Every year the announcement of the winner of the Turner Prize is guaranteed to raise a groan amongst arts practitioners as the age-old debate ‘what is art’ resurfaces (though the fact that this year’s winner is a potter, and most people understand what a pot is, has probably served to dampen down the usual outpouring of bile this year).
The problem is that the ‘average’ person in the street is simply not sufficiently engaged with (or even interested in) the whole artistic realm to appreciate the point of some contemporary work. This leaves them able only to comment on whether something ‘looks nice’ (not much chance for the unmade bed then) and what doesn’t. Again, despite their dark themes, the pots will no doubt score well on this dimension too. Stephanie Fuller (p5) makes parallel observations on ‘the person in the street’ (literally) in relation to public art. Her view that a “desire not to offend the public can restrict [an artist’s] endeavours to the most mundane level” will no doubt have resonance at local authorities across the length and breadth of Britain. Grayson Perry could certainly argue that his work is not created with the average Daily Mail reader in mind, but those who create art must at the very least consider its wider audience, given that members of the public will come across it whilst going about their everyday business. Indeed, in the case of publicly-funded public art, it is Mr and Ms Average who, through their taxes, ultimately pay for it. So however frustrating it may be for artists to have their creativity constantly challenged, it’s undoubtedly in their best interest to make an effort to engage with the debate head on. Whatever we may think about the furore that surrounds the Turner Prize, perhaps we should simply be grateful that it gets people talking about art at all.