Another year of the Turner Prize brings with it yet another 'but is it art?' debate.
This has been the immortal response that the annual award has been deemed to create since it was established in 1984. It provokes differing opinions on both the importance and value of conceptual art – innovative and cutting-edge, or pretentious and talentless? The idea that one of the most viewed paintings, Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, is categorised in the same field of work as 1995's Turner Prize Winner, Damien Hirst's Mother and Child, Divided (an achingly controversial sculpture consisting of four tanks, each of which containing one half of the cow or calf featured), is one which sparks a lot of questions as to how far the term 'art' really does and should extend.
The dispute surrounding the inclusion of such sculptures, installations and video elements in exhibitions has resulted in countless demonstrations, one of the most prominent being that by a group called the Stuckists. Stuckists preach their distaste and lack of acceptance towards 'anything claiming to be art which incorporates dead animals and beds – mainly because they are unremarkable and boring' – a highly subjective statement in itself. They take a strong prescriptive approach in their 'Stuckist Manifesto', a document that ironically screams pretension from a source claiming to be 'anti the pretensions of conceptual art'. Such points include the importance placed on painting as essentially a way of enriching an artist with the unyielding attitude that 'artists who don't paint aren't artists'.
This is a contemporary idea in itself, conflicting with the Middle Aged classification of an artist being: 'to fill the role of a craftsman, with the inclusion of techniques, such as architecture and tapestry'. This Stuckist sentiment suggests the exclusion of a large proportion of past art work purely because it has been created without the use of a paintbrush. Previous Turner Prize uproar has largely come in the form of direct action. The attention surrounding 1999's award was diverted away from winner Steve McQueen, and placed on fellow nominee, Tracey Emin's My Bed. The exhibition featured, as the title suggests, Emin's bed, complete with stained bed sheets, plus scattered debris in the forms of empty bottles, cigarette butts and used condoms. It attracted the unwanted attention of Yuan Chai and Jian Jun Xi, two performance artists who stripped themselves of clothing, revealing their bare bodies covered in slogans, only to then leap onto the bed and stage a pillow fight, later arguing that their action will 'make the public think about what is good art.' This operation has since been named Two naked men jump into Tracey's bed.
Other high-profile approaches include Banksy's Mind the Crap slogan painted on the steps of the Tate in 2002 prior to the prize ceremony. This was perhaps a disputable step taken by the evidentally talented and notoriously mysterious street artist, whose own work and actions are often criticised as vandalism, including the defacing of other street artists work. Art is generally something that is enjoyed by those who appreciate it. It remains current by pushing boundaries and thrives on initiating debate, leading to the subsequent portrayal of individual passion and judgment. Art isn't something that should be conservatively prearranged, but instead something that results in separable choices. Anything designed and created with thoughtful consideration should surely be viewed with the same open-mind, regardless of its permanence, technique, or materials used. This year's Turner Prize exhibits work by sculptors: Karla Black and Martin Boyce, Hilary Lloyd, a video artist, and paintings by George Shaw.
All are on show at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead (21st October – 8th January). The winner will be announced on 5th December.
Written by Ami Coxill-Moore