Art Crazy Nation by Matthew Collings
Matthew Collings' amusing and readable take on the British art world in Art Crazy Nation is as punchy and as cleverly written as we have come to expect from the guy the art world used to think of as its trendy enfant terrrible. A natural successor to Blimey (the subtitle of which, The London Artworld from Francis Bacon to Damien Hirst, succinctly sums up the particular remit of that particular book), Art Crazy Nation sees Collings in a slightly more sombre mood than we have encountered him before. While Blimey was an urgent, polemical and, primarily, positive assessment of Hirst (whose recent book of interviews On the Way to Work with Gordon Burn is an essential insight into that particular artists' mind) et al, Art Crazy Nation seeks rather to critique the "craziness" of the recent British love affair with the ironic and iconoclastic art of the post-Sensation generation. Collings here claims that while the YBAs may well be experts in the kind of cynical image manipulation we now flock to see in such hugely popular settings as Tate Modern they have simultaneously reduced the scope of what good art can offer. Art used to have its own spiritual and, principally, aesthetic concerns while now it seems to barely speak of anything except the gestural.
Tragically Collings' own writing - arch, clever, bombastic but devoid of seriousness, weight or theoretical rigour - mimics absolutely the nescient, one-dimensional shallowness of the art he, rather late in the day, has come to suspect. Reading Collings remains a wonderful pleasure, but it remains a pleasure for the same reasons that viewing a work by Hirst remains one: neither Collings, nor those artists he now criticises, work hard enough to convince us that what they have to say to us is anything more than a joke, a glib anecdote or an amused observation. Both he and they need to put a little more effort into thinking through what questions they really do expect art to answer.