Like a crashing bore at a birthday party Jonathan Jones has set forth more of his tedious thoughts on art – to be more specific: the funding of exhibitions. Along with practically everything else Jones seems to have a problem with the Royal Academy of Arts’ decision to use crowdfunding to pay for its Autumn Exhibition.
Unlike many large and well known institutions the RA receives no public subsidies, so in order to hold a major exhibition by acclaimed Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, it has decided to turn to Kickstarter as a means of raising the £100,000 needed. In return for a donation an individual will be rewarded with a limited edition print, private tour and otherwise unavailable online content etc.
None of this sounds controversial to me. But, according to Jones this is a crime of almost unspeakable proportions. Bizarrely, Jones turns to the concept of the wisdom of crowds’, presumably because it has the word crowd in it, to suggest that nothing good can come of what he describes as essentially being “mob rule”. He goes on at length about “crowd wisdom” being mistaken for democracy, the baying mobs that killed Jews during the crusades and the Gordon Riots (how many people have heard of them, but then, I imagine that he chose them as examples precisely for that reason), and the Arab Spring, which failed because of a lack of leaders and because it was ruined by those unruly mobs. It’s small wonder that he didn’t mention the Holocaust or at the very least the Nuremburg rallies or Kristallnacht. He obviously has no understanding of what a proper mob is. The Gordon riots I ask you?
Speaking of good crowds: What about the crowd of brave Tunisian hotel workers that formed a human shield to protect tourists from the marauding individual gunman? Or the London crowd that, in May this year, lifted a double-decker bus off of a unicyclist.
In his final paragraph Jones states: Crowds cannot appreciate art. Only individuals can because it speaks to our inmost feelings and perceptions. Only if we all saw with the same eyes would the crowd know best. But to see the same we would have to be a single programmed entity – a generation of robots. And I don’t think robots need art.
It is the individual versus the crowd dichotomy that takes the centre ground of Jones nonsensical argument. Only individuals can appreciate art, he claims, thus Pope Julius II is referred to as the greatest patron of the arts to have existed, while Charles Saachi is deemed, by Jones, to have been the most “daring” champion of the 1990’s Young British Artists. Today, he indignantly claims, all we are left with is the crowd friendly Grayson Perry.
But what does Jones think a crowd is? It is, and always will be, an aggregate of individuals. Yes there are times, like riots, when a crowd becomes a mob, given over to the influence of a seeming external malignant hand. But, has there ever been a case where this can applied to art exhibitions, or even more unlikely: their planning and fundraising? I’m sure we’d have heard of the Turner prize riots or Tate St Ives funding committee pogroms.
What Jones is doing, and it is a sign of his condescending snobbishness at its worst, is tacitly equating the crowd with, what are in his view: the common, uneducated masses. In an act of phony self deprecation Jones claims: I have no feel for the intricacies of music – I really do flit between Handel and Led Zeppelin – and I gladly defer to the knowledge and sensitivity of people who know their Reich from their Riley. I’m surprised that Jones can admit to need help in such matters. But, in doing so he betrays his actual intentions by declaring the necessity for a guiding hand – a sage – who can lead the culturally illiterate through the otherwise un-navigable land that is: The Art World. Someone just like him, perhaps?
It is surprising that Jones, someone who clearly sees himself as being a cut above the rest, has managed to trip himself up in such an obvious way by making such absurd claims regarding crowd funding; Frank Spencer couldn’t have done it better. If he is such an astute thinker as he imagines, surely Jones should have realized that essentially all exhibitions are essentially crowd funded. Just for Mr. Jones: all of those individuals that queue (a long thin crowd) and buy a ticket for an exhibition – are paying for the exhibition – the only difference being that the crowd funding is being sought retrospectively.
And it’s not as if the crowds are even choosing the art, something that Jones imagines to be happening or about to happen. It’s obvious of course that he would deplore this, because only the selected few, the council of elders is worthy of doing such a thing. It’s equally apparent that Jones is happy to see himself as a part of this elite – and this is the problem with Jones and many like him. He is nothing more than an opinionated snob who thinks that he has the right to dictate what is good taste to other people. He naturally takes any line that allows him to launch brickbats at those he feels are inferior, which seems to constitute the entire population of Great Britain. Anything that smacks of populism is to be beaten into extinction; if the plebs can understand and appreciate it he can’t stand on his self-erected high altar and preach at us; and if that happens what will happen to his sense of smug superiority?
There isn’t much information about Jones online – but given that he has been a member of the Turner Prize and BP Portrait Award judging panels and has written a number of books on art, he must posses a great deal of knowledge on the subject, enough at least to allow some people respect his opinion. How unexpected and pleasing, not-to-mention worthwhile it would be if instead of beating people over the head with his opinions, Jones actually took the time and effort to put his knowledge to good use by educating them. But instead of encouraging people to engage with the arts, Jones does the exact opposite; in reality he fills the role of the fatuous, tiresome uncle, the one who is wheeled out at Christmas only to stupefy his victim with his utterly tedious, outmoded and myopic thoughts. What a crashing bore.