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The death of an iconoclast, Brian Sewell

Brian Sewell, who was described as Britain’s most famous and controversial art critic, has died aged 84. An acerbic critic, Sewell made no secret of his contempt for modern art and was renowned for barbs directed at the likes of Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst. He called Emin “trivial”, Hirst “fucking dreadful”, David Hockney “a vulgar prankster” and once claimed graffiti artist Banksy “should have been put down at birth”.

His waspish putdowns, love of fine drawing, knowledge of art history and his genteel diction made him one of the UK’s best-known critics. His witty turn of phrase led to regular television appearances, including two turns as a panellist on the BBC gameshow Have I Got News For You.


On David Hockney

“Hockney is not another Turner expressing, in high seriousness, his debt to the old master; Hockney is not another Picasso teasing Velázquez and Delacroix with not quite enough wit; here Hockney is a vulgar prankster, trivialising not only a painting that he is incapable of understanding and could never execute, but in involving him in the various parodies, demeaning Picasso too.”

On Damien Hirst

“Were Hirst’s canvases the work of a late teenager, we might take the random lines around the skulls as a clever allusion to the measuring-points of a sculptor of Canova’s generation, or as an illusion of cracked glass, and forgive the ugly clumsiness of inexperienced execution; but Hirst is nearing his half-century and should have a far higher level of skill than this rough daubing, with which he degrades his master, Bacon.”

On Banksy

“Any fool who can put paint on canvas or turn a cardboard box into a sculpture is lauded. Banksy should have been put down at birth. It’s no good as art, drawing or painting. His work has no virtue. It’s merely the sheer scale of his impudence that has given him so much publicity.”

On Banksy and Bristol

“The public doesn’t know good from bad. For this city to be guided by the opinion of people who don’t know anything about art is lunacy. It doesn’t matter if they [the public] like it.”

On Tracey Emin

“The sane man must ask whether he should give any of this pretentious stuff the time of day in aesthetic terms when it seems that this self-regarding exhibitionist is ignorant, inarticulate, talentless, loutish and now very rich.”

On female artists

“There has never been a first-rank woman artist. Only men are capable of aesthetic greatness. Women make up 50% or more of classes at art school. Yet they fade away in their late 20s or 30s. Maybe it’s something to do with bearing children.”

ES Magazine

Being Brian Sewell must have been like being the boy from "The Emperor's new clothes' living in a nudist camp.

RIP. An Englishman. Of sorts anyway. As his generation disappears I wonder at what we are left with. A popular culture where Kanye West is seen as some sort of uber talent. The sublime to the ridiculous I know.

My bed covers are frequently filthy but I have never called it art just poor personal hygiene . Brian we will miss you

And all of his remarks are completely correct. There has been a malicious, concerted attempt by art dealers for the last 50 years to overturn our conception of aesthetics established all the way from Plato to Kant into a subjective mess where anything that has a "social message", whether it's a urinal or a messy bed, can be considered high art. Why? Because "high art" sells, and the cheaper it is - both in terms of human effort and education - to create high art, the greater the profit for art dealers who then sell on these monstrosities.
Sewell was raging against a system that had betrayed and abandoned the one goal that all art should strive to accomplish - beauty. He saw ugliness, laziness and poor taste caused by ignorance which in turn was caused by poor education in the arts. With his death, we lose one of the very few people who was standing up against the great crimes art dealerships and their "artists" are committing towards the collective human endeavour called art.

Brian Sewell and Angel

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