Taking the B/S out of Art – New novel by Tobsha Learner

18th March 2016

One of my inspirations behind the writing of my new novel Picture This was the fascination I had for how quickly any kind of rebellion to the mainstream becomes incorporated by the arbitrators of ‘good taste’ and ‘high art’ then made into a commodity.


It seems to me this process of assimilating visual or creative rebellion then transforming it into a commodity has accelerated over the past century.

It took the Impressionists a good twenty to thirty years to become accepted by the establishment then finally celebrated.

In turns of the YBAs (Young British Artists) of the early 90s it was less than ten years.

 Mainly due to the nature of advertising, the art ‘industry’ and the speed of electronic media – the sudden growth of art as a serious investment – ‘a stock worth buying’ is also a spin off from both the crash in 2008 (when people find themselves looking at alternative investments to straight bank stocks) and sudden wealth of the IT generation.


In much the same way the Impressionists benefited from the upsurge of the emerging middle-classes born out of the Industrial Age. They all needed something to show off their newfound wealth.


Just look at the odyssey of Tracey Emin’s The Bed – from a confrontational finger-up at all that is traditionally seen as art, a semen stained, menstrual-blood stained unwashed momentum of one night stands and lost love (and very powerful with it) inherently personal and inherently female – and I would argue perhaps created to be inherently ephemeral  – to becoming a sacrosanct art shrine shipped meticulously across the world to which people pay homage as the embodiment of an movement. A little like Duchamp’s Urinal, I doubt that the artist ever imagined that it would stand in museums as great art.

The other inspiration was the emergence of conceptual art and how the meaning and subtext in this post-post modern world has now come to mean far more than the craft involved in the actual execution of the work.


As a young art student I trained with Carrara artisans in Italy learning to carve marble, and craft has always been incredibly important to me – as a writer I have always endeavoured to work my craft – (many rewrites, and certainly my sculptor training taught me the translucency of marble happens only in the final stages of carving when you start polishing the surface with wet and dry paper, writing is like this for me. The real work only happens in the last couple of drafts – the polishing of the prose.


In this way as an art lover the best work combines both. Great subtext and historical/cultural resonance and fantastic craft, some of Wei Wei’s better works for example, or the sublime side of Anish Kapoor – to name a couple.

Does Susie, my character’s work, fit into this definition? I hope so; I’ve given her that obsessive fascination for details, as well as a lateral imagination that can jump sideways in an original manner.  She also has a coherent politic born out of life experience – An essential ingredient for any good artist – or writer!

PICTURE THIS is currently 99% crowdfunded, if you want to contribute to the final 1% and get your name in the book click on this link: https://unbound.co.uk/books/picture-this



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