The Turner Prize is all that's wrong with art

Taken from a lecture delivered by the editorof the arts magazine 'The Jackdaw' at the Rye Festival

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Whether or not it was intended this way, the Turner Prize has evolved into the too familiar face of a deeply prejudiced public funding system for the visual arts. It has come to represent a form of state censorship designed to promote some artists to the exclusion of others; the contemporary to the exclusion of the historical; the young at the expense of the old; and the arbitrary critical evaluation at the expense of specific criteria.

Whether or not it was intended this way, the Turner Prize has evolved into the too familiar face of a deeply prejudiced public funding system for the visual arts. It has come to represent a form of state censorship designed to promote some artists to the exclusion of others; the contemporary to the exclusion of the historical; the young at the expense of the old; and the arbitrary critical evaluation at the expense of specific criteria.

The Turner Prize has been won on nine of its 15 occasions by artists represented by only two commercial dealers in London: there are 2,500 galleries in Britain. Other winners were supplied by three other galleries - and these five, plus a couple more, customarily supply all the shortlisted candidates.

It is worth remembering that, in essence, the Turner Prize is a game played by half a dozen dealers, one hugely influential collector, and a handful of museum directors and Arts Council employees, who pull all the strings in contemporary art. In my view, the Turner Prize, and the support system of public funding underpinning it, is a squalid, disgraceful racket. The prize is the public face of a "State Academy of Contemporary Art" as excluding and censorious of any opposition as any devised by Stalinists in the old Soviet Union.

The Turner Prize and the surrounding mentality of anything-goes are supported by venues funded by the Arts Council or its dependent regional satellites. These galleries exclude anything historical and are hidebound by current fashion and fads because they have no employees capable of curating exhibitions other than seemingly random bits and pieces brought together under vague and meaningless rubrics. Needless to say, all these galleries are almost always directed by former employees of the Arts Council.

Focusing as they do on the work of young artists who produce the conceptual, installation and video art apotheosised by the Turner Prize, these galleries act as State Academy seedbeds. Virtually every other type of art - all conventional painting and sculpture etc - are excluded. Because of these galleries' fascination only for what is supposedly "new", those older artists, middle-aged and beyond, who might reasonably expect retrospective exhibitions in the only galleries capable of housing such large ensembles of work, never receive them.

Meanwhile, the two artists, Anish Kapoor and Antony Gormley, who preside on the Arts Council's governing junta of 10, which is responsible for spending £200m per annum of taxpayers' money and a similar sum of lottery cash, are regularly exhibiting in the galleries whose funding they approve and annually increase. Needless to say, both are Turner Prize winners.

Many art colleges now coerce students into producing the alternative styles of which the State Academy approves. Many of those teaching have, of course, been themselves groomed in the mores of the State Academy. I've received many desperate letters from students stating that if they continue to paint in traditional easel genres, they have been warned of either failure or low marks.

It would appear that the system of encouraging the discussion of theory, and the perfunctory illustration of it, rather than the studious mastering of skills has reached such an abysmally low level that there are few, if any, places left where a comprehensive grounding in conventional art practices can now be learned.

The Turner Prize has evolved into a symbol of everything that is wrong with the public funding of visual arts in Britain. I submit that public funding of the visual arts must be inclusive of all work from all periods which is excellent of its type, and must never again be allowed to focus solely on styles deemed "new", whose quality has to be taken on trust because there are no known criteria for judging it.

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