1 EAGLETON NOTES: When Is Art A Con?



Wednesday, 26 May 2010

When Is Art A Con?

Dawn Treader’s wonderful recent blog series on sculptures including one on a sculptor called William Sweetlove entitled Sweetlove and Cloning made me think of an incident many years ago when I was studying.  I went to an ‘after tutorial, after coffee, gathering’  with some of my fellow students.  The party was at the flat of a famous sculptor (or perhaps it was his sister because it was she, I seem to recall, who was one of the crowd of students with whom I was at the time).  In the fireplace was a poker (for poking the coal fire) in a piece of tramline with a hole drilled in it to hold it.  Leastways that’s what I thought it was.  My evidence for that was firstly that it was in the hearth and secondly it was a piece of the worm gear on a shaft from a motor car.  Such items were commonly used as pokers after the war when money and commodities were short.  In fact Dad took a steel rod from a car engine and made a handle from a varied selection of metal and fibre washers which he then machined into the shape of a handle.  It was a splendid item. 

Anyway the sculptor in question had once worked in an art school environment as a caretaker and decided that he could produce works just as good as the works he saw coming out of the art school.  He was reported amongst my friends as having said that he thought it was a huge confidence trick and that he could do just as well.  He is supposed to have said that once he became famous he would show the art establishment up for the pretentious people that they were.  When he became famous and part of the establishment memory appears to have failed him.  Of course that may all have been apocryphal.  Whom amongst us knows?

Anyway, going back to the flat on that evening many years ago, I decided to poke the fire ‘cos it was getting a bit chilly.  Oh dear.  The ‘poker’ was in fact one of the sculptor’s works of art.  I was saved from my faux pas just in time.

I wonder why William Sweetlove reminded me of that?  


  1. Oh, good story. I have often wondered too, looking at some works of modern art, whether what I'm looking at really goes beyond just a lot of confidence and dare? I'm reminded of another story myself... Hm, I'll have to do some research to refresh my memory though. Might be another blog post...

    Thanks for the smile ♥

  2. Modern art = I could have done that + yeah, but you didn't.

  3. Interesting point Katherine. As you know, I think, I have my views on people like Tracey Emin and some modern 'art' but, of course, if people don't push boundaries and challenge then art will never develop. But... I am reminded of Fyfe Robertson that wonderful and respected television presenter and journalist who was reprimanded in the days of less liberal (and probably black and white) television when he commented (on live TV) that this particular 'art' was phoney art, commonly known as phart.