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Your Five Year Old Could Have Done a Lot of That…

I finished that book I was reading on Modern Art this morning (Why Your Five Year Old Could Not Have Done That by Susie Hodge). I have to admit that, weighing the presented evidence and arguments, I’m inclined to disgree with the hypothesis. Hodge covered a wide range of artists and art works and many of them do display a level of skill that exceeds that of a five, ten or even fifteen year old. On the other hand, there also seemed a high proportion where the case boiled down to ‘your five year old could have done that but they wouldn’t have had the same motivation’. If the viewer doesn’t have an opportunity to engage with the motivation of the artist, then that seems like a very weak line of defence.

I appreciate that a lot of the work was created in reaction to the more formal art world but often it comes across as turning to look at the boy who has declared that the Emperor has no clothes and realising that he, too, is dressed in his birthday suit. I think that is the point where creativity cracks open and appears like a delusion or a confidence trick.

I wonder if some of the art would be better kept private – a cathartic exercise to create but just a mess for other people who don’t feel under pressure to appear as part of the in-crowd? Other pieces could communicate to those in a particular time and place, like a joke or sharp comment shared among friends, but I wonder how much they deserve their place in wider view? The art buying world is clearly full of vast distortions of value, with many artists living and having lived in poverty while latterly their works end up fetching sums that could only be described as obscene compared to any accounting for the materials and time invested in their conception and creation.

Art that anyone could create isn’t a bad thing – it could be empowering if more people worked out their feelings with paint and canvas rather than lies and fists – but art that pretends to have a radical message but is really just selling out to the same masters feels all the more empty for its lack of obvious craft.

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