Damien Hirst and the farce of value

Sometimes it is not quality that increases value, but playing the market correctly

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The Independent Online

Pigment, tangerine, Jesper Blomqvist, gradient, nose, wiggle shine for yesterday.

That was some nonsense; it makes up 1/90th of my article about capitalism and Damien Hirst, it took no effort or intelligence and, given its context, is journalism. As of now those 10 words are worth something. You are reading this on the Independent.co.uk; there is, no doubt, some advertising down the side, and assuming (maybe optimistically, I have no idea) that this article’s advertising revenue will be £9, those 10 words at the beginning are worth 10p, 1 pence each.

Now imagine that I ring up The Independent and say that I want to buy the advertising for my own article for £9,000,000, those words at the beginning are now worth £100,000. Not only would that be sure to get me lots of media attention, but it would ensure more hits for the article, thus ensuring more advertisers ringing up The Independent with the extortionate market value having already been set by me, the author.

And now for the parallel: Hirst’s piece ‘For The Love Of God’ cost £14 million to produce; it contains perfect diamonds, therefore ensuring it will always have value and thus simultaneously maintaining the price of his other work. Hirst claims that this piece represents 'the transience of existence’, or some other philosophy-for-beginners type line. What it actually represents is Hirst as a brand rather than artist. It was eventually bought by a consortium, including Hirst, himself. So he is buying his own art, at his desired price to ensure its value.

The difference between a perfectly made fake Burberry cap and a Burberry cap is price and vanity. The difference is the same in spin paintings that come out of the Hirst Factory and spin paintings that you or I did at school. He can claim that he is making a statement about greed, money and mass-production but that is far too obvious a response to an obvious criticism; he cannot have his cack and eat it too.

What I’m arguing here, as I’m sure you have already worked out, is that it is not the quality of those 10 words that would have increased their value, but my playing the market correctly. By the same logic it is not Damien Hirst’s quality by which the value of his work is measured, but by the tasteless plutocracy of the 'art' world, amongst whom he himself is numbered. It could be said that Hirst’s work is given meaning by its context (the art world), as are the 10 words at the beginning given a meaning because of what I make them they relate to in this article. But the point is that those words could be anything; they have no weight or meaning of their own.

Hirst’s popularity is on the decline and he himself has said that ‘being known as the wealthiest artist in the world isn’t something (I) want on my gravestone’. When Hirst does eventually die and is lowered into a vitrine of formaldehyde, having had his corpse manoeuvred into some provocative pose to display the terror of mortality as a final keepsake of his facile, ostentatious and self-congratulatory onanism by his Oompa-Loompa’s on their final order, he will, I pray, unwittingly serve history as a constant reminder of a time when we were dumb. I do believe that after his death we will see his name fall further down the echelons of artistic appreciation, a mistake. We'll say "we thought we were taking a step forward, but actually we went backwards and to the right". He is too derivative and adolescent to shine beyond his current notoriety as this rich, boisterous tearaway.

The area in which I believe Hirst will have a much more lasting affect will be in the capitalist strangle-hold on art. This habit of impinging upon the artist and trading quality for pelf has recently formed a terrifying pattern across a range of art forms. SJM and Live Nation, two music promoters who mark up the prices on tickets and sell through Seatwave and Viagogo as part of a second hand subterfuge, for example. Everything is done with the goal of extracting money from primitive people.

Hirst’s inchoate crèche of philosophical half-thoughts are turned into whole exhibitions and yakked over by monied numbskulls. Oil, currency, cheese and now art - it's just something else to trade in. So to any aspiring artist who wants to make a living from what you love to do, you must appeal to the criminal cliques at the top; otherwise no money and no future, or you could bugger off to Tahiti and go mad painting fruit. Anyway, I wish I could continue writing but I would hate to bring down the value of my 10 opening words.

Alfie Brown will be bringing his stand up comedy to some places – details of which can be found here http://www.alfiebrown.com/shows/