I wrote most of this shortly after the Turner Prize was announced and then I sat on it for a bit. After re-reading and amending a few bits I decided to post it:
I don’t normally feel that i have to justify my work, or art in general - my aim is to try to make the work speak for itself. However, the recent Turner Prize exhibition (featuring Goshka Macuga, Runa Islam, Cathy Wilkes and winner Mark Leckey) and ensuing (lack of) controversy has urged me to write something in response - particularly in light of the usual kinds of comments from a certain popular newspaper. things like: ‘ART ????? Looks more like a load of unmitigated trash to me.’ ‘How many of these ‘artists’ can actually draw or paint.. ?’ and ‘I haven’t washed up my lunch time crockery yet.....think that would be worth £25,000????’ I would like to address each one in turn:
‘ART ????? Looks more like a load of unmitigated trash to me.’
I assume this person is referring to Wilkes’s work. This is not criticism - it is an opinion. And a badly made opinion at that. There were various other comments about artists dumping ‘a random assortment of items around a room’ and calling it art. I would like to know who really thinks they know exactly what art is? What does art look like? Even as an artist myself I don’t claim to know what art looks like, I can’t always recognise it (sometimes I think something that isn’t art is?) - I don’t think it always has a look. I also take offense at the generalisation that ‘random’ items are dumped around a room. From what I saw the items were very carefully arranged - often in pairs or with a visual relationship apparent between forms, colours and possible uses. This view that it ‘just looks like trash’ suggests to me that these people do not bother to look at things carefully, they do not bother to take a little time and most certainly know very little about art, about the many different ways it can be made and the many different ways of looking at it, understanding it and enjoying it. Even if you come to the conclusion that you don’t think it is very good, at least respect the fact that this is someone’s work. They have given time, thought and energy producing this. You have given nothing in return but a throw-away remark. (Pun optional).
‘How many of these ‘artists’ can actually draw or paint.. ?’
Art does not start and stop with drawing and painting. Whether you can draw and paint or not does not decide whether you are an artist or not. I would agree that a certain amount of skill at something is necessary, but this something can also be knowing what colours can do to the eye and mind, knowing how to build a room in such a way that it conveys your desired intention upon those who enter it, or knowing exactly how far apart to place two items. An artist can be a person who organizes things and people in order to achieve an end. Being an artist is being someone that makes things happen, and these things in turn affect those that experience them. You don’t have to be able to draw or paint to do this, you just have to be able communicate.
‘I haven’t washed up my lunch time crockery yet.....think that would be worth £25,000????’
This demonstrates an immense lack of understanding. Much of what often makes something art is intention - sincere intention. You might have just done exactly what Wilkes did and put a pair of jam jars side by side with a battery standing up in each but this does not make you an artist. And it’s not because you didn’t do it first either. If you are thick enough to think that doing what an artist does makes you an artist (and worthy of a prize) then you deserve to be outraged. Making art is a careful process - even if the final work is executed quickly there is much development, practice, trial-runs, thinking. Yes, thinking can be work. The Turner Prize does not imply that the work is worth £25000 - it is a prize. You do not win a prize for not doing the washing up (unless the competition is about who is laziest). The prize is awarded to an artist who has made a significant contribution to art in the previous year. The exhibition is representative of that year; it could be one piece from it or many. This attitude really annoys me. Art is worth something - it is the product of work, it takes time, and there is an intrinsic value attached to a person’s creativity. But, according to certain people, only certain, established, art can be worth large sums of money (and only up to a certain amount too; the question of how this value is arrived at is a whole other piece of writing). The people making these comments don’t really seem to be able to make a value judgement other than ‘I don’t understand this, therefore it must be worthless’.
What I feel these kinds of people fail to understand is the purpose of art, it’s relevance to culture and society. Art not only responds to popular culture (particularly in the case of leckey) it also creates it. The visual languages used by artists have a trickle-down effect on the visual language of society and culture as a whole. The way everyday things look is influenced heavily by the things that are exhibited in white-walled galleries and other art spaces. Designers continually look to works of art for inspiration. TV shows reference artworks regularly. Mostly I hate the lazy attitude. People often complain that art is elitist, that it is difficult and impenetrable. To this I say ‘yes, it is. And it should be.’ If it was easy it wouldn’t be art, it would be a soap opera or a stuffed toy (although these things can be used by artists). What I mean is: art requires work on the part of the viewer too. You don’t have to be a scholar, a historian or any kind of expert, you just need to be open-minded, read a little and give the work a little time.
The next time you see a super 8 movie of a woman tipping a china cup off a plinth just spare a moment, think about why it was made, how do the images affect you? If you don’t like it think about why? Don’t just dismiss it, and above all don’t think ‘I could do that’, instead think ‘Why aren’t I doing that?’
Posted by Rich