Anna Belleforte

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art prize criteria and the circus of words

Posted by Anna Belleforte on September 30, 2017 at 3:00 PM

Every year I admire the selections they make, yet interestingly the annual Van Lanschot Art Prize (which I didn’t submit to) has decided that none of the 500+ works submitted was worth nominating this year. Apparently the jury felt no works met all 3 criteria: visual impact, representative of our current times, originality.  Have we criteria-ed everything to death? Or rather, what are we asking of artists today? I just find it hard to believe that there really weren’t 10 works of art of quality (read: skilfully drafted visual stimuli that touch you in some way). I can appreciate that a jury needs to justify nominations, and a checklist helps. But what about their gut feelings – has this simply been banned from art? And what defines impact, contemporariness and originality in relation to art? Well apparently not the art itself. It’s all about the ‘explanatory text’: what does the artist SAY about his/her purpose, process or end-product? The crux of the matter is: they (established art critics, juries, curators) want to see a specific explanation, a specific WHY behind the making, and preferably one that shows social engagement. I can only reference myself in this regard… and my why is a basic need to create with my hands and be mentally stimulated by a subject (whether socially engaging or not). But is this enough? Given that I haven’t yet been nominated for any Dutch art prizes, I suspect not. To be honest, this is not entirely my ambition, but I can see that it’s good for an artist’s profile and that there’s an art business out there that relies on such validations.

So while artists are expected to create on instinct, they must also explain themselves to survive in the contemporary art world. I’m all for good communication skills, and yes the story behind the work can be enlightening, but isn’t the purpose of choosing visual means to communicate precisely the point: to express things we don’t want to put into words, things we would rather leave in abbreviated form, things that others can do with or think over as they please?

Be eloquent in order to be relevant, it seems, at least in this specific world. Of course, the art must also be good. Yet in a culture of image saturation, it’s not easy to achieve visual impact; in a culture of broadcasting self over interchange with others, it isn’t easy to recognize what the collective spirit of the times is; in a culture of criteria (and the need to sometimes earn money), it’s hard to be completely original. In fact, originality in art is impossible – all an artist can ever do is build on what went before. I wonder if any pre-21st century artist would have been nominated by the jury in 2017? I’m sure they would say yes, because they have the perspective of history. I guess I’m just wondering: has it been necessary to create a circus of words around art? Why do artistic choices and motivation need explaining in order to be valued? We value a writer for their words without asking for a painted explanation. We value the skills of a furniture maker or a doctor without asking them why they do what they do.

#contemporaryart #kunstprijs #whymakeart

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