Here is a clip of the art critic David Sylvester in 1969 on the BBC show The Visual Scene (the “Playing it Cool” episode) talking about the dangers of artists working too much in the public eye:

British art critic David Sylvester (he could also be talking about kids)

— Austin Kleon (@austinkleon) May 4, 2023

Artists must be allowed to go through bad periods! They must be allowed to do bad work! They must be allowed to get in a mess! They must be allowed to have dud experiments! They must also be allowed to have periods where they repeat themselves in a rather aimless, fruitless way before they can pick up and go on. The kind of attention that they get now, the kind of atmosphere of excitement which attends today the creation of works of art, the way that everything is done too much in the public eye, it’s really too much. The pressures are of a kind which are anti-creative.

This clip went viral on @davidrisley’s Instagram, obviously speaking to the pressures that many artists feel with the rise of social media.

Viewed in the context of the episode, Sylvester is talking, specifically, about the “professionalization” and “commercialization” of art, and basically the hype machine of the art world:

There is a tendency in our society to be wedded to the new, to be wedded to the excitement of novelty. I think at the present moment that there’s a tendency —  which I think we’ve got from America, and which I think is a bad tendency, to  measure every artist by his last exhibition. “So and so’s no good, look at his last show!” The fact that he had five previous shows, which were very good, doesn’t seem to matter. It gets forgotten too quickly. And somehow the snap judgement on what one has just done, this kind of pressure it puts on is very dangerous, because artists must be allowed to go through bad periods…

On a side note: Many people told me this clip was probably one of Sylvester’s interviews with the painter Francis Bacon, specifically, Francis Bacon: Fragments of a Portrait. I watched the whole thing trying to find the clip, with no luck, but I don’t regret it, as the interview is excellent. (John Berger quotes from it in his essay, “Francis Bacon and Walt Disney,” collected in About Looking.) I’m now going to watch Sylvester and Bacon’s 1985 interview together, Francis Bacon: The Brutality of Fact.)

Filed under: bad art

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