Was Turner the Hirst of his day?
And Why Do They Make It Sound Like That’s A Bad Thing?
Adam Kirsch and Peter Schjeldahl don’t agree on the merit of Turner’s work but they do seem to agree on one thing: comparing J.M.W. Turner to Damien Hirst is an unqualified slam. Here’s Schjeldahl’s pithy put down:
He overlays splooshes of paint with passages of tidy drawing like bathtub decals. He did not anticipate Impressionism, which would submerge drawing in painting. William Hazlitt cited a view of his work as “pictures of nothing, and very like.” Actually, it is a congeries of misty, fiery, surfy, sunset stunts—an art less to contemplate than to talk about, calculated to jazz the talkiest of nations. Turner was the Damien Hirst of his day.
And Kirsch’s high-minded defense:
In life, Turner was indeed an ambitious man. But the ambition in his paintings is not personal, the way that Damien Hirst’s is; Turner did not simply leverage shock for fame. His is a spiritual ambition, a longing for transcendence so powerful that it could ignite a scarcely less magnificent longing in his pupil Ruskin.
Heavy Weather (The New Yorker)