The Turner Prize winner's lucky escape

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The Independent Online

So Jeremy Deller, winner of this year's Turner Prize, never went to art school. Well, there's no rule saying he should have done. It's not as if you need a licence to practise art. But as someone running a university department with every possible variation on art courses, from ceramics to graphics, fine art to photography, I think it's worth pointing out what he missed.

So Jeremy Deller, winner of this year's Turner Prize, never went to art school. Well, there's no rule saying he should have done. It's not as if you need a licence to practise art. But as someone running a university department with every possible variation on art courses, from ceramics to graphics, fine art to photography, I think it's worth pointing out what he missed.

This country has a venerable Bauhaus-inspired tradition of art teaching, where aspiring Picassos and Emins have the run of specialist equipment, studios and workshops to indulge their creativity in unfettered freedom. Art students thrive on this atmosphere of experiment and inquiry, on working alongside others and, most of all, learning from tutors who are themselves successful practitioners.

And there's no shortage of those. Last week we had to sift through 80 applications for a part-time lecturing job, mainly from artists with prodigious international reputations. Almost any one of them would doubtless enrich the learning of our students. Yet their applications really made me wonder whether in some respects Deller made a lucky escape. Not from the dynamism of the art school experience - but from the stultifying vocabulary that too often accompanies it.

One applicant, for example, described art school as "an invaluable platform for collaborative and independent inquiry within a discursive, non-homogeneous framework where students have permission to engage in a state of positive uncertainty".

It's a typical product of the collision between education-speak and cultural studies. Anxious to cast their work in a respectable theoretical framework, perfectly good artists spew out half-digested gobbets of postmodernism, spliced with notions of "constructed identity through specific modes of imagery", and the "duality of intimacy and distance".

Art no longer expresses - it interfaces, interrogates and makes interventions. It mediates and infiltrates. Artists seem to be obsessed with their role and their troubled relationship with society. But not in quite the same way as Jeremy Deller, whose Turner submission is a video travelogue through Texas documenting how ordinary people regard George Bush, and whose previous work includes a re-creation of a battle between police and demonstrators during the 1980s miners' strike.

Deller is a social commentator who prefers to remain anonymous. "The point of my work is not me," he told The Guardian. In contrast to the way our applicants defined themselves. "My interest," one told us, "is in the relationship of the construction and perception of meaning and the role of the artist as producer." Another, even more anguished, explained: "Feeling outside the fiction and mythology surrounding the interface between artist and institution, my work negotiates the problematics of the biographical resonance of an author."

This patina of pretentiousness seems designed to prevent understanding. Representation of the human form becomes a project investigating "the presence of absence, concerned with the body, place and remembrance". Another candidate described the process of deconstructing a child's plastic brick: "A modular toy with the duality of being a desired yet throwaway object, in a state of flux through a vast permutation of construction possibilities."

Sometimes you need complex language to express complex ideas. It's another matter to use jargon to disguise simple concepts. Favourite concept, though, is space. One applicant was interested in "negotiating the relationships between illusionary space and real space". Another constructed "installations where the site is a constituting part of the meaning of the piece, altering a space physically or with more subtle interventions, exploring the internet as art space".

No wonder it's so hard to get art and design students to use vigorous and definite language when the worlds they aspire to join are so riddled with rampant rhetoric. It's high time for a purge. And I know just the man for the job. Jeremy Deller's next project is curating a touring exhibition of British folk art, complete with WI flower arranging, trade union banners and customised cars. He believes that "art isn't about what you make but what you make happen".

So come on down, Deller, and make some inter-textual interventions into the worlds of curatorial cliché, gallery gobbledegook, multi-dimensional obfuscation and the artist as imposter.

Sally Feldman is head of the School of Media, Arts and Design, University of Westminster

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