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X Marks the Murder of Art

Last week, prostate I determined to give up for good on my age-mates. This was not the first time I’d despaired for the mores and talents of my so-called Generation-X; but if I resigned my X credentials, pharmacy I reasoned that it could plausibly be the last.

For the most part, that Gen-X group, born, rather roughly, in the years 1965 through 1980, have sought to drain the worth from everything. From global economies to journalism, it has been the work of my peers to diminish value. And nowhere does our ethical bear-market scratch its fleas more conspicuously than when it is making art.

In the blank, conceptual works of Damien Hirst, we can see our art congeal. In the wholesale irony of a Jonathan Franzen narrative, we can be certain that nothing, really, means anything anymore. Between half-sharks and hateful characters preserved in the aspic of abject self-loathing, we’ve been more complicit than any generation in the murder of art.

If one does not count the recent poetry of uber-X-er Charlie Sheen, the only kind of art in which we ever comported ourselves with grace was rock. And as of last week, even that’s at an end. It was then I learned of upcoming performance Nevermind – A Salute to Nirvana.

Apparently, a few musicians with résumés that do not resonate in memory will perform memorable bestselling album Nevermind. This evening, so promotional text instructs, will include Smells Like Teen Spirit. In the case this song is unfamiliar to you; Ticketmaster helpfully reminds it was “Dubbed an Anthem For Gen X.”

Yes. It was. I recall it being fairly important at the time and I recall, in agonizing detail, just how momentous the death of its author felt in 1994.

When the pop-singer Kurt Cobain died by suicide, I took it very personally. Certainly, it was then my job to do so; as a broadcaster on a youth-oriented radio station, my remit was Gen X Mother Hen. I was just twenty-four and most of my audience was quite a bit younger so, naturally, I felt a responsibility to talk about the Nirvana singer’s death as though I were his widow.

“Why? Why? WHY?,” I asked, serving up the vacant mix of misery with nihilism so popular at the time. There was, despite the best efforts of cottage-industry conspiracy theorists, never an answer. Of course, suicide by anyone of any generation can rarely be explained. But the point of Cobain’s death, to Gen X, fell into lore as an explanation per se.

In short, Cobain’s end eclipsed his oeuvre for Gen X. It became his most significant act. This is not to say there were copycat suicides; to the best of my knowledge, there were not. It is, however, to suggest that the hopelessness of his death went on to fuel the half-arsed fires of a generation of artists.

Thanks to Gen X, the middlebrow and the miserable have now become sacrosanct. As an arts commentator, and erstwhile Gen-X Mother Hen, I know this absolutely. The arts and literary establishments now largely expect and uphold the “value” of meaninglessness. We’ve accepted, more or less, that the function of new art is to cannibalise or parody itself.

Of course, the idea of art as a colossal prank was once rather good. In Duchamp’s Fountain, a urinal with a signature, and even in its renal descendent Piss Christ, we can see how meaninglessness might have great merit. In the work of X-art-superstar Martin Creed, whose Turner Prize Work No. 227, the lights going on and off is now installed at MoMA, it’s not so easy to see such a spark.

My favourite review of a work I saw when it compromised the power bills at ACCA did not compare Creed’s assault on the idea of authenticity to Duchamp. Instead this review, which appeared in a blog I neglected to bookmark, compared Creed to Homer Simpson. The critic was reminded of Homer opening and shutting his refrigerator door while muttering, “Lights go on. Lights go off.”

This, come to think of it, describes the staccato tradition of art and art appreciation evolved by Gen X. The contents of the cold object before us are illuminated and darkened with such frequency, we are unable to say anything save for, “D’oh.”

In an age where genius and Kurt Cobain are respectively frozen and dead, we deserve nothing better than a defrosted treat like Nevermind – A Salute to Nirvana. At some point or another, my generation’s disdain for authenticity and the “real” would come to this.

Actually, I might have to go. I might have to take my baby-doll dress, and my smug irony, out of mothballs just to see it. And just to hear the faux-Kurt sing, “With the lights out, it’s less dangerous.”

Stuff it. I’m going to video the event on my phone and text it to the Turner Prize for consideration.

This article originally appeared in The Age Newspaper

10 Responses to “X Marks the Murder of Art”

  1. Pato says:

    Helen, I believe Gen X-ers are hiding our meaning under a bushel. Howard may be gone and the titular heads of state, nation and commonwealth are women. But Bolt is the new self-appointed spokesperson on global warming, Abbott is leading a ‘People’s Revolt’ (easy for him, methinks) and Gen Y seems to have taken over the airwaves. I’ve heard more about the economic impacts of Japan’s quake than I have about the social or emotional impact on its (or other) people. True to form, Gen X-ers end up directing much of our rage inward. The last time I heard a really good rant from a peer (present company excepted) was about breastfeeding. Gen X are still angry, but we don’t seem to know what we’re angry about…

  2. Nina says:

    Thank you, that was my issue with art school, too much conceptual deadness, not enough meaning. Even thought I’m technically Gen Y, perhaps I’m a modernist at heart.

  3. Helen Razer says:

    As an X, Nina, I was force-fed po-mo with a Derridean spoon, At least you guys caught the backlash. This may explain why the culture upchucked an appreciation for modernist architecture. I’m happy about that.

  4. Whatever says:

    So, give up on us then. It’s a non point. When are you going to speak out on behalf of something or stand up on account of something? Show up something in a new light? I am not a perfect impriteur of your vision so what am I supposed to get out of it? What new insight am I supposed to have gleaned? What changes can I make to be a better art appreciator?

    You have skills. Use them to some end. Tackle the forces in play, not individuals you don’t like. Or else, use the individuals you don’t like to tackle the forces in play. I’m not picking up what the forces are here at all.

    PS. I’ve never even read the bloody “The Secret” book. I’m not a member of any society that’s into craft. I am not the perpetrator.

  5. Helen Razer says:

    I thought the point, Whatever, was to urge my age-mates to give up on cultural relativism. I’m not sure why you’re cranky with me.

  6. Whatever Again for Consistency says:

    I’m cranky at you for other reasons and taking it out on you in an inappropriate context. You lent your weight to the craziest, most vicious fruitloop on Unleashed (copy kept, as the fruitloops say). Have you actually read some of her stuff? She has an alias and a history. You should hear her on the topic of whose responsibility rape is (ie. not footballers – boys will be boys). If someone is genuinely questioning the practice and role of femininity, give them a pat on the back, I say. Currently irrelevant I know, but how could you, Helen? The friend of my enemy is my enemy.

    I’ve never read Derrida, (maybe a chapter or two once but long forgotten). I’m a Foucault fan and reckon the onus should be on the system. Compassion is an individual trait and should, in my view, denote social status when employed.

    • Helen Razer says:

      Hey WAFC, email me. No, I don’t know this woman’s history. I did happen to think her article was good, though. Anyhoo, feel at liberty to give me an education here on in the inbox. Thanks. I have a feeling I’m about to be embarrassed and regretful.

  7. Whatever Again for Consistency says:

    So long as the intent wasn’t there, everything is cool with me. A few of us have undergone some righteous terrors over a long stretch but it’s all an insight into the mindset and I think, at this stage, the game (in the context of which I refer) is all but won (though I’ve said that before – the things they come up with). But I might slap a bit of an education around at some stage for illucidatory purposes, it’s good to know I can.

    Love you again, Helen. Crap on Gen X all you want. It’s what we are here for and we kind of get off on it, let’s face it.

  8. Helen Razer says:

    Woman: who is she?! Names. I need names.

  9. Whatever Again for Consistency says:

    Jennifer Wilson/Amazonia. She’s doing some great work at the moment on the prostitution article. Choosing to choose choices and all that. I’m not entering into this one, it’s beyond my ken. Though from what I can gather from the homepage quotes, I think we did win our prior battle. I don’t want to look. I’m resting.

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