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by Bill Lewis

Relaxing today in an armchair with the newspaper, my attention was drawn to an article covering Saatchi's new exhibition. The headline read: "Saatchi's collection is starting to feel irrelevant and out of touch. Art lovers want more than just blood and gore, writes Richard Dorment" Daily Telegraph 27/03/04 I agree entirely. In fact, for many years I have been troubled over what Conceptual activists have been putting in front of us in the name of art. This remained merely the gut feeling of an art-friendly but unartistic ordinary person until my friend, the artist John Bourne, asked me to write something down. Well, I have now written something down. What started as a swipe at Conceptual art soon became a long journey in search of an answer to the question "What is art?".You will I'm sure have your own opinions on how far I have travelled. My own view is that where I am is but an early resting place along the way.....and that, in Hobbit terms, I have hardly left the Shire! I do however firmly believe in the vital importance of the journey. Art is too important to be left to Conceptualists. Please read some, hopefully all, of what follows. Join the Fellowship, metaphorically speaking, and together we can defeat the dark forces!

My qualifications for writing about art at all are confined entirely to those of an interested member of the public. Because of this "outsider" perspective, I may be able to express some genuine "outsider" points in ways which are of interest.

It is my hope that the points of view expressed here may be of interest and relevance to "insiders" : to artists and others in the art world who are already aware that all is not well in contemporary art. If this is indeed the case, then the credit must be ascribed to an artist, John Bourne, whose understanding and sensitivity for the practice and theory of art have been my invaluable guide in all artistic matters. My warmest thanks are due to him for his friendship, his artistic guidance and his patience.

In my view, contemporary art as epitomised by Conceptual artists is not so much at a crossroads as up a cul-de-sac. It is in the nature of a cul-de-sac that progress is halted since there is no way to go except back to the main road.

Let us not be confused by the fact that Conceptual art exhibitions are often well attended. The entertainments at the Colosseum in Ancient Rome were put on for massed crowds of 50,000 people, or more, but that didn't make them art either. In both cases, attendance figures merely confirm that people came to watch the spectacle to be entertained, shocked or perhaps just to laugh.

Now I enjoy being entertained and having a good laugh as much as anyone else. I also admit to a frisson of fascination sometimes about what shocks and repulses us. However, for the life of me, I cannot accept that the activities masquerading under the general banner of Conceptual art are in fact art.

If this is indeed the case, then it means there is a gaping hole in our cultural life, where art ought to be, but where instead frolics a motley collection of entertainers, putting on a show and calling themselves artists.

I believe that the general public attends the entertainments of the Conceptual artists for a variety of reasons hinted at above but, at the same time, resolutely refuses to follow these artists up the Conceptual cul-de-sac and for the most part would not agree that what they are doing is worthy of the name art.

My aim therefore is to expose the pretentions of the Conceptualists and to help reclaim a place, in the centre of our cultural life, for what I believe to be real art.