Geoff Bunn: extracts from an interview

Contributors note

Geoff Bunn on Contemporary Art

Extracts from an interview c. (2003)


CAB: You have argued elsewhere that Art today, indeed humanity today in the developed world - or, as you yourself would rather have it, in the industrialised world - is guilty of demanding too much specialisation of the individual and that, in doing so, it takes away much in the way of his or her creativity.

BUN: Absolutely. And since I said that, if anything, I would argue that this over-refining of skills is worsening.

CAB: In the employment market for example?

BUN: Yes. There. Very much so. I recall hearing recently that there were so many hundreds of thousands of vacancies and yet, at the same time, there are so many hundreds of thousands of people without work. Even allowing for very important issues such as housing and low-incomes etc.. the fact remains that many of these vacancies remain unfilled because the Employer insists, ever more so, on the individual having to match very exact specifications. Like some finely made machine part. But people, of course, are not like that. A rough match would often suffice.

CAB: And in the art world?

BUN: And in the art world, or any other creative endeavour, the same thing. Unless you spend so many years studying, developing further all the time along an almost pre-destined route, until, in fact, you know a chosen subject well enough to bore paint off the wall, then you cannot be said to be serious in that particular field.

CAB: Is there a historical perspective to this?

BUN: Things used to be very different. Once, engineers also philosophized. Mathematicians also painted. Painters also wrote poetry. In general terms humanity advanced because it allowed itself to be varied. And not at all just at the level of the arts. Take a farm for instance...

CAB: A subject now close to your own heart...

BUN: Yes. But today they overspecialise. It's called a monoculture. It harms the soil, the river systems fill with chemicals, the food is, well, not of the best quality, and the farmer, in this context, has very little understanding of the countryside any more. The difference between that and, say, a diversified farm or smallholding is immense.

CAB: And the diversification is both healthier for the farmer and for the environment?

BUN: Yes. But, perhaps, not yet for his bank balance and I imagine that that is still the significant factor...

CAB: Nevertheless, it's not hard to see why specialisation exists. You said that if you had had a trauma in the Hypothalmus, that you would want a specialist to deal with it: not a GP.

BUN: (Laughs) Yes. I'm sure I did not say that but it has been quoted back to me before.

CAB: But the specialist has a place?

BUN: Absolutely. It is over specialisation, or specialistion in areas where it is not required that causes the problems. The issue is not one of whether or not some specialisation is necessary or beneficial but whether everyone in every field has to be a specialist. And it has become the case today that in order to be considered serious, one does indeed have to be a 'Specialist'.

CAB: Yet again, returning to the historical perspective?

BUN: Then this was not the case.

CAB: For instance?

BUN: Oh, off the top of my head it's hard to say. Albert Einstein perhaps? He was a clerk in a bank or something wasn't he?

CAB: In a Patents office.

BUN: Yes. Well. Had he been told that, as a clerk in the patents office he couldn't possibly know anything about physics, as would surely be the case today.. well, anyway, it seems he did know something about it.

CAB: Nevertheless Einstein was an exceptional talent. But in the arts? Are there any figures that spring to mind?

BUN: Oh of course. Michelangelo. Would he have been a painter, an architect, a designer or a scultpor today? I'm sure he would have been forced to make a choice. LS Lowry, painter or tax man? Henri Rousseau, would we remember him as a customs man?

CAB: But all of these people pursued their other options, so to speak, with an unbelievable passion not normally found.

BUN: Yes, and that is probably why the history books recall them. But the unwritten history of humanity is that of adaptability.

CAB: And it is that, adaptability, above all, which you see as being challenged by specialistaion.

BUN: Over specialisation. Yes.

CAB: And you see that as limiting creativity?

BUN: Yes. If a man is stuck in a dull, dead end job, more or less being told that that is all he is good for, he is facing an uphill struggle to break out and create. He will struggle to create himself and, if he was so inclined, some art. People should always be encouraged to try another avenue.

CAB: Le Douanier. Henri Rousseau. Would he count as one of your major influences?

BUN: Perhaps a little. I'm not sure who has influenced me. Or why or when but I very much admire some of his work.

CAB: Tiger in a tropical rainstorm?

BUN: Yes. How did he paint that rain? I'm sure it's something I could not do.

CAB: Are you of the same mind as Duchamp when it comes to assessing the work of an individual in terms of great or good or poor?

BUN: I think so. Yes. I believe he said that it was a bit of a nonsense to call every little bit of Rembrandt a work of genius. And I very much agree with that. We can all produce a little of it. But few of us, if any, can manage to meet that level of inspiration in everything we do. I have seen pictures attached to fridge doors with little plastic magnets which have been absolutely mesmerising. And I have seen the most awful work hung on a wall and presented to me as the last word in Art.

CAB: Which rather leads me to the next thing I hoped to ask you about: you have said that art today has two functions.

BUN: Two, yes. Roles or functions.

CAB: The first being decorative?

BUN: Well, yes.

CAB: Doesn't that fly counter to much of art theory of the last hundred years or so?

BUN: Sadly. Yes.

CAB: But if Art is bound to the concept of decoration, isn't it going to be both mediocre and tame?

BUN: No. I don't see that at all. For a start, much of current art is both mediocre and tame and yet it was clearly not devised by artists who sought to hang it on the lounge wall. Furthermore, why should one chose the mediocre or the tame to decorate? I mean, does one necessarily do that?

CAB: No. But en masse I think one might expect it.

BUN: (Laughs) There then! Mr Hirst would be very poor if he had to decorate.

CAB: All the same, it is a very disputable point, that the primary purpose of art is to decorate.

BUN: Primary, yes, but not in the sense that it necessarily precedes the second function. And, whilst I have to agree, it is disputed, I do not agree that it is any sense disputable. Outside of our industrialised chaos, decoration has always been one of the primary roles of art. And as far as I know that still remains the case. Of course I would not go so far as to claim that it must be what has been called picturesque. Far from it. Part and parcel of using art for decoration should be to challenge one's own preconceptions as to what is decorative. So, for example, if I did not like Abstract Expressionism, I should try hanging a piece on my wall and maybe learn to appreciate it.

CAB: Do you have any?

BUN: Abstract expressionist pieces?

CAB: Yes.

BUN: No. I don't like it.

CAB: (Laughs) The second role of art, then, is to allow one to create. To be a release?

BUN: Oh yes. Absolutely.

CAB: I don't think anyone would dispute this aspect of art.

BUN: No. I imagine not. But then that is not to say that the current art world is not doing it's utmost to diminish the appeal of art to the ordinary person.

CAB: And, in consequence to remove that creative outlet from many peoples lives?

BUN: Exactly. Yes. Who wants to make an installation?

CAB: You see the art world as damaging art?

BUN: Yes. It has, quite literally, a stranglehold on it and, very soon, it will succeed in throttling it to death!

CAB: Could you elaborate?

BUN: Well. The Turner Prize, for example. It speaks volumes.

CAB: You are not a fan?

BUN: No.

CAB: The 'Emperor's New Clothes' label rings true to you?

BUN: Sadly, yes. Of course it's not that the art being done is bad. Or good. Or anything else. I wouldn't want to judge it. But as an attempt to bring greater public awareness to art and it's place it seems to me to fail.

CAB: Or, at least, to only make art a subject of derision.

BUN: Yes.

CAB: You do not see it as challenging the public?

BUN: (Laughs) Oh no. Not that. Not at all. We've seen it all. We're no longer shocked. No longer even interested. How does it compare for shock value to what we, as a species, are capable of doing to one another. To our world. I definitely do not see one of Art's roles as being to shock. If those who consider it challenging were perhaps to open their eyes to the lives of ordinary people...

CAB: So, in your view, is there no place for the Turner Prize?

BUN: I wouldn't say that. Perhaps if they were to highlight Art's function in therapy for example? To reward and highlight those who work in that area? It would have real value there. But that all seems rather lost in the current razzamatazz of the thing the way it is.

CAB: Which takes us back to the second role of Art, as a creative experience?

BUN: Yes. One of the problems of the current modus operandi of the art world is that it makes Art seem an irrelevance. That, in context of what we were talking about before...

CAB: Over specialisation?

BUN: Yes. Art now claims to be something which only experts can do. If you are not an expert then you should not do it. And I see that as being an enormous loss to the creative urge of humanity.

Official site of the artist, Geoff Bunn.