Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Downside of Depravity: Open Thread

We have an opening tonight and still got tons to do, so I'll keep today's post brief. I did get to read through many of yesterday's comments though...and the ones on the arts education thread. You people are amazing! Thanks for sharing so generously here.

Not much about fine art in the Times this morning, but there was an article about how a British writer was denied entry into the US because he had admitted to heavy drug use and hiring prostitutes (lots of 'em) in his memoir. I know...I know...the irony of the world's largest importer of narcotics and other drugs acting all puritanical at its gates does test one's patience, but there was something the writer noted that I thought makes good food for thought (if not good ammo for a virtual food fight):
[Sebastian] Horsley said he was surprised he was deported, since he had previously traveled to the United States six times, twice to visit relatives in Boston and four times to New York.

“God bless America, land of the free, but sadly not the land of the depraved,” he said. He referred to the recent resignation of Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York, in the wake of revelations that he had frequented prostitutes. “I’m not a politician, I’m an artist,” Mr. Horsley said. “Depravity is part of the job description.” [emphasis mine]
I tend to prefer my artists hardworking AND hardpartying, with an emphasis on the hardworking part, but you know my bias here. Still, I can't help but think perhaps Mr. Horsley's ideas about depravity and artists are somewhat anachronistic. I mean, I know there are certain society types posing as artists (this week anyway) who get gigabytes of press for boorish behavior, substance abuse, and poor hygiene, but that's fashion really. Is it still important for an artist to indulge in debauchery, to be insightful about the human condition? Was it ever?

Consider this an open thread. (And stop by the opening tonight if you can.)

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45 Comments:

Blogger Aaron Wexler said...

I have to say debauchery is difficult.
I've tried. Somehow the hard working takes over
the hardpartying... but that's just me.
True debauchery will get you dead sooner than later and I'm not that good an artist to have my genius body of work represented from age 23 to 33. I'm no James Dean. I guess that's the point though. The "image" of the artist (performer, athelete...) can easily overshadow any true talent one may possess.
Even Eliot Spitzer may have gone on to be a great politician on a national level but his self-destructive behavior will now always negate progress he made in his field.
The word "depravity" is a bit silly to me. That word
means a lot when applied to artists living in the former century.

3/20/2008 09:09:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

I've been in both places...so f-ed up that I couldn't perform, and completely straight dried up with no creative juice. I seem to prefer a healthy balance of the 2.
Depraved? I don't know if that's what I would call it. Maybe the word takes on a slightly different connotation across the pond.
Good Luck on the opening!

3/20/2008 09:28:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The word "depravity" does seem a bit dated here, but it's one of the things about Britain that I love: how they use so much of their language, despite how far back it reaches, all the while inventing new language.

What would a more contemporary equivalent in the US be, though?

Good Luck on the opening!

Thanks Julie.

3/20/2008 09:31:00 AM  
Blogger Molly Stevens said...

An arist by nature goes against the grain. As a result, she may be considered depraved by others. But, as soon as an artist claims depravity, it's pretty much a pose.

3/20/2008 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger Pretty Lady said...

Every lady worthy of the title has a bit of a Past, but she never lets it interfere with the Present.

3/20/2008 10:05:00 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

Life experience expands one's work, I believe.... particularly if your work deals with emotional/human condition issues. Like an actor, you have to understand what these states really feel like to make them genuine.

I think most artists are hedonistic by nature. It is helpful to learn how to channel that into the work, so one does not self-destruct, and the work will always get the best "extremes" that we are capable of. Artmaking at its best moments tops any other pleasure.

I do believe that the public still expects this kind of attitude, if not behavior, from its artists. I have always thought that when a banker buys a painting, they are buying the lifestyle/freedom that they do not possess, the one that they traded to make money.

I made/am making a series of Art World Truths, embroidered on my used painting overalls. The first one was: "Artists live on the edge, and sell their feelings to the wealthy, who are safe. Then the rich get to have it both ways."

3/20/2008 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

I think the depraved sense has a few different meanings- I feel humiliated often by the poverty level I continue to live at despite the relative success of my work, although my behavior is not depraved- my thoughts are more avant garde than conservative- if we are talking about that- or are we talking about strategy- good girl/bad girl versus good boy/bad boy? what works depends on class status, gender, nationality as much as personal manifesto, intellectual diatribe or political stance... freedom to afford debauchery implies money to buy designer drugs, imbibe large quantities of alcohol, frequent fancy clubs, etc... or being a pet of the rich... to have access to expensive things... but my feeling is, what does it have to do with the work... pushing boundaries, etc

3/20/2008 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Considering that so many artists can't afford health insurance, it doesn't make sense to ruin the health you do have by smoking, drinking to inebriation, doing hard drugs (or a combination of many individually less harmful drugs), having unsafe sex, eating junk food and going for days on little sleep.

Add the stress of poverty and rejection, it's amazing there are any artists over 40 at all.

That's the mature me talking. I was a wild child in art school, but I learned soon enough that if you want to have a career--ideally working your way out of poverty and into some measure of success--"depraved" living is not likely to get you there.

As for not being allowed into the country for being a hard partier, that's just stupid. It's something out of J. Edgar Hoover (remember him, the guy who wore a dress in his off hours?). I'd say there are a number of martini-swilling, pill-popping, multiple-partner suburbanites who wouldn't make in back in after their annual trip to Rome to see the Pope.

3/20/2008 11:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

no i am a successful artist i hate going out, i love to stay in and work most of the time. when i was younger i was the same exact way. has it hurt me a bit? yes, i dont get invited that much to things, so dont know that many people. do i care? not really, i let my work do the work. would ed winkelman like me? probably not, i dont party hard, find it so boring.

3/20/2008 11:15:00 AM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

as for that artist not being allowed into the country- it's as much a product of our current political climate as what is in fashion- is depravity in or out? are the leaders of the artworld hard party'ers who can ride the waves HIGH and low or are the leaders of the art world the ones who tow the line quietly in their studio- staying true to their own voice and inner vision as an artist that remain immune to fads?

3/20/2008 11:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I have often wondered about this. The depraved seem to be having so much fun, and I wish I could join them, but I'm a lightweight drunk, I hate being high, I fall asleep naturally at 10:30 and awake at 5:30, and adore my wife above all others. (Of course, I found this out by drinking, getting high, staying out late, and adoring others before my wife came along.) I think the artist's mindset correlates to a high degree of permissiveness, but hardly requires libertinism. Calling oneself an artist to excuse one's drug addiction and infidelity, which I have witnessed once or twice, mistakes the artist's life for a lifestyle. You can't explain the difference between the two to someone who is in this for the wrong reasons. Sorry, depravity is not part of the job description. The artist's job description, in its entirety, is to produce good art. If drugs and paid sex makes that happen, great, but leave the rest of us out of it.

OTOH, one of the more grating of the conservative positions is the wholesale selling out of the pursuit of happiness as an inalienable human right. Drugs and prostitutes in my life in any quantities would just irritate and trouble me, but if it floats Horsley's boat, do it, man. It annoys the hell out of me that we denied him entry into the country over it. I'll take a libertine over a scold any day.

I have always thought that when a banker buys a painting, they are buying the lifestyle/freedom that they do not possess, the one that they traded to make money.

I presume that there are some freaky bankers out there, but otherwise this is likely true. I suspect something similar about the übercollectors on a larger scale.

3/20/2008 11:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

drugs and suicide take their toll

3/20/2008 11:46:00 AM  
Anonymous BT said...

Artists are (or should be) explorers. As such, they should have the freedom to try anything, and excess is certainly part of that.

Paraphrasing Dave Hickey as he put it in his address to Frieze: "I got into this business for the sex and drugs only to find out that it became all about money."

There's also some wonderful texts addressing this in that Damien Hirst interview book. He talks about the need to binge and purge as part of his creative process.

3/20/2008 12:07:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Every decade there is a tweaking of the Myth of the Artist. I would say more professionalism has entered the field in the past decade or two but that is only because the art world is gorged with money and everyone involved in making money selling art wants the process to go as smoothly as possible. So deviancy or depravity will always be packaged and compartmentalized safely within its proper context. But based on the continued and undisputed success of the archetype of the party animal artist (Hirst, Snow, Emin, and others) I would say depravity will always be part of the public's perception of the artist. Art is a corrupt act in the sense that it is impractical. Each generation defines what is corrupt or not, but non-hetero-sex, drug use, radical politics, present in every other gallery in major cities in some form or another, will always be part of the art world. Art displayed in galleries that do not have a more conservative roster of artists or agenda, will always proudly convey a deviant message, a rebellious attitude, a big fuck you to the majority of Americans. But of course the people looking at the art in galleries will gladly share a knowing wink with the bosses of the white cubes and everyone will go home to their monotonous lifestyles (hopefully) and feel better about themselves.

3/20/2008 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph Giannasio said...

What would a more contemporary equivalent in the US be, though?

I prefer Debauchery.

Depraved, is more like debased or demeaned,

to make morally bad or evil; vitiate; corrupt.

Debauchery:
excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures; intemperance.

Depraved conjures images of burnt out shells of people arms dotted with festering needle tracks, wraping herpetic lips around crack pipes, limited by the mortal imperfection that prevents expedient inhalation of a sufficient amount of death.

Debauchery invites visions of the Rococo powering it's way in an opiate harmonium, through the Baroque driving the death nail into Victorian sensibilities.

3/20/2008 12:48:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

It is all about the Myth of Subversiveness. Press releases still inform us day after day that an artist is 'subverting' this or that. Depravity, debauchery, these are key elements to the Myth of the Artist. If they aren't subverting some societal more than they are subverting something from art history. The avant garde could still genuinely subvert something back in the 1950s. I don't think they can any more, but I do know that a number of art films have come out during the past year or two that focus on characters that practice bestiality. Visual artists should pay heed.

3/20/2008 12:56:00 PM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

ironically, i see depravity (we all came from humble origins) and flamboyancy (new money) as particularly AMERICAN types of freedom- debauchery implies something else- against status quo- but since most artists dont have an elevated status- how can that apply? in any case, depravity, flamboyancy, debauchery... pushing the limits to the point of self-destruction is an expression of freedom, rebellion, or strategy although suicide is a crime, there are lots of gray areas... and in a more barbaric culture there are more opportunities...

3/20/2008 01:17:00 PM  
OpenID deborahfisher said...

I like Donna's take on things. There really are a lot of ways to be depraved.

Sex and drugs have become merely manner, and are increasingly untenable as a practical matter for all but the uppercrustiest artists.

Most artists I are too busy to scratch their own asses and view hangovers as Mornings They Will Never Get Back.

And yet there is depravity in submitting so completely to a life that is probably not going to get you anything but dead, quicker.

And I still manage to have a really good time.

3/20/2008 01:47:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph Giannasio said...

most artists dont have an elevated status

Artists have a self elevated status, divorced from societal hierarchy, that's the secret and subversion, to rise up to an equal level regardless of stature, to negate the currency of commerce, and accumulate an intangible commodity of experience.

Depravity, Debauchery its a self chosen statement.

3/20/2008 01:54:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph Giannasio said...

Sex and drugs have become merely manner, and are increasingly untenable as a practical matter for all but the uppercrustiest artists.

Did I miss a meeting? I didn't get the memo. When did sex become an exclusive commodity of the bourgeoisie?

(how many scrabble points would uppercrustiest be)

3/20/2008 02:01:00 PM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

'Artists have a self elevated status, divorced from societal hierarchy, that's the secret and subversion, to rise up to an equal level regardless of stature, to negate the currency of commerce, and accumulate an intangible commodity of experience...'

Yes, but, are you trying to sell your work? In that case, arent you plugged into the economic machine of finanical values like everybody else?
I think she means debauchery as in extramarital sex, promiscuity, prostitution- which could be seen as freedoms, subversions, self-expressions depending on your view.
I also think some of this has gotten confused with sexuality and artists- not all artists are gay- and there is alot of confusion and misinterpretation about gay love, gay rights, gay freedom that has nothing to do with artists. Both groups of people suffer alot for who they love, what they love to do and what is in their soul... or who they are that is not subversive, debauchery, immoral, perverse, depraved etc...

3/20/2008 02:11:00 PM  
Anonymous McFawn said...

There's a great book on idleness--How to Be Idle--that describes the type of "depravity" I think most beneficial for an artist.

The type of puritanical buckling-down for its own sake that our country demands is detrimental to artists. Work is not inherently noble. However, debauched drug/sex soaked evenings are just another, equally consuming, distraction from art.

Daydreaming, and generally respecting your imagination above whats around you, that's what it takes. Sloth is the new depravity.

3/20/2008 02:20:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph Giannasio said...

Yes, but, are you trying to sell your work?

No, I'm trying to make my work.;)

not all artists are gay

true I would say most are sad.. :(

though one might say all gays are artists..;)

Zip... where are you this topic is right in your wheelhouse?

3/20/2008 02:24:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Currently there are over four million people rotting away in our prison systems. This is truly depraved.

We should ask ourselves what the politicians and media are labeling as depraved, and consider how our moral universe is a construction meant to obscure what is truly depraved in our world. For instance, the proliferation of nurdles throughout the world's water systems is depraved or corrupt.

A writer taking drugs and getting his rocks off is not depraved. It is human. Things that destroy or will destroy large swathes of humanity are truly depraved.

3/20/2008 02:55:00 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

When I was an undergrad many years ago, the majority of my professors were alcoholics, divorced, no kids, chasing after students.

Most of the artists I know now work out, eat right, and want to stay in the best physical shape possible to make art.

Still, one must wonder if Hirst, Emin, etc. are big names because they partied with the right people, or if they party with important people because they are successful?

I have made lots of contacts when I force myself out of the studio to go to social events.

3/20/2008 03:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i miss zip. i think heshe would have some fine thoughts on this subject.

3/20/2008 03:05:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Obviously blog comments are permeable substances. So I can't cover ever angle of meaning. I am talking about moral equivalencies. We are so content to waggle our fingers at the naughty politicians while we let the real horrors of the world churn onwards.

3/20/2008 03:53:00 PM  
Anonymous L.M. said...

Joseph Giannasio hit on something earlier when he wrote Artists have a self elevated status We do declare ourselves "exceptions to the rule".

3/20/2008 03:53:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Amen to that l.m.

3/20/2008 05:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't someone else supply drug adled non-sequitors in zip's absence? Can't someone cut and paste some song lyrics?

3/20/2008 05:25:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

Not exactly what you wanted, but: The Upper Crust is/was a punk rock band that played in 18th century costume, complete with rice powder, a wig and a mole, and with their back to the audience. At the time, I liked their schtick. But I think it was also for the record store boys who had a collection of Kiss action figures. Cool irony, they call it.

The same year of the Kiss Reunion Tour - 1996 - the Sex Pistols were panned by the exact same record store guys - it was though the Sex Pistols were rejected for not remaining authentically debased in their own puke and wanting to behave like professionals.

3/20/2008 05:43:00 PM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

i dont think hirst became successful by partying with the right people- i think he had an idea that artists should not be poor and collectors rich- in other words, artists work should not escape their grasp via sales and conferred value in the sale of fine art- so i think he was in bed with everyone to stay in the loop- he is interested in the game of art as artist, collector, owner, etc... and as the one who should profit the most from his art- richard serra also had the idea that you dont need to be poor to be an artist- in fact i think he rejected that idea entirely and i respect them both for changing the game for artists and for hanging onto their own ideas along the way- i think you could say similar things about andy warhol- he was obsessed with icons and fame and celebrity and i think he partied with the crowd to study these people as well as our societal obsession with fame as a phenomenon or death as a taboo and in the process he became a celebrity of sorts- although most celebrities are so named for their looks- but artists for the work they do- and how their work looks.

3/20/2008 06:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it was early 2002 when the ACA in florida had a French artist who was leading one of their residencies turned around by US immigration officials and sent back to France for little more than being French. Post 9/11 entry in to the US has become an horrible experience for many non-citizens, particularly if you list your occupation as 'artist'.

3/20/2008 06:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a fantastic press coup for Harper Collins!

So, right before Easter they manage to get Sebastian Horsley denied entry into the U.S. for being an admitted and convicted criminal and person of "moral turpitude." A bit ironic for someone who once got crucified on a lark...

Harper Collins and editor Carrie Kania didn't waste a moment to get this story into the press, the widely repeated Reuters piece reads curiously like a press release. Maybe it's because it's based on this PR piece?

So, is this just a ploy for making sure Sebastian Horsley's book is noticed? Pretty desperate I'd say, especially after the spate of fake misery memoirs that have been exposed lately. There's an interesting piece in the New York Times about this event, which also casts doubt on the truth of Mr. Horsley's memoir:

"In interviews, though, he has been repeatedly coy about what is real and what is contrived. 'It’s better to be quotable than honest,' he told Time Out London in February. In an interview with The Independent last September, he said: 'I don’t speak, I quote. I am a fraud. I have cobbled together my personality from hundreds of little bits. I am simultaneously the most genuine and the most artificial person you will ever meet."

During the party last night, the upshot of Sebastian being detained and refused entry for being a sleazeball, wasn't lost on the publishers:

"Of course, the silver lining of the incident did not escape Ms. Kania. A big piece in The New York Times, the kind of Internet buzz money can’t buy …"

Harper Collins PR flacks certainly outdid themselves to promote this miserable dandy and his abhorrent views!

3/20/2008 09:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Rennie Court said...

How convenient for his publishers. This certainly IS a gold mine for them, maybe they set the whole thing up?

This is for certain. Sebastian Horsley wasn't sent home to London for his "subversive ideas." Foreigners with prior convictions and histories of drug abuse get denied entry into the U.S. all the time. Sad but true. Most people have a much worse time of it, since they don't have a conglomerate behind them to further their cause.

And since it was probably the publisher who tipped off immigration, why do we care about this man or his book?

I smell a rat. This "scandal" was staged.

3/20/2008 09:53:00 PM  
Blogger jeff f said...

This will do wonders for his book sales.

One can't help to think of William S Burroughs.

3/21/2008 12:23:00 AM  
Anonymous L.M. said...

I was thinking about changing my occupation on my passport from 'artist' to 'sleazeball', however this thread has convinced me that this might be a bad idea.

3/21/2008 01:02:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Im on the side that isn't "professional" in the sense that "professional-ism" is a real drag, and also, morally, a real drag. Depravity. its like the marquis de Sade is going to hot sheet you at your hotel and embarass you in front of your hooker(S). bUT mR. dE sADE, We've known each other for so long...Such bullshit.

Who is your audience? I dont have a clue personally, thats why i write - its cheaper and I get my rocks off just the same as smearing paint on canvas. I dont have a profit model, and Im scared man, they put you in the box and chain you to "the Concept" and then some lady comes in to break your ankles on account of the ending wasnt right.

professionalism: You can't come to my studio I have to send you slides? I got your slides right here. you can come over and if you are lucky you can have a piece of my toilet paper with the knock knock joke printed on it.

What ever happened to insulting collectors who have the unmitigated hubris to climb five flights to your studio without a joint or bottle of wine to make the excruciating banalities of commerce seem a little less like getting adopted by a fun lovin' cocker spaniel? I hate unpacking my sentences (dogs love it dont they?) because thats like telling you the punchline twice and still getting a face full of shit lickin' fun). Well whatever, thats why you HIRE PROFESSIONALS to do the work for you. ANd its so very hard to find good help these days (distinguished looking frauds who will glad hand the hoi poloi and humbly beg for more when some neuveau riche turd asks for a reach around), let alone make product for them to sell. If they work on comission or have families thats a lot of pressure I dont need.

Product. Thats the dealio. WHat am I supposed to be making these days? Finish fetish gewgaws for the busy executive? Is painting dead? Can I serve tequila for profit as art without a liquor licence? No, and thats a real shame.

Not that I give two shits but artists should do what they want or by comission but the whole "make the product first" and then "find a consignment shop" as a business model is the real depravity. I couldn;t have invented a more perfect hell.

Oh but you, you live in the real world and make a living off your art. Good for you. I'll be slam dunking the apocalypse while you burn. I am that good.

3/21/2008 01:15:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

...the whole "make the product first" and then "find a consignment shop" as a business model is the real depravity.

drinks on the house

3/21/2008 02:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

whata buncha wimpy debauchee's, 4:30 'n everyone's asleep

3/21/2008 04:39:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

I agree it's anachronistic, Mr. W, the least interesting of the many anachronisms we see in art now. Nothing new to discover in the wildly self-indulgent id. Primal Scream wears Dacron and plays Canasta.

Artists are so serious now. Maybe it's high time.

Happy Spring, everybody!

3/21/2008 08:55:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Historically, I’d have to say that the “greatest”, those artists who seem to live in a state of divine grace (Bach, Vermeer, Bruegel, Rembrandt etc) didn’t have time for much serious debauchery, too busy trying to support a family and follow the muse.

There’s always going to be screw-ups, drunks and dopers, but it seems the myth of the blitzed-out artist avatar is a recent development that coincides with the nihilistic imperatives of modernism as expressed through literature, movies and music.

Hard work is a bore.

3/21/2008 12:43:00 PM  
Blogger jeff f said...

Kalm I could not agree more.
Google William S Burroughs Jr. for a good example of a wasted life but talented life.

Of course there was Mozart...

3/21/2008 05:57:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

With regards to Burroughs, he did murder, I mean accidently shoot his wife to death while playing a fun game of William Tell with her in Mexico. He of course has been thoroughly deified in the literary canon regardless of this inconvenient occurrence.

3/21/2008 06:42:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

They also had a child at the time. Nice.

3/21/2008 08:41:00 PM  

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