Click on any headline to view the full article...

Is the Turner Prize a Reflection of Art Today?

Back when the Bee was young I had a bit of a strop about the Tate Gallery (or 'Tate Britain' as it's been rebranded).  This prompted Ethan Wilderspin to send in  the following piece on the Tate, the Turner Prize, and, y'know, Art...

Is there any question that Claude Monet’s Impression Sunrise is art? (Whether you like the painting or not is a different matter.)  
Is Tracy Emin’s My Bed art? Does anyone like it?

Impression Sunrise (Claude Monet Prints)
My Bed (Saatchi Gallery)
 The Turner Prize is either a prestigious award for contemporary art in the UK for artists under 50, or it is “Crap” – a pretentious award given to talentless individuals who are self proclaimed ‘artists’. Why is there so much controversy and disagreement over the Turner Prize? Is it because some people fail to grasp modern conceptual art, or is it because some people wake up in a bed not all that unlike Miss Emin’s every day? Indeed, does raw artistic talent lie within the rooms of all adolescent boys on the mornings that their mothers forget to scold them for their untidiness? 

The Turner prize emerged the 1980’s and has had more media attention since its beginnings than any other award for artists in Britain. It is named, perhaps some what ironically, after the 19th Century English landscape painter J. M. W. Turner. The prize (awarded in the Tate Britain gallery), although having been given to painters on occasion, is heavily criticized for generally focusing on conceptual or installation art. This is undeniably the case but why do these art mediums cause so much controversy around the event?

2008 Turner Prize winner Mark Leckeytalking of the controversy surrounding the prize, said, ‘I don’t care about all this.  I want to make work that has some kind of effect on people, and basically…  this show got called effectless, it had no impact and is attenuated. But I don’t get that.’ Disregarding Leckey’s personal opinion, he summarises the outlook of many in relation to the Turner Prize.

The Stuckists are a group of people who demonstrate on the doorstep of the Turner Prize every time it’s held. They claim to be “Anti the pretensions of conceptual art”, which according to them is the same as being Anti Anti-art. Essentially this shows that whether the Turner Prize is a good indication of contemporary British art or not, comes down to whether or not the individual considers a lot of the conceptual, video and instillation pieces actual art or not.

This seems to be the case, as everyone seems to want to put in their two penny’s worth. Kim Howells wrote "If this is the best British artists can produce then British art is lost.” Janet Street-Porter said “The Turner Prize entices thousands of young people into art galleries for the first time every year. It fulfils a valuable role”. There is so much criticism that comes from every angle, positive and negative. But the problem with the Turner prize is that this seems to be its very purpose; media hype. It is a showcase of controversy and that is all it ever has been, a magnet for media attention. Every year people wait to see how bizarre, mundane or talentless the new contestants' work will be; never do they expect (or, so it seems receive) ‘Art’ but instead media hype about some stupid soulless award.

John Bourne, curator of the Tate museum said "We are grateful for the extra publicity the Stuckists have given the Tate". This seemingly witty comment actually just seems to confirm the notion that the Turner Prize is nothing more than a mainstream advertisement which uses the media for its marketing. Is that art?

Ethan Wilderspin describes himself as 'A nineteen year old unemployed layabout with vague comic book author/illustrator aspirations...'


Charles Thomson said...

Actually, it was Paul (now Lord) Myners, when chairman of the Tate, who said, "We are grateful for the extra publicity the Stuckists have given the Tate". He was speaking to Stuckist artist, John Bourne, outside Tate Britain, during the Stuckist Turner Prize demo in 2006. See:

Gilmoure said...

Heh. I guess I fall on side of "how is this art?" While I find some performance art humorous and fun (Laurie Anderson) most installation art just seems to provoke nothing more than 'Meh' from me. There's some cleverness is some installations but I don't think that's enough. Is every quip literature?

Philip Reeve said...

Mmm. I think you have to consider who the patrons are for this kind of stuff. In the UK that would be Charles Saatchi, an advertising man (who naturally wants us to believe that simplistic little visual quips can be High Art) and the Arts Council, a branch of the British state which basically exists to force people to pay for 'art' they don't want. The Arts Council naturally favours installations, 'found objects', 'sound sculptures' etc because, being completely ideas-based, they're seen as egalitarian and open to anyone, unlike more traditional forms which are 'elitist' - e.g: reserved for people who actually have some technical skills.

Personally, I decided long ago that I don't believe there's any such thing as art: there's just craft, and entertainment. Some craft objects (Rembrandt or Picasso paintings, for instance) and some entertainments ('Anna Karenina', 'The Magic Flute') are so profound and beautiful that we feel we need a different word for them and call them 'art'. A work of 'art' which can't be classed as craft or entertainment is usually of little interest to anyone outside the art world. Tellingly, arty types tend to use terms like 'craft' and 'entertainment' to dismiss art which appeals to the masses. A popular figurative painter like Andrew Wyeth, for instance, is often dismissed as 'a mere illustrator'.

Nathan L said...

Well, it has to be said that illustrators are certainly inferior to painters. ;) Or it could be argued that a lot of older fine art is simply illustration depicting classical scenes etc.

When doing my degree, years ago, I remember the endless and tedious arguments about what is and is not ART. I did a degree in ceramics, with drawing and printing and the Fine Art Brigade looked down on us ceramicists with a little disdain because what we did was 'craft'.

I like the idea that it is craft or entertainment.
My current view is that almost anything can be classed as art and it is simply a subjective matter whether one attributes it with any worth or value. Looking at art is a bit like reading; one brings to it one's own experience - and that is often what makes a book pertinent or exciting for the reader.

At the time, the Impressionists were considered in a similar way to Emin by the art establishment. However, with the passage of time, we have come to consider the Impressionists' work as being aesthetically pleasing, although, with over exposure do the paintings even start to become a bit kitchy? When you've seen them degraded to coasters on which to rest a dripping coffee mug, or used to dry up the dishes...

In my late teens, I visited Paris. Leaving my fellow students to their own plans I went off to the Orangerie to see Monet's water lilies. Gorgeous! Huge! Riduculous too! I loved them. But that's just taste for you.

Emin's bed does nothing for me, but that's not to say that it isn't art. Really I wonder why anyone cares or makes a fuss. The less fuss the better. Let them play their (silly) games and let history decide the lasting value of it.

I wouldn't have it in my own house...
As Morris said, “If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

I couldn't afford it any way.

Nathan L said...


Nathan L said...

Sorry, it's a typo day.

Gilmoure said...

@ Phillip Reeve: Funny you mention Andrew Wyeth. Four times in my life, I've been stopped dead in my tracks upon seeing a work of art. First time was the cover of Andrew Wyeth's book Helga (passing art books on way to SF/F section of book store). I took my meager high school savings and bought that book, knowing nothing about art. Was just the eyes that grabbed me. A few years later, the cover of Esquire magazine with a b/w photograph of Susan Sarandon did it. Later on, I saw a Rembrandt (portrait of young Jewish man) and ended up just standing there for 20 minutes or so, staring. This was what convinced me to go to art school. Turns out an appreciation for art and a decent technical skill isn't enough. The folks I met that were making what I thought of as Real Art were driven to be creating. It didn't matter what they were doing with their life, they'd still be drawing or painting or what not. Very cool stuff but also not really me. I did find out I had a talent for fixing computers and I now have a rather comfortable life doing that.

So, art, to me, is what moves me. There's also been movies and music and such that have also moved me. Am just glad there's so much of it out there and that the internets allow folks to easily publish themselves and get seen.

Post a Comment