The Turner Prize is Upon Us Again
From a Guest Blogger: Like doing good, appreciating or creating works of high aesthetic value has always taken a certain amount of effort. Good art has tended to be elitist and genii do not come in droves. But for the sympathetic, and for those willing to make more than a little effort, the beauties of painting, sculpture and all manner of other fine arts have given up their secrets readily, and, if I may be so bold, reliably as well. To a certain extent nothing in art has changed. For fear of being branded nostalgic I am reluctant to assert that things were once better. Once again, with a bit of effort, and mostly with time, the works of Mark Rothko, Anish Kapoor, and David Hockney give up their secrets willingly. But, at the same time, there seem to be many artistic works that are very different. With all the time in the world I do not believe I shall ever find anything of value in the photography of George Shaw or in Grayson Perry’s lewd pottery. It is not just that the content is distasteful or unexpected or, in the case of Shaw, bleak. It is, rather, as if the rules have somehow been turned on their head. Where one expects to find delight one is met with misery. Shaw’s photographs of what are in many respects scenes from his childhood are devoid of humanity, more like things better consigned to oblivion than enshrined upon gallery walls. If it were the case that where one expected to find misery one found delight, then perhaps more contemporary art might appeal to viewers who are sympathetic but often ‘agnostic’ about fine art. This seems not to happen. Even the works of much more accessible artists such as Anish Kapoor have about them a feeling of ‘ennui’. Joy is absent and where artists genuinely seek to express something of childlike simplicity one is more likely to be confronted with kitsch and eroticism than innocence and happiness.
In a sense the works now under consideration for the Turner Prize suggest the world is not what we thought it was. At the very least, they manifest a world other than that known to me. If there was a revolution in the arts beginning in the nineteenth century and running through more or less to completion after World War II, it was a revolt against a culture that some artists saw as oppressive or illusory. In the sorrow of Expressionism painters and sculptors sought a more ‘real’ or more genuine aesthetic experience. But it was not simply in Expressionism that this happened. Pop Art, Minimalism, Symbolism, Primitivism and many other movements jettisoned all hope in joyful reality in favour of a struggle either to live in one’s environment or to live with oneself. We have arrived at what seems to be an art of resistance rather than one of redemption. The struggle to understand and live with one’s humanity can be painful, but surely there is nothing really new in this? Without, however, some hope of redemption or reconciliation there is little or no reason to think struggling will achieve anything worthwhile. So much of the work of self-consciously modern artists appears trapped between nothingness or doing nothing and the need for salvation and rejecting both out of fear. It need not remain stuck there. With a little effort and expenditure of time it should be possible to move out of this terrified paralysis and back to art with humanity. After all, we all yearn for joy.