Alice Jones: It's not easy to talk about modern art – so we should let it speak for itself


Related Topics

It was only three little words, but they painted a picture. Closing her bulletin on Reporting Scotland this week, the presenter Jackie Bird turned to the Turner Prize and the news that contemporary art's biggest prize had been won – for the third year in a row – by a Scottish artist.

"Martin Boyce is known for reimagining items normally found in parks and public spaces and using them in atmospheric, modernist-inspired landscapes..." she said, her face crumpling into a bemused grin. "As you do," she added.

She might just as well have rolled her eyes, and muttered "blah blah arty rubbish blah" under her breath, too. It's difficult to imagine many other news stories warranting such a dismissive sign-off. Even the cutesiest drop-the-dead-donkey item comes with a warm smile rather than a knowing sneer.

Contemporary art, and particularly conceptual art, especially the flashing lights, unmade beds and pornographic pots of the Turner Prize, is another kettle of fish. The works concerned are rarely reported neutrally. If it's not a baffled shrug, it's a garbled rehash of a statement from the jury, spattered with "isms" and other confusing abstractions.

There is an awful lot of impenetrable drivel spilled by the art cognoscenti, which doesn't help. Boyce's installation of an indoor park, with leaning litter bins and square trees, was praised by the judges for "opening up a new sense of poetry" and for its "pioneering contribution to the current interest which contemporary artists have in historic modernism, while continuing to develop and find new directions within the same vocabulary". No wonder Bird looked bemused.

Her attitude, though, is typical of television's Madonna/whore approach to the visual arts. They are either handled with kid gloves in dumbed-down documentaries fronted by whispering, cringing presenters or held up for reverse snobbery and ridicule. There is a middle ground. The best artists, critics and presenters provide clear descriptions which help the viewer to look again, with better informed eyes, and to judge for themselves whether what they're seeing is ravishing or risible. How refreshing if, next year, the winning works were allowed to speak for themselves – no jargon, and no waggish "as you dos".

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Pentagon has suggested that, since the campaign started, some 10,000 Isis fighters in Iraq and Syria have been killed  

War with Isis: If the US wants to destroy the group, it will need to train Syrians and Iraqis

David Usborne
David Cameron gives a speech at a Tory party dinner  

In a time of austerity, should Tories be bidding £210,000 for a signed photo of the new Cabinet?

Simon Kelner
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water