Having missed the first part on its first airing, I was looking forward to watching the repeat (last night BBC 4 10:00pm)
A two part documentary following a selection of Goldsmiths art students as they struggle to make a name for themselves in the run up to their final masters show, in which dealers and art collectors will jostle to sign up the latest art sensations.
Throughout the first part, viewers are able to meet select students in turn, discover the art mediums they work with and are guided through; with the help of the Goldsmiths tutors, the ideas behind their final pieces of work as they get ready for their masters show.
As the title suggests, the documentary explores the question ‘but is it art’ through examining the artists relationship with concepts and ideas, with conceptual art being one of the main forms of contemporary art that falls under that scrutiny.
This is referenced by one student who believes the main reason for this being, “conceptual art misses out the labour, the viewer can no longer see the hours put into the art and so dismiss it as an art work, even though the labour is in the ideas.”
Even though this avenue of art proves the most controversial, it is this very nature that it appears Goldsmiths is keen to retain and promote, with Thomas Leahy; another student whose work deals with military issues concludes “they don’t want work where you read it and understand it straight away.”
The irony of this can be further supported with the views of another student, whose entire practice is devoted to exploring the field of conceptual art, when questioned about the reasons and ideas behind his final piece of work (shells with strobe lighting placed inside them) he stands there for a good 3 minutes umming and arring before laughing in a state of embarrashment, grabbing a piece of paper with scribbled notes on it before exclaiming, “now this is what I am supposed to say, these shells represent …..” reading off a list of intellectual words that are somehow meant to represent the hours of thought gone into the artwork.
Going back to the thoughts of Thomas Leahy (the army/military man) I am somewhat heartened by the manner in which he explains the current art situation, and that found within Goldsmiths. When refering to his current work, the criticisms it has come under from fellow students and tutors alike for being too understandable and ‘base level’, Thomas struggles to understand what determines a person in being elite within the art industry and being able to judge what is good art and what is bad – how are they to know, and the fact that isn’t all art creative opinion?
He creates his artwork to be read and understood by all, rather than an elite few within the art industry who are able to draw from the work a whole host of in-explicit secondary concepts. It is, I find a great shame, the fact that towards the end of the first part of the documentary, Thomas appears to buckle under the pressures of the elite and begin to create work that no longer is self explanatory, and instead becomes further and further removed from his original intentions.
During this documentary, a couple of clear references to that of an artist previously mentioned in my recent dissertation, Piero Manzoni, could be seen, especially so with that of an Irish female student, named as the Irish thief, whose work revolves around the process of stealing objects, swallowing them and letting them digest through her body before s**ting them out. Another student, that could also be referencing Martin Creed, walked into an art crit at Goldsmiths, s**t on the floor, placed it into a bottle and then sprayed the bottle with gold paint before walking out having not uttered a single word. This act of ‘art’ made the people in the room “feel as though they were the ones who were s**t” according to one of the tutors.
The final section of the first part shows the students at their final show, discussing their work with various collectors, and with some succeeding by making sales from their work. I am interested to follow the students as they ‘move out’ of the comfort zone that is Goldsmiths and try to make a name for themselves in the real world. Documentaries of this kind are huge eye openers, and really help to delve into the mechanics of an industry that is rarely explored behind the scenes.
Part 2 of the documentary airs tonight at 9:00 on BBC4, go watch !