by Jess Howard 

Artistic expression is primarily focused on creation. Regardless of an artist’s political, financial, social, or moral agenda, they are using a creative process to express their thoughts and views. Quite simply, art is creation.

However, a recent news story brought to light the act of destruction in creativity. With Turner prize winning video artist Douglas Gordon attacking Manchester’s newly built HOME theatre with an axe, causing excessive damage to the £25,000,000 theatre.

all style and no fang

Gordon’s play Neck of the Woods, based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, opened at the Manchester International Festival. His outburst was a result of the production receiving poor reviews, having been awarded 2 out of 5 stars by Guardian writer Lyn Gardner. The writer described the tameness of the script, suggesting that ‘his devotion to falling snow suggests an overexcited Oxford Street window dresser at Christmas’. The reviews closing line summed up the boredom she felt throughout the majority of the production, claiming it to be ‘all style and no fang’.

(Neck of the Woods © homemcr)

Evidently, Gordon’s outburst as a result of these reviews demonstrates a display of childish behaviour. A hyperbolic example of a toddler throwing a tantrum after being told they are not allowed a second packet of crisps. But, obviously Gordon is not a child. He is a reputable artist, the first video artist to ever win the coveted Turner prize, for his video piece Confessions of a Justified Sinner in 1996. A statement by Artistic Director Alex Poots condemned the YBA’s actions, stating that the gallery ‘do not support or condone reckless, inappropriate or intimidating behaviour’, and calling Gordon’s actions ‘totally unacceptable’ and emphasising that he would be ‘paying for repairs’.

The connection between destruction and art is not a new phenomenon by any stretch. Picasso was known to up-cycle and paint over his canvases when he couldn’t afford any more material, and sculptors frequently reduce their works back to raw lumps of clay in the processes before firing.

using the paint and the brush in the same way that a dog will urinate on a lamp post

However, Gordon didn’t specifically destroy his own work, he attacked the vessel, the location that held his work. He took a chunk out of the wall and graffitied an image of a wolf’s paw which he proceeded to sign and date. His is effectively marking the space as his own, using the paint and the brush in the same way that a dog will urinate on a lamp post. It is arguable that Gordon is saying that if he can’t have success within the location, he will claim the location itself as his own.

(© artnet)

This behaviour went relatively unnoticed. The outcry was heard only in the art world, and in the arts sections of magazines, web pages and newspapers. Is a lack of response similar to acceptance? Are we condoning the behaviour of the famous and privileged as a result of his status within the art world?

We must also ask the question — why did Gordon think that his actions demonstrated acceptable behaviour? As previously referenced, his actions represented a similar reaction to that of a child being told no. Albeit on a significantly larger scale. Was it a result of his ego being bruised? Or his fame as an artist giving him an undue sense of entitlement? Artists are in no way like celebrities, there is no appearing in a reality show to catapult a sculptor to fame. Hard work, persistence and, sadly, endorsements, are all implemented in the creation of the artist themselves. It would seem his status gave him a false sense of entitlement, allowing him to believe that he was beyond punishment.

(Douglas Gordon © Dominic Salter; manchester evening news)

This act clearly demonstrates that the notion of untouchability within the wealthy lies outside the traditional realms of celebrity. Artists feel they can act out in a way similar to actors and musicians, believing that there will be no consequences for their actions. Whilst we frequently hold the arts up as essential to societal progression, this should not develop in a way that forces artists into the traditional mindset of the wealthy.

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