Bob and Roberta Smith RA, Make Your Own Damn Art

Make Your Own Damn Art, 2010

Bob and Roberta Smith RA (b. 1963)

RA Collection: Art

Make Your Own Damn Art is a representative example of the art for which Bob and Roberta Smith is best-known. Early in his career he painted in a neo-Expressionist idiom similar to that favoured by many well-known artists during the 1980s. After training as a sign painter in New York, Bob and Roberta Smith turned to making ‘slogan art’ in which texts are painted on wood using paint and materials often sourced locally, using techniques appropriated from commercial signwriting. This turn from a conventional painterly style to a seemingly antithetical approach might be viewed as a satire on painting itself, or at least the result of a desire to communicate directly and unambiguously with an audience.

These texts are often short catchphrases (‘Art Not War’, ‘Leeds is the New Hull’), although some take the form of longer ‘open letters’ to specific public figures. Bob and Roberta Smith’s art is inextricably linked to political activism, particularly the threat of government cuts to arts funding. While the utopianism explicit in his work is perhaps hedged with feelings of doubt or futility, there is no doubting Bob and Roberta Smith’s commitment to art as a means of social change.

‘Make Your Own Damn Art’—a direct challenge to viewers to exercise their creativity—is perhaps Bob and Roberta Smith’s best-known slogan. It is also the name of a book of interviews he made with the artist, broadcaster and critic Matthew Collings, published in 2005, as well as a documentary. Bob and Roberta Smith is also a musician and has made performance and important part of his art—he has held ‘Make Your Own Damn Art’ performances (eg. at Galleria Cesare Manzo, Rome, 2009) and continues to present a regular radio show on Resonance FM, ‘Make Your Own Damn Music’.

Object details

Make Your Own Damn Art
Object type
Copyright owner
Oil on board

1005 mm x 999 mm x 64 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
Diploma Work given by Bob and Roberta Smith RA accepted 10 June 2014
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