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How to Make it in Modern Art

How to Make it in Modern Art

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Making it, in Contemporary Art, is tough. I managed ‘Fine Art’ for a week at a pretty reputable art school. Every single project, including, yes, some Shoreditch twat who persuaded some unfortunate dolt to film him tossing himself off was rejected as “dull, unoriginal, painful and trite”, and I, in all my limited experience of life at 19, agreed.

My project was due the next day and in one of the wiser moments of my short-lived art career, I decided to skip the critique altogether and wander aimlessly around Regent’s Park high on spray-paint fumes, delighted with myself for saving the suicidal teacher from yet more mind-numbing impetus towards throwing himself down the stairs. I won’t tell you what it is, but let’s just say there were a lot of clapped-out tyres and fake hand grenades. However, I did briefly slide back into the murky world of contemporary art, and for six fabulously educative months I was almost completely at my liberty to observe artists in their natural habitats. The studio, you ask? Pfft, no. The gallery or ‘the space’ as some pretentious arse-wipes call it. During that time I learned a few little tricks of the trade, and am sharing them with you out of the goodness of my empty, dead heart. Want the insider’s guide to artistic super-stardom? Here you go:


Gone are the days when artists were outcasts, loners, and charmingly shy old men who were delighted when anyone gave a shit about their stunning portraiture. Now they pretty much train you to be a self-promoting wanker at art school. Forget technique, canvas stretching and “how to mix your oils better than a four year old” class, becoming the next Damien Hirst is roughly as simple an undertaking as curing cancer, and requires untold hours in networking, flattery and damned dirty LIES. If you don’t engage with this, you will not make it. Did someone hang your finger-painting the wrong way up? Own it. Make as many friends as humanly possible, you never know how useful they could become, except the interns (ignore them). Be seen as challenging, but only to people you are sure are less important than you could potentially be: i.e. Gallery Director? Fawn, have a little joke, but never at their expense. Make the joke at the expense of the aforementioned intern who’s just stood at the airport for an hour waiting for you to get off the plane because you couldn’t be bothered to look for the sign with your ridiculous made-up unpronounceable fucking name on it. Nobody cares about the interns and no one will stick up for them, so feel free to be as nasty as you want.


Getting to the top of the Contemporary Art game doesn’t necessarily require talent, but it definitely requires bullshit. Can you spout meaningless, existential tripe riddled with references to Gilles Deleuze, (it’s always Gilles Deleuze) the technological revolution, global warming, Heidegger, all the while gesticulating to a solitary metal bar with a clay turd suspended from it? Voilà, you are a contemporary artist in 2016.

Be ‘relevant’

This is a tough one, because I have absolutely no fucking idea what this means, but if an art-critic really want to shit all over someone’s rep, they flippantly declare them ‘irrelevant’. If a 26 year-old self-styled art-aficionado with zero life experience uses that word anywhere near your sculpture/painting/installation/video/clay turd, my advice is to put your head between your knees and kiss your arse goodbye; because, my little budding Anish Kapoor, you are DONE. Fucked. KO’d. There is no way to come back from irrelevance. It doesn’t matter if your sculptures are sublimely shocking and beautifully executed, or that your photo-realism is so accomplished people look at it from the side to catch you out for blowing up a very slightly blurry photo. If you sense the arrogant, clueless little cunt might be about to drop the deadliest phrase in contemporary art, do something, anything, to distract everyone else while you discreetly chop their head off and chuck it in the nearest cleaner’s closet. Fake an epileptic fit, projectile vomit in a 360 degree pirouette, knock someone else’s sculpture off a plinth, go temporarily insane, it doesn’t really matter, just don’t be labelled irrelevant.

‘Found objects’

Can’t be bothered to make anything? No problem, you don’t have to go full Tracey Emin (in fact, please don’t). Just get down your local waste facility, bribe someone, and pull some broken microwaves out of a skip. If you get back to the studio (mum and dad’s garage) and realise it might not cut it, arrange it as the centrepiece around which you can scatter other useless tat no one will miss. Then pour cement over it. Dip dye the whole lot in pastel colours and repeat, until you have thirteen useless ‘pieces’ or ‘statements’ you can lob into a big empty white room, or better yet, force some poor over-worked, underpaid technician to ‘suspend’ them. People love things that are suspended, just look at Miro (the original contemporary art fraud).

Performance Art

This is the one thing that in my limited experience, artists are really big on these days, especially at openings. It is categorically bizarre and annoyingly unfathomable. At this point I’m going to be perfectly honest with you dear readers: I haven’t the faintest idea why anyone would engage with performance art. It’s irritating in the extreme. I’ve never seen anyone I regarded as anything other than a pretentious arse-licker-on-the-make enjoy it, let alone able to explain it to me. Perhaps I am just a clueless philistine, but I just don’t get it. Perhaps to make ‘great art’ these days you do need to dress up as a slug and have ‘the man’ pour salt on your writhing mollusc manifestation to illustrate just how your unbridled, incomprehensible genius works?

Maybe singing shit self-penned ‘songs’ with a shit sotto voce is bold and daring and worth us all plugging our ears for an hour? Maybe if I’d been brave enough as an ignored intern I could have wandered up to one of these creative powerhouses and gently enquired:

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‘What the flying fuck was that all about?’

but I was never quite fearless, stupid or drunk enough (despite being the first person in the queue at the complimentary bar at every opening). Most of the time I did actually hang about to ‘watch’ the performances…or shall I say, stifle giggles while actually scrutinising bystanders for collusion, and let me tell you pals, I found PLENTY.

People love performances, they love to see artistic lunacy in sound and motion, no one in their right mind gets it, but the performance is the moment where everyone can relax after the speeches, finally dig into the free booze, and afterwards slope off for a well-earned fag outside while some maniac in a costume dances about spouting utter wank. Plus it’s probably quite freeing emotionally, and all that pent-up fear of people hating your work will magically fade once you let rip of your inner nutcase. If you want to engage with this sort of mind-bending shit, do so, people will praise your bat-shit vision no matter how painful it actually was for them to live through.

The Press Release

Or ‘Relevance for Dummies’ or the sole reason anyone will come to your naff show. Remember the bullshitting? This is absolutely the moment to plagiarise all the bogus philosophy research you did while frantically grasping for a reason to present a clay turd on a metal bar to your gallery. You’ll know if you’ve done it right because people’s brows will automatically knit together after the first sentence. Bonus points if they start gently perspiring as you hover over them while they read it. The point is no one should have any idea what you’re banging on about, but it must make some reference to stuff we all pretend to care about, such as: inner-city poverty in Brazil, fear of state power, nuclear weapons, Islamophobia, genetics, mysterious plutocrats who run the world, fracking, ‘the physical act of creation’ (no, not the fun kind, the kind that requires a paintbrush/claw hammer/blowtorch) etc. In no part of the press release are you to make any reference to the actual object you have ‘created’, simply refer to it as ‘the project’ or ‘the process’.

And there you have it ladies, gents and those who roam the gallery genderless. If you really want to carve out a niche in the scintillating world of bollocks that is contemporary art, be my guest, but I warn you, it’s not easy. Scumbags like me and the cretins at Frieze Magazine will smell your manufactured horseshit the second we step in off the street, and ridicule you till the formaldehyde cows come home.

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