06/12/2013 12:12 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017



Action painting, was described by the art critic, Harold Rosenberg, as a memento of a creative act that once was. "What was to go on canvas was not a picture, but an event," he said. By this definition what remained on the canvas could be the equivalent of fingerprints at a crime scene or merely just hype. There would be no way to know. Hype has always been the way in which one segment of the public has viewed certain kinds of innovation in art, particularly those of a conceptual or highly abstract nature--which might be like the emperor's new clothes. There is always some plain dealer who is still looks at a Jackson Pollock abstraction or an Andy Warhol Soup Can and asks, is this art? But what if abstract expressionism, pop, conceptual art and now Damien Hirst is all hype? Who is to say that hype isn't art or that at the very least, there isn't a great amount of artfulness in hype? The emperor might have been selling a bill of goods, but it takes work to make much ado about nothing. So we come to the question of Damien Hirst and his dots. The Times reports on the fact that a catalogue raisonne of Hirst dot paintings has been produced iterating the fact that there are just 1365 in existence ("Hirst Counts the Dots, or at Least the Paintings," NYT, 6/11/13). According to the Times sales of the paintings have fluctuated between $53,000 to $1.7 million in the last 18 months. The threat of inflation resulting from a possibly unending supply (many of which are created by assistants) might have accounted for the fluctuation and such a catalogue would be a stabilizing force. One of the most interesting parts of the print edition of the Times piece is the graph delineating sales of the dot paintings over the past 18 months. The graph is a work of art in and of itself which definitely would qualify to be in any retrospective of graphs of sales of Damien Hirst's art, if one is ever organized. Speaking of hype, the Times points out that that Hirst "brought to prominence" by Charles Saatchi the advertising mogul who became a collector. In the Times piece, James Kelly, the director of Hirst's company Science Ltd is quoted as saying,

"Damien is working on some spot paintings with very small spots, including a painting with one million spots."

Posterity will decide what place Hirst will occupy in art history. But whether it's art or not, making one million dots is no small task. And there is no doubt that Hirst's famed Shark in formaldehyde, "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living"qualifies as one of the great titles in the history of art. If the art market ever goes South, Hirst could definitely get a job in advertising.

(Painting, Damien Hirst, Octanesulfonic Acid, 2010)

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}