Thanks to my shrewd self-projection as a painting-buff, canvas-fancier and general art-artist I have spent a good deal of this turbulent period being exposed to high culture by Martina Twain. Accordingly, I’m in a state of high-culture shock — a panic of bedraggled blankness — as I am led across swirling parquetry, down ulterior corridors, past hidden visions smocked in light. You have to queue, and pay good money, to mingle with vituperative interpreters and flashlight-faced Japanese, balls-talking bumblers, vultures, students, loners, pick-ups, the determined samplers and consumers spun offby the thrashing city. Many of these types, I note, are working class and upwardly mobile, out-of-towners in high-gloss jerkins and biscuit pants-suits. The men are plump clunkers in pastel romper gear, smiling, plodding, nodding. The women are the kind of talking dolls that say Mommee and take a leak if you turn them upside down, their faces cute and beady under rugs of taramasalata and meringue. Heroic consumers, they have a slice of most things, and now they want a slice of this stuff too, this art stuff. They seem to think it’s all there for the taking. Maybe it is. But for me? I’m from the wrong side of the tracks. I’m from the wrong side of the Atlantic. I’m from London, England. I’m pretty well convinced by now that this gear isn’t for me. It’s trying. While others look at art or read books or surrender to serious music, my mind just razzes me about money, Selina, hard-ons, the Fiasco. I’m trying, but that’s trying too. It’s trying, trying.
Me and Martina, we went to all kinds of shows. We went to a constructivist show uptown East somewhere. Twanging maypoles and girder tepees, spastic flexings of concrete and steel, jagged jungle-jims. We went to a modernist show just off the Park. Ripped playing-cards and chess-piece profiles, backgammon battlefields and shards of dice, spoils of trickery, hazardry. I feel obliged to seem enthusiastic about all this but I ran out of bluff and patter long ago and now feign dumbfounded absorption beneath my poker face. Yesterday we went to a show of the classical nude in marble form, it was nice to see some women looking so cool and neutral in the heat. They weren’t quite in the altogether, though, these nudes, having been figleafed by a recent hand. It’s ridiculous, said Martina, the tiny wraps and sprigs they’ve added on. Oh I don’t know, I said: don’t be too hasty — it’s good to leave a little something to the imagination. She didn ‘t agree, in my view, of course, the chicks would have looked even better if they’d added stockings and garter- belts, G-strings and ankle-strapped shoes: but that’s aesthetics for you. Tomorrow we go to the big new show by Monet or Manet or Money or some such guy.
Martin Amis, 1949. Money, A Suicide Note, 1984. Published by Jonathan Cape,1984. Image: Penguin Books, Illustrator: Bert Krak.
Amis critiques the self-indulgent money worshipping generation of the capitalist social pornographic landscape of New York in the 1980s through the character of the anti-hero, John Self. Yet, while the value of artistic culture is treated dismissively the term ‘artist’ is used to describe a variety of street, criminal, business and social persona from the general art-artist, money artists, sack, piss, con and bullshit artists, jungle artists, spool artists, lie artists, bad-cheque and bent-plastic artists, TV artists, too-little-too-late artists, sadistic singlet-and-dumbbell artist, haggard handjob artist, chess artist, short-fuse artist, the needing, the hurting artist, the wanting artist, and the body artist. Art is the key neurosis of self obsession ‘… Okay. Actually I’d like to return to the motivation question. It seems to me it’s an idea taken from art, not from life, not from twentieth-century life. Nowadays motivation comes from inside the head, not from outside. It’s neurotic, in other words. And remember that some people, these golden mythomaniacs, these handsome liars — they’re like artists, some of them.’