From an artist point of view it is hugely interesting to see how people around the globe turn to arts to work through their reactions towards world events. They might not think that they are making art, but what else are the recent global video reactions commenting on political events or sending messages across national borders? To me they are at the heart of the art scene of today. In my opinion, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin are the perfect artists of their times and now we have moved on from their times to today: it is no longer about being famous for 15-minutes, as Andy Warhol put it, now every(wo)man has become the artist of today through access to a wide global audience. I don’t claim to have a great theory about how we got here but I have spent a fair bit of time thinking about this through the research I have conducted over the last few years on such an ordinary object as the sketchbook. I need to backtrack a little – things do go in circles.
Liza Kirwin from Smithsonian Archives of American Art has written that sketchbooks “afford an intimate view of an artist’s visual thinking and reveal a private world and creative process”, which sums up how sketchbooks are most often perceived. Yet I discovered artists being aware of a potential viewer looking over their shoulder and peering right into their sketchbook. I won’t bore you with the details and findings of my practice-based PhD but conclude that I have come to realise that today sketchbooks and their role can perfectly illuminate how confused we are about our private and public lives. Already in the 1970s Richard Sennett argued that the public realm has been destroyed by secularisation and industrial capitalism. According to Sennett an unbalanced personal life and empty public life had been a long time in the making while different behavioural codes are appropriate in these two realms: in the private arena sharing of feelings, self-disclosure and intimacy are acceptable, while different expectations prevail in the public setting.This confusion with private and public might have taken over our lives. For artists this is of course a rich field to explore. The reason I think that Hirst and Emin are perfect artists of their times is very simply: Hirst has made making money the centre of his practice and Emin has made personal experiences the central idea of her work. Nothing new. Could it be that things have gotten confusing and scary because we have lost the sense of public and private and are confused by our emotional reactions at the cost of rational thinking? Where are we heading to when public figures in positions of power are judged by their private actions rather than qualities that might make them fit for the job at hand? We might not have to be reminded about the prevailing uncertainties around us by Rauschenberg but it does not hurt to pause and think. Rauschenberg manages to make work that is political and beautiful at the same time. He also reminds me how lucky I am. I have been able to make choices when so many others do not have that luxury, but I still wonder how our children – those lucky ones who live in places like London spoilt with choice – perceive their childhood. Do they remember the work of art seen at Tate Modern with a good friend or do they remember something more sinister, a time when things went wrong?