What's the point of it?

What’s the point of it, viewers asked in 2001 when they came ‘face to face’ with Martin Creed’s Turner Prize winning Work No. 227: The lights going off and on. The ‘installation’ was an empty room, which, as the title makes clear, see-sawed from being fully lit to pitch black. This happened at five second intervals, repeated forevermore.
Tate described it as a work that ‘misbehaves’ and that is a reasonable deduction. It really isn’t anything substantial in material form, nor does it suggest that it was executed with creative vigour. Yet, shockingly, this purportedly absent work is quite brilliant. It makes you think.
You then return to the question that was triggered in the first place, expect the context has changed. It is more existential this time around and you’re reminded of Socrates’ “All that I know is that I know nothing” and Francisco Sanches’ “I don’t even know if I know nothing”.
Continuing with that theme, Creed has previously said that even he isn’t quite sure what art is. Like others before him, he is driven by the unknowing and unshakeable demon that compels individuals to be creative, as George Orwell once explained.
“Works of art are just arrangements of colours or shapes: any meaning they have is given to them by the people who value them, or think they’re beautiful,” Creed reflected in an interview with Art Now back in 2002.
“To me it’s emotional. Aye. To me that’s the starting point. I mean, I do it because I want to make something. I think that’s a desire, you know, or I need. I think that I recognise that I want to make something, so I try to make something … I want what I want to say to go without saying.”
That makes sense. His work isn’t necessarily the outcome of something pre-planned, it is much more visceral, an expression of a sentiment whose meaning has no surface explanation but whose existence is owed to something bigger and complex.
Reviewing the first major survey of his work at the Hayward Gallery in London for Artinfo, the art critic Martin Gayford considers Creed to pose enquiries with his art – it is less about making a statement and more about searching. He himself doesn’t have an answer and that is okay sometimes. It is what it is, so to speak.
“I think Creed is clever, witty — and sometimes compellingly thought-provoking, although more because of the questions he poses than the visual excitement of what he does,” wrote Mr Gayford. “Even the cheery, colourful paintings seem calculated to make you wonder whether they are too banal to count as art.”
Much of his work can be reasoned to be utterly pointless but perhaps that is the point. In offices, workplaces and homes all around the world, men and woman hammer keyboards, swipe their smartphones and draw up blueprints, convinced that they are contributing something.
Are they really? Some would perceive their social, political, cultural, economical and spiritual input to be hollow, a distraction that keeps them from really challenging the traditional, elitist monopolies of everything. At least Creed gives us something to smile about, some curious construction to mull over. It lets us break free.
What’s the point of it? at the Hayward Gallery in London runs until April 27th 2014.
Cadogan Tate can ship works of art from New York to most destinations around the world.