Alice Jones: Time to stop sneering at art – as you do

IMHO: Bird's attitude is typical of television's madonna/whore approach to the visual arts
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The Independent Online

It was only three little words, but they painted a clear picture. Closing her bulletin on Reporting Scotland this week, newsreader Jackie Bird turned to the Turner Prize, won – for the third year in a row – by a Scottish artist.

"Martin Boyce is know 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 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. 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, and particularly the flashing lights, unmade beds and pornographic pots of the Turner Prize, is rarely reported on in a neutral way. If it's not a baffled shrug, it's a garbled rehash of a statement from the artist, or prize jury, spattered with "isms" and other confusing abstractions.

There is an awful lot of impenetrable drivel spilled by the artworld, which doesn't help, but Bird's attitude 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, ridicule and mud-slinging.

There is a middle ground. The best artists, critics and presenters provide clear-eyed descriptions of the work which help you to look again, with better-informed eyes and judge for yourself whether what you're looking at is ravishing or risible. How refreshing it would be if next year, the work of Boyce's would-be successors was allowed to speak for itself – no jargon, no waggish "as you dos".

* Good to see Coldplay getting into the spirit with an early Christmas gift to their haters. The multi, multi-million-selling stadium rockers will appear on tomorrow night's X Factor final, sandwiched – as their CDs are in homes across the land – between Michael Buble, Westlife and a trio of talent show alumni, Leona Lewis, JLS and One Direction.

Two weeks ago, the band's ever-so-serious lead singer, Chris Martin declared that they "could never appear on the show". What a difference a fortnight – and, one imagines, an enormous fee – makes. Now, says Martin, they are "all big X Factor fans and very excited to play live on the show."

To their detractors, this will be the final proof that Coldplay, the sonic equivalent of beige, are about as rock'n' roll as low-fat hummus. It's also proof of the complete Cowellisation of the charts. Love them or loathe them, with 50 million record sales to their name, Coldplay are one of the world's biggest bands.

If they believe, as Martin does, that X Factor is "important", then others will surely follow their lead and we are in dire straits indeed. On Sunday night, if you listen very carefully, you might hear another sound in the background of Martin's plaintive piano – the death rattle of the once-mighty British music industry.

* The Met Office has been honoured with a Golden Bull booby prize by the Plain English Campaign for its use of phrases like "probabilities of precipitation" and "a rash of beefy showers". I see the gobbledygook-busters' point but I've always found the tautologies and oxymorons of the weatherman – "misty fog", "overnight tonight", "cloudy and overcast" etc. – rather soothing, like the singsong lullaby of the Shipping Forecast.

The Met Office's use of language is far from elegant but I wonder whether the British weather is one of those subjects where the odd euphemism and a bit of beating around the bush isn't the kindest way to break the inevitable bad news.