"The Relativity of Pretensions" 2011


1. the laying of a claim to something.
2. a claim or title to something.
3. Often, pretensions. a claim made, especially indirectly or by implication, to some quality, merit, or the like: They laughed at my pretensions to superior judgment.
4. a claim to dignity, importance, or merit.

The way I see it is that we all have "pretensions"! A lot of which we are probably not even aware until they are challenged, or we only notice when we "self-update" the purpose or reason for which we are doing something.

"The Relativity of Pretensions" - I'm asked to explain this piece more than most: except probably "Waiting for Eve". There is of course no "explanation", other than - "I built it for some weird reason"! Take a look at the progress of its construction here. However, I think it probably depicts the whole conundrum that I (and a lot of people) see with "ART" - and how it is valued. I haven't arrived at any conclusions of course, but I've never heard any convincing explanation by anyone else either. The value of art seems quite arbitrary and flexible - it has to be - it's just obeying the rules of "supply and demand" as with any other traded commodity and so the actual value at any one point in time can stem from any number of reasons. However, putting aside all values of liking/disliking or desiring/rejecting any particular piece and instead by looking for the reasons and/or pretensions that caused it to be produced (i.e. a commission or purely commercial piece) might be a way of getting to the "intrinsic" value.

I think maybe I've depicted my befuddlement as three separate levels in this invisible multi-layered "Artworld". - i.e. the visual arts.

At the top right of the image a globe of art is held aloft by a sculpted marble hand extending from an ossified old snail shell: this I see as "The Untouchables" - mainly the work of dead "artists". It's almost impossible to gauge the gravitas and worth - or pretensions - that lay behind each of these pieces in the era they were produced. Instead, we tend to go with the received collective values. And because the works have largely disappeared into the great collections of the world (private and public) we rarely re-visit them objectively.

In the middle of the image is what I see as "The present day Elite" - represented by living, vibrant, shiny little snails who live on the back of the old snail shell - yet only a minute section of the contemporary work of any era. One is wearing a beret and slithering its way up on top of the colourless old snail shell, re-decorating it as it goes. This is perilous work (but somebody has to do it) and has to be executed in the most dangerously exposed position in the whole of "Artworld". Luckily, there are many interested parties and facilitators at this level and one can be seen who is only too pleased to be in charge of PR/communications - for anyone who just can't understand the obvious value and pretensions behind this work.

At the bottom of the image is a couple of pretty "feisty-looking" snails ("Artworld" outlaws) they are also doing some creative embellishments of their own. The near one is playfully having fun with the PR, whilst the other one is decorating a concrete support he's found - without which, this great structure might collapse. But what pretensions are driving their activity?

So - what's the difference in the pretensions behind all this activity and in the way we value it? What "Relativity" is there between it/them all when they are skewed only by time and space? By cheekily rearranging Einstein's mathematical symbols of his "Theory of Relativity" one of the outlaws is trying to explain it.

Energy (E) - this could be the energy used in creating the artwork (pretty obvious) but also as is nowadays becoming more important - the energy expended on promoting it as "Art".

Mass (m) - this is simply the end result, although it does not have to be physical or tangible: as in music, poetry or even a new scientific way of thinking.

Speed/time (c) - we're not talking the speed of light here! But time/evaluation must be allowed for both the energy input and then for the "consumption and digestion" of the created piece.

There are also many other contemporary factors working hard to influence our views of art (which I'm sure have operated in every other era), such as fashion, sponsorship, profile of the individual(s) responsible (the "artist" may already be a "celebrity" in another field) or pure speculative/manipulative investment. And so any particular grading of art into some nebulous framework of worthiness that we've invented, has to be hyper-subjective. So it could just be that the (c) content of the equation is the most important. Sometimes it might signify the instant appreciation of the work, sometimes it qualifies the years that the "artist" laboured alone in the wilderness......or maybe (c) could stand for the centuries of glorification of classical art! However the (c) is interpreted, it has a variable influence on everything: so much so that no "body" can believably claim to be a judge of all ART. 25.09.11

Three examples where time (c) is the essential dimension -

Van Gogh never sold a painting (his brother doesn't count). Yet his work now commands some of the highest prices ever paid at auction - 120 years after his death. A phrase comes to mind way before his "time"!

The Beatles broke the mould of contemporary music in 1962 - they actually wrote/created, performed and "lived" a totally new musical genre - still copied today, 50 years on. They captured the mood of the "time" perfectly.

The Sex Pistols version of God Save the Queen, released for the 1977 Silver Jubilee was banned by the BBC and the "establishment". They not only sparked off one of the biggest shifts in popular musical creativity in living memory but their music will probably outlive 95% of their contemporaries efforts. Like it or not they were heralding in a change in the "times" - (And by 2012 it featured in a medley of the "Best of Britishness" at the 2012 London Olympics!)

I have now re-written this piece three times - so this is just my current view of the image. And just an afterthought! "this same relativity must be everywhere: not just in the so called art world?" 19.11.12

"The Relativity of Pretensions" - detail..................................................................................