Friday, May 20, 2011

In defence of Tracey Emin

There is an article in the Evening Standard today (well yesterday now) by art critic Brian Sewell slating Tracey Emin's new retrospective. I haven't read such a great big pile of sexist nonsense in a long time. You can read it here but be sure to bandage your hands up first because you will want to hit something. I've written to them as follows:

I'm wondering whether to save column inches in future Brian Sewells comments on Tracey Emin could be replaced with the words "I'M A GREAT BIG MISOGYNIST"?

Nobody has to like Tracey Emin, her very open and very populist style of art will always attract it's critics. Sewell sets the scene early on however when he accuses her of "playing the drunken slut" apparently unaware that any woman who dares drink in public or admit to a sexual past is at risk of labelling in that insulting gendered way. For the record - it's ok for women to drink alcohol and have sex. Men do it all the time.

Apparently Sewell feels alienated by Emin's frank discussion of the abuse she suffered as a child and issues which have affected her personally like abortion and menopause. For comparison he says "I do not feel excluded from the distress of Madame Bovary or Madame Butterfly", failing to mention that both of those characters were created by men. The female characters in them are defined wholly, rather boringly, by the relationships they have with the men around them. Speaking as a woman I can say I never identified much with either of them.

He further claims that Gilbert and George beat Ms Emin to the mark in using the word "cunt" prominently in art, forgetting that neither Gilbert nor George has a cunt. Does the word "n****r" mean the same thing whether a black or a white person uses it? No, of course not. And so Emin's use of "cunt" has a significance quite different from Gilbert and George's work.

In arguing that being open about her female experience Emin is alienating her male audience seems to forget that the history of art for hundreds of years has been the history of art created by men and consumed by men. Women have at best been allowed to sit still, silent and naked while it is produced. We should be delighted that that era appears at last to be reaching it's end. If one percent of the art world is now by women and for women, the word for that is "progress".

And anyway she doesn't - Emin's work invites men and women to examine modern womanhood close up. A third of British women have had abortions and at least one in twenty been raped. Menopause affects us all. If Sewell isn't prepared to face up to that and discuss maturely the way that Emin and others discuss these realities through art, I can only suggest replacing him with an art critic who isn't a cunt.


Karl said...

You haven't explained why you think a retrospective of Tracey's work at the Hayward is justified.
That's how you could best defend her.

Cruella said...

What an odd question. I thought it was fairly obvious I was defending her from Brian Sewell's tirade of misogyny. But for the record whether you like her or not you can't really deny she's ben a huge figure on the art scene for a long long time. For me this will be my first opportunity to see more than a couple of her pieces at one time. I'll definitely be going.

Because her work is so very personal it naturally follows a story arc reflecting her own life so I think seeing key pieces of it all together will be really interesting.

Madison LaChapelle said...

I agree with your response to his article but I don't agree that she has a place in the art world.
I personally think her hype is more about the divide of opinion rather than her actual work.

Miss Pearson said...

Cruella, I just had a similar experience posting this on my facebook, where men like Karl uncomfortably tried to change the grounds of the discussion into a defence for or against her work rather than a conversation about how hatefully this article was written. As though just because you don't like someone's work, it's okay to be sexist when writing about them. It's okay to dismiss female audiences. It's okay to call her a slut. It's okay to call her uneducated. As you point out, we're not talking about Tracey Emin, we're talking about why this level of criticism can still be published in a main stream paper and pass under the radar as acceptable in any way. Replace the word "woman" with "Jewish" or "homosexual" or any other group and you'd quickly have Sewell fired. Well done for pointing it out, and shame on you Karl, for trying to steer the debate in a direction that is irrelevant.

Mia said...

I agree with you 100%. It would be useful for Sewell to examine the intensity of what he has written about Emin and ask if it doesn't say a whole lot more about his himself. I for one am overjoyed that there is something in art that speaks to women so honestly about their experience of the modern world.

Karl said...

That's very unfair! Men like me? I was not defending Brian in any way.
I'm just interested in your views, as feminists, of Tracey E's work. Personally I find it interesting that the woman that men put forward (men chose her to be in this position) to be the leading female artist is Tracey Emin.

Bast Spandangle said...

well said cruella. nice post karl is a troll: don't feed him

Anonymous said...

I think this response is brilliant! I felt the need to re-read the article after my first attempt just to confirm that he had actually got away with his unbelievably sexist and ignorant phrasing. I heard Emin give a talk last week, and as I'm doing my dissertation on her rightful place in contemporary British Art, I thought she was an insightful intellectual woman, who is sadly having to constantly fight against men like Sewell.

jo22 said...

I can't stand his patronising use of the word 'Miss' throughout this nasty article. It's so deliberate. Wanker.