Tracey Emin

Clare Appezzato

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Illustration by Holly Summerson

Tracey Emin’s work is provocative and personal. Her art is produced in a variety of ways including painting, drawing, sewing and sculpture. However, arguably her most notable and analysed media is neon text. With these, she stretches the limits of art and calls into question whether a phrase hung up in lights can be considered artwork. One look at it and you will think that yes it can, undoubtedly so. Her relative popularity aside (she was nominated for a Turner Prize) her achievements are consistently undermined, and her art is constantly critiqued for being ‘trivial’ and ‘vulgar’ by those who believe that art must adhere to some sort of strict guidelines. Emin hits back at these critics (mainly men) with her continually beautiful collections of neon lights. Emin belongs in the world of academia and she deserves to be studied, because she is a clear cut woman who is redefining what can be considered ‘art’. In this age of technology, new media and the internet, her neon lights are representative of a new age of art that comes along with it.

Although Emin started selling her work in 1993, she did not receive notable attention until she exhibited My Bed at the Tate Gallery in 1999. While being shortlisted for the Turner Prize and having a piece of their art at the Tate would assure most artists some respect and acceptance, this was not the case for Emin. Her artwork was criticised for being, quite literally, a bed strewn with used condoms, yellow stains and underwear with blood on it. Instead of being recognised as a piece of art, it instead received notable media attention for its triviality and unhygienic-ness. Brian Sewell – an English art critic famous for his controversial opinions – called Tracey Emin’s sketches ‘trivial’ in an interview with Elizabeth Day for the Guardian. In further belittling, her neon signs are rarely even recognised as art. Quentin Letts reviewed one of her exhibitions and wrote, “The neon sign, by the way, was not just a sign. It was also a work of art, listed in the exhibitions catalogue. It was for sale. She’s canny like that, our Trace” (Letts). By feigning outrage at a piece of artwork being classed and priced as such, this is yet again another art critic who shows a lack of respect for this recent form of art.

Emin feels that she is regularly marginalized and criticised by the art community for the simple fact that she is a woman. In a telling and personal interview with Lauren Christensen for Vanity Fair, Emin reflects, “the press was cruel, because they didn’t just dislike my work; they disliked me, personally- my voice, the way I dress, the way I look, my attitude. I’m sure they wouldn’t have carried on that way if I were a man. I’m absolutely convinced of that”. In response to Christensen’s next question, “You think that you were reviewed more critically because you’re a woman?”, Emin replies, “When someone tells me I can’t do something, I say, “Yes, I can. Watch me.” And I think that can annoy some people. You know that double standard: when men shout, they’re ‘taking charge’ or ‘giving orders,’ but when women shout, they’re ‘screaming.’ It’s that kind of cliché”. 

Tracey Emin and her artwork is relevant to me and to the youth of today as she is a woman fighting against societal expectations of what it means to be a woman and an artist, and producing important artwork while disregarding others’ opinions. Tracey Emin belongs in academia, and deserves to be studied on a range of courses; not only Fine Art courses, but also Cultural Courses, New Media Courses, Social Justice Courses and Gender Courses would benefit from including Emin’s artwork for discussion. Emin has consistently and successfully introduced many new types of art forms into our appreciation of what art is, from deconstructed structures such as My Bed to various provocative and intimate neon signs, such as Is Legal Sex Anal?, People Like You Need To Fuck People Like Me, Trust Yourself and It’s Not Me That’s Crying It’s My Soul. Studying these new forms of art and media can expand our knowledge, understanding and appreciation of what art is and can be.

Works Cited

Christensen, Lauren. “Artist Tracey Emin: Critics are Harsher Because I’m a Woman”. Vanity Fair. 13

May 2013. Vanity Fair Web.

Day, Elizabeth. “Brian Sewell: Tracey Emin’s Art is ‘Trivial’ and Grayson Perry’s is ‘Vulgar’” The

Guardian. 12 April 2014. The Guardian Web.

Letts, Quentin. “Tracey Emin’s Vulgar Show Proves the Art Luvvies are Dragging Civilization
Backwards: Quentin Letts Finds the Artists Latest Exhibition Both Embarrassing and
Infuriating”. The Daily Mail. 17 October 2014. The Daily Mail Online Web.

About the author

Clare Appezzato is an Australian/ Italian student, interested in pursuing all things Gender and Social Justice related. Having completed a Joint BA Degree in Classics and English Literature, she is currently studying Gender and Sexuality at Master’s level at University College Dublin.

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