Anyone particularly jaded about the panorama of art today, and how the hell they can even contemplate fitting into it, could do much worse than reading this interview with Malcolm McLaren.
So much of art today seems to be pastiche, amalgams of influences that merely look good, or strike a fashionable pose.
The thing with all of that is, and it has to be said, that everybody's wandering around looking for an idea. The ideas they're looking for are the ideas that appear to be happening. How are they happening? Well because they're inside an art gallery, partly, they're happening because the galleries are full of people and because critics talk about them. And I think a lot of artists today care about what critics say, care about what's inside the gallery, and care very much about identifying themselves with what can only be described as the cultural industry. They want to belong. And they're not interested truthfully in the struggle to find a way that might establish themselves as people with the necessary intellectual curiosity to emotionally connect, to create art that might inadvertently change the culture, and by doing so may change life itself. They don't want to do that because that may not be what all these people in the galleries and these critics want. Everybody's following. We are living in a world where most young artists are imitating the imitators. It is a kind of karaoke world — a world of artifice in which it's better to just be successful among people who don't even understand who imitates the imitators. Look at the success of "Pop Idol," look at the success of the culture we're living in. I was just told the other night that, "Your work, Malcolm, doesn't fit into art, and doesn't fit into cinema. It doesn't fit into anything!" And that appeared to be a problem. My concern is that I don't find that necessarily a problem, because I'm not certain any longer what exactly you're suggesting is art, or what you're suggesting is cinema. I'm just attempting to find a language to express my genuine thoughts, which more often that not are about — and let's face it, I've only made two real works — but they're both about bringing back forgotten desires, about building something you can't not fall in love with. It's not about following any mandate. I see a huge vacuum, but I'm not about to go out there and write like Zola did a "J'Accuse," not yet anyway. I can say that the danger is at the moment that art isn't serving the purpose that we all truthfully would like to see. But its not the fault of the artists, it's just the fault of the culture itself that doesn't fundamentally believe in itself enough. If it did it would have the confidence to strike out. At the moment it's in a reflective stage, trying to figure out where there is a place to speak. I think in most instances there's incredible confusion out there. Forget the gallerists, they usually don't know very much at all, you have to rely on the artists, let's face it. But the problem is the artists don't seem to know that much either, because most are following. If you're looking for visionaries, there aren't many out there. Capitalist culture, which has never been more extreme than it is today, teaches you never to raise your head above the parapets. Learn to fail upwards, it's easier. So nobody's going to stick their neck out. They've got mortgages, they're just like other folk, they're all on the same wagon. And it doesn't matter how young or old you are, although some of the old dudes probably don't give a fuck. They're probably the ones who might strike the match and light the fire. The younger guys, they really care a lot about following the herd.
Why do you think that is?
I think that culture today is completely dependent on a phenomenon called the talent show, in which corporations give people the right to create what the people might think are their stars. We will make them ourselves. But the way that these companies have co-opted that old DIY aesthetic that was born back in the early days of rock and roll and carried under the banners of punk or grunge, they've taken that aesthetic and they've corporatized it. You can have a talent show for fashion, you can have a talent show for rock and roll, you can have a talent show for art, you can have a talent show for whatever you want. And it attracts the public because it tells the story, you too could be up there, you too could be rich and famous, and for doing very little. And most kids that I know are growing up with that culture, and therefore if they get involved either as an artist or a pop singer or as a writer, they get involved on the basis more often that not of how to get rich and famous without doing very much. And you could blame it on the way that Damien Hirst took that aesthetic, how he played with the idea of conceptual art and the prices such work can go for. You could blame it on the world of karaoke. But it doesn't truthfully matter. The facts are that's all people know. If you go out into the street they're not going to remember the other thousand names behind him, they'll all know Damien Hirst because of the price, and they'll all know who won "Pop Idol," because they voted for them.
Full article: Malcolm McLaren on art, Paris and the Sex Pistols