark and see where it takes you.” – The Dot
Unless you live under a rock, you’re probably aware that Damien Hirst’s COMPLETE SPOT PAINTINGS are making their way toward global domination, one perfectly imperfect dot at a time, in Gagosian Gallerys across the world. ”Down with Hirst,” you say? Aw, c’mon…it’s pointillism deconstructed! There are mugs to be bought, SPOT CHALLENGES to be completed (you get a free, signed spot painting to forever admire in your own home if you visit every gallery by March 17th), there’s even an APP! So grab your Murakami Louis Vuitton and head on down before these puppies roll out of town…
First off, let me be clear. I have nothing against Mr. Hirst, in fact, I rather enjoy looking at his spots…I think they’re pretty neat. Spacial implications, color variety, imperfection of brush strokes, each one is different but somehow the same….Unlike the famed SENSATION exhibit of the 90s, this time Hirst is making a splash, well, for doing nothing much more than sitting back and enjoying the fruits of his labor, (fruits which come in the form of shiny skull rings & blazers, apparently, to each his own). If you don’t know, Hirst’s team of employees executed all but the first two spot paintings. Does this mean it is not art? Hey you Mr. Brainwash fan…what say you? I wasn’t much a fan of his work in the Sensation exhibit, however, being a vegan at the time, but I sure enjoyed watching the kneeling, prostelytizing priests and nuns praying for my soul as I entered and exited the Brooklyn Museum on that cold winter’s day in late 1999. His work really did nothing for me, (I much preferred the dung riddled MARY which upon inspection was quite clean…or at least I preferred how mad it made Rudy Giuliani at the time…I digress). So back to Hirst, who understands that he has become the establishment he once rebelled against, and his spots, making a splash, and what life lessons can we learn from him, or rather, what lessons can he teach my children – about art, about work, about economics, about life.
Let’s switch gears for a moment. I have two young sons, one is five years old, the other nine months. We found ourselves at the bookstore the other night, as we often do on Sunday evenings, and I picked up a book I hadn’t seen before, The Dot, by a favorite author Peter H. Reynolds (Ish, The North Star). The Dot is the story of Vashti, a young girl who can’t seem to awaken her creativity…
Vashti is in a very bad mood because she has not managed to produce anything in her art class. A blank piece of paper lies before her. Vashti is sure that she “just can’t draw” and she does not even want to try. Her teacher suggests that she should “make a mark and see where it takes you.” In a fit of pique Vashti draws a dot, signs her work, and calls it quits.
To Vashti’s amazement her teacher frames the single dot picture. Vashti cannot help thinking that she could improve on this rather sad little effort. So she gets out paper and paints and she begins to create dots of all kinds. Why she even creates a dot which is many feet high. Soon Vashti’s dots are being greatly admired at the school art show and at this event Vashti meets a fan who wishes he could draw. With a smile Vashti sets about helping him find his way.
Vashti’s dots are extremely reminiscent of Hirst’s spots. I do not think this was purposeful, just coincidental, especially this week when I had Hirst on the mind.
Ever since I heard about the Spot paintings coming to LA I knew I’d go see them because I had this idea that I just should…why? My husband is not interested in joining me because, really, who cares about them, right? At first I thought I should see them in person so that I can form an opinion based on actually being in the room with them, but I feel I’ve read too much and have too many preconceived ideas about the artist himself, the work, how it was executed, etc. Can I even have an opinion solely based on aesthetics? Is art ever really judged in that way? As I said before, I do simply like the way they look. They evoke a kind of movement and vibration in me, the white backgrounds, the unending use of color. Am I impressed with the skill employed to make them, of course not. If they were hand painted by someone else 50 years ago, would your opinion change? Would mine? Either way, as someone who enjoys art and as a parent who wants my children to enjoy art…where do I draw the line on my opinions of what makes art art. When I showed them to my son he said, “They seem museumy, but not museumy for me”. This afternoon I will take him to see them and we’ll see what he has to say, because really, does anything else matter? Because I’m finding it difficult to make a non-judgemental opinion, I’m relying on him to shed some light…stay tuned for more on that.
Now, one Amazon reviewer claimed that The Dot celebrates mediocrity and I have to disagree. We’re not handing out trophies to the losers here, but giving encouragement to a child who feels incapable of success, awakening the creative spirit that resides in all of us. It’s not about the dot, or the spot, or the specific mark on the page, what it is about is freeing oneself to put out there what you have inside, without fear of judgement or failure, and to enjoy the act of doing it, not “I can’t draw” but rather, “I can enjoy drawing knowing that the outcome might not be perfect”.
So what can we learn here? As a parent, I think all the time about what my wishes and goals are for my children. To be lifelong learners, secure, happy individuals who contribute to society in a positive way, who find love in their work and their relationships…and this poses me with a perplexing question - What is the ultimate representation of success? Money? Self-Awareness? Security? Fame? Love? Enlightenment? Passion? What can Hirst teach my kid about life? I’m guessing Mr. Hirst, a successful, self-made
artist businessman, is or has many, if not all of these things…You may not like him, or his art…but I bet his mother is very proud.