Francis Bacon and the Degeneration of the West

By Tim Haydon.


A triptych by the Irish-born British artist Francis Bacon was sold by Christie’s in New York for the record sum for any artwork at auction of £89 million this month.

Bacon’s three depictions of Freud seem sketchy indeed.  Each shows him seated within a framework of lines that look like aids to drawing perspective.  Freud’s foot escapes from this framework cage in some sort of symbolism. The artist breaking  the boundaries of art?

Freud’s face is a distorted blob, as if, instead of Freud as a sitter, Bacon was in lurid fashion painting the Elephant Man.  Actually, if one had not been told,  one would have no idea who the sitter was.  It could have been almost anyone – a stranger off the street. And here we have the key to this work.   For who tells us that this is Freud?  It is Francis Bacon, the artist.

What we have here then is not really a depiction  of Lucian Freud.  It is far more a representation of the inner life of Francis Bacon. We are expected not to apprehend Freud so much as the skewed workings of Bacon’s mind.

So is this a ‘great work of art’, worthy of the Everest of cash paid for it? Francis Outred, head  of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s, Europe, certainly thinks so. He said that it is a ‘true masterpiece and one of the greatest paintings to come up for auction in a current generation.’

In his famed ‘Civilisation ‘ TV series, Lord Clarke mused over one of those  terribly ugly,  sinister, grinning carved African Masks in  dark wood, comparing it to an ancient Greek statue of the God Apollo. Was the  depiction  of Apollo a greater work of  art then the former, he wondered?

It was, he suggested, for quite apart from the artistic technical aspects,  the African mask was about the fear,  darkness, death  and superstition of a malevolent spirit world. The  Apollo, however, was about  human confidence, life, light and the rational.

(Another critic said sniffily about Clarke’s remarks that ‘he wouldn’t get away that nowadays’, presumably referring to the current relativism of  Cultural Marxism which allocates equal value to works of art, however vile, from any ‘culture’.  Clarke’s remarks have been excised from currently available versions of ‘Civilisation’ in a classic example of politically correct oppression of opinion.)

We can approach the Bacon oeuvre in a rather similar spirit as did Clarke to the African mask.  This slight and repellently self-indulgent piece is not great art as compared to the masterpieces our civilisation has produced.  It is instead a great example of degenerate art; a true representation of the decline of the West.

A vigorous culture is a fully integrated system.  Every part of it relates to the rest.  Its science, religion, truth and morality, entertainment, politics, economics and, of course its people, relate one to another.  Developments in one affect the rest.  And its art reflects all of this – reflects the state of the culture and so of the society.  In such a culture, art serves to elevate and educate, to exalt the good and so point towards truth and meaning.

A culture which can produce an artist like Bacon is a culture in the throes of final disintegration, which his art will further.  For Bacon is the very essence not of integration but of its rejection.  It is art which sees nothing but incoherent nothingness. The universe is meaningless and so the people in it must be portrayed satirically in violent caricature, because they are simply monsters in all this meaninglessness – even a friend as Freud was of Bacon…

The grotesques which Bacon paints serve to fascinate and to entertain. His representations are at the end of the line in a story of ever more desperate attempts to excite and to shock.  And to earn money, for modern art is above all a commercial enterprise.

One might think that with Bacon we have come pretty much to the bottom of the pits in Western art, Western culture and Western society.  For what could be more humanly degrading than his work? But then we remember Tracey Emin’s unmade bed and the pickled sharks.  Jeff Koons’ sculpture ‘Balloon Dog (Orange)’ – one of a series of five stainless steel sculptures in varying colours – fetched £36.7m at the same auction as Bacon’s. This was a record for a work by a living artist. It looks exactly like a dog-  a child made out of balloons.

On this basis, it seems that there is some way to go before the sump is reached and revulsion turns our truly sick society to another path.


11 thoughts on “Francis Bacon and the Degeneration of the West

  1. Tim,
    Another outstanding essay. You really must collect your best work into some E books for distribution. I wonder if you have seen this book on the Culture Wars? I recommend it to you. I’m sure you will agree with the authors views on the evil spread through art and the way it is destroying our culture from within and all funded by taxpayers money.

    It also gives new traditionalist definitions of art and why architecture harms local communities.

    1. Artistically, Bowden’s critique is a case of pot and kettle. I liked Bowden . His oratory amazed me. But like most genius he had a flaw. RIP.

  2. I couldn’t agree more with you Tim. The promotion of degenerate art, at the expense of ignoring truly gifted artists, is similar to the degeneracy we see in the media generally with bad language and dumbed down story lines in both film and TV. Also modern architecture has the same prevalence in promoting lurid, brutal and featureless buildings instead of those that would be more aesthetic and people friendly. Modern architecture does not put the needs of human beings before that of making some kind of bogus original statement. Prince Charles summed up his opinion of one modern building in London by rightly describing it as a “carbuncle”. Art should be a refection of a culture, not a means of tax avoidance and investment by the wealthiest people. It appears to me that some of these rich “investors” in art would even buy a steaming turd if they believed it would fetch more money for them in the future. This doesn’t take away the fact that the work of untalented charlatans is promoted by the art world rather than truly talented artists who are ignored. This does show a deliberate degeneracy being pushed onto society generally.

  3. An excellent article,it sums it all up very well.

    What I can’t understand is why Lucien Freud, a very acute and observant painter, a master of the oil technique, would have allowed himself to be portrayed by such a charlatan in such a way.

    Bacon was in the habit of painting parodies of old masters’ paintings, for instance his dreadful bodge of the Pope Innocent X by Velasquez. Perhaps there is a self-portrait of Freud, and this is simply another of his parodies.

    Many years ago, it was taboo among art students to express a dislike of Bacon. An early form of PC which shows just how ready people were and are to co-operate in their own destruction.

    1. Lucien was a figurative painter in the 1950s and 1960s at a time when it was out of fashion.

      The art world is show biz and being advertised by Bacon was helpful. Artists have to market themselves like rock groups. He also had expensive tastes and umpteen mistresses with his children to support so he needed to make big money.

      Endless worthy artists scrape a living only known in the trade.

  4. What about the ‘pile of bricks’?

    The mind boggles at the idiocy of self-inflated egos and the sheer moronic nature of those who buy into such rubbish.

    1. I once walked into The Tate and nearly fell over what appeared to be a pile of old conduit and cable lying on the floor from installation of new wiring. I wondered why it was left there to trip over. Then I noticed the label on the exhibit.

      Takes ‘installation art’ to new heights it does….

  5. I don’t know about Freud being needy for money. He was, after all, the grandson of the founder of modern psychology, Sigmund Freud.

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