“Trust me. I’m an Expert” Art Prizes: and the Winner Is…. ; Keith and Elizabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellowship; VCA
Art prizes are only any good if you win. The judges are only any good if they pick you. Judges are only any good if I’m a judge. Art prizes are only as good as the judges. Otherwise, they’re a bunch of mugs who confuse Judy Watson with Jenny Watson. Jon Campbell with Glen Campbell.
Money for artists is great. Artists having to jump into a cage and fight to the death against fellow artists to win funds is not great. Just fess up: you judge guys are making shit up. We haven’t decided what good art is yet. Art prizes are in denial about the uncertainty surrounding what is good art; they prefer to make it seem all settled. Like a Peace Accord. This is spurious. This stop-motion animation video is better art than this sculpture or painting or performance. Good art is not definite, it’s indefinite. Art prizes are a circus and everybody has their favourite clown. Shouldn’t more clowns have more squirty flowers?
There’s got to be losers for there to be winners, that’s simple math. But do there have to be so many losers? Art Prizes are seeing record numbers of losers entering for a chance ( just once!) to be the winner. Record numbers of ambitious artist contestants enter the art prizes. That’s because University businesses are churning out record numbers of ambitious artists, and they have to do something with themselves.
The Keith and Elizabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellowship is a 25 grand award, for a VCA graduate to go look round the world at art. Nice. All applicants for this award have to write down on a form where they want to go in the world and why, and this imagining (when you haven’t even won yet and probably won’t) is unnecessary and, in my view, rather cruel. In terms of productivity and with a view to positive mental health outcomes within the sector, I would advise an immediate termination of this part of the application process. It can take an emotional toll. I’m not sure how healthy it is. I reckon actually the Productivity Commission should take a look at all the Fantasy Island form filling out requirements within the arts and see if we can begin putting the horse before the cart. Cough up the cash then we’ll talk about your forms. It’s a dream sequence: everyone shortlisted is fully invested in the idea they’ve won. And they haven’t.
Here’s some writing about how tough judging an art prize is, written by Ted Snell, Winthrop Professor, Director Cultural Precinct at University of Western Australia
Poor art prize judges; we should really feel very sorry for them. Professor Ted argues against the subjectivity of art. He wants art to be like maths or like science or like sport, where it can be tested and deemed correct or incorrect, winning or a losing. Black or white. Music vs. Physics/Art vs. Science and all that jazz/hip-hop:
‘The same principles that underscore assessment and review in science or any discipline are also the basis of judgments made in the arts.’
Professor Ted continues with his surreal (delusional) argument, an argument so shaky it might be best to call it a non-argument:
‘In science, the law, sport or almost any sphere of interest expertise is acknowledged – yet in the arts specialist knowledge is demoted to a form of effete connoisseurship. No matter how many qualifications or years of professional engagement you have your credibility is undermined by this assumption of subjectivity.’
If you’re arguing against the subjective nature of judging the value of art, perhaps you shouldn’t be an Art prize judge. Maybe you don’t know a lot about art. Maybe you should stick to the cultural precinct side of things. Maybe you need to employ me, to come over there to Perth (the world’s most isolated city) and mentor you out of the conceptual cul de sac you have lead your Art Judging brain into. This is going to cost you heaps though, because there’s so much rethinking to do. We’re going have to go right back to the beginning…. (Slow Fade Out using Ripple effect)
I’m no big fan of art history (mostly cause it left women out) but there was this time, when all these French Painters couldn’t even get hung in the Salon ‘cause the judges thought their work was crap. So, the dudes got their shit together and did their own show: the Salon de Refuses. These dudes are the Impressionists. The ones that do the global travelling circus Block(Cock)buster shows, that prop up all the Museums of the world who can’t get their governments to fund them. Thank god for Monet and Manet and Gauguin. They get the turnstiles turning round and round so a profit can be generated for all the poor museum people.
Professor Ted. I’ll give you this story for free, but if you want more proof of art judges getting it wrong, you’re gunna have to cop up the cash. Man.
Within the comments section of the Conversation article by Professor Ted, there are comments by Paul Doornbusch (Associate Dean, Australian College of the Arts). Buckle up:
Having lived for a decade in Europe, I find the level of artistic criticism to be fairly basic in Australia. I have great sympathy for the author because of the Dunning-Krugeresque way that everyone seems to believe they have a say in artistic criticism. I have taught aesthetics and artistic criticism at university, here are my general points on the characteristics of what I think make up truly GREAT art: great effort is involved in its creation; significant and masterful technique is required to make it; it contains a strong coherence in its concept, expression and execution; it is interesting and intellectually challenging; and it is a response of love, because someone who hates humanity cannot have a creative artistic reaction to the world. Nowhere do I mention how much I like something… I like many things that would score poorly on that framework, c’est la vie, I’m not at all perturbed. I also don’t like some things that score well on the points above. It is a framework that I use and it has worked for me. If you disagree with it then you should make your own. I expect that every art critic has something similar, and I trust in their expertise in applying it in their field, in which I’m not an expert. Anybody can make their own framework for their own purposes, based on what they value, and I encourage everyone to do so, at least for the clarity of debate.
Maybe people aren’t qualified to know what they like Associate Dean Paul. You need mentoring too; start with Duchamp. And you guys need to watch are:
Richard Bell, How to Judge an Art Prize 1min 57sec https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1I7MxIUd1k A fantastic document of best practice.
Then watch Richard Bell, Uz vs THEM, 2min 47 sec. https://www.youtube.com/watchv=Soxq_AOnymk As an example of prize-worthy art.
Artists must protect their relationship with their art practice. If your vulnerable heart is being broken with every prize you don’t win, maybe art prizes aren’t the road to travel down. Maybe they are a booby trap of false hope and lost dreams.
Art Prize Contestants are akin to the 40 beautiful young women searching for real love on The Bachelor. The full train wreck of the reality of so many women pursuing one man, simultaneously, broadcast into our living rooms. It’s woman-on-woman conflict that forms the basis for this drama, just as it’s artist-against-artist drama that plays out at the announcement of an art prizewinner. Remember: if you haven’t had the call to see if you’re coming, you haven’t won. That simple. Save yourself the drama and stay home and watch The Bachelor instead. Sit back and enjoy someone else’s drama