Dec 09

“Is this a Turner for the better” and other clever headlines

The most convincing criticism of contemporary art in general (also known by some of my friends as ‘conceptual bull’), is that most of it exists only to question the audience’s view of what art is.

Such art, I agree, is not art. At least, it was considered so back in the 60s, where it was perfectly valid to create a piece with the sole intention of getting us to answer the question “then what is art?” – but since then we have moved on. We have answered that question.

(In fact, it was way earlier than the 60s, in fact probably not even last century, but the whole thing was arguably popularised at this point.)

By inference, the most convincing criticism of the Turner Prize – which usually features the likes of cow brains, elephant dung, and other headline-inducing artistic concepts – the most convincing criticism is that it is entirely self-referential, and nothing more.

Well, it is self-referential, but this isn’t the whole story. A great proportion of historic art is also self-referential, but this seems to pass Turner critics by.

One solution that Turner defenders seize upon is to argue that the concept behind each work is what defines the work’s value, and the success of the work is based on two things:

  1. the artistic journey behind the concept (artistic process, technique, relevance of the concept to the audience and to society, etc.)
  2. the power that the physical rendition of the concept (i.e. the thing that gets put in a gallery) has to point the audience towards the concept; its physical success.

Personally, I don’t accept this, and it seems to me a regressive move to defend contemporary art in such a dialectic.

When Kim Howells denounced the Turner Prize as “conceptual bullshit”, I believe he didn’t mean that conceptual art is bullshit, but rather that the quality of the concepts were bullshit.

He may have been right or wrong, but this should not affect our view of the validity of a Turner piece as a piece of ‘real art’.

I know we all come to our own conclusions as to what questions were answered by the first strands of conceptual art – whether you think this was in the 60s or the 1917 or what. For me, it is that art does not require being part of a larger system or strand of development, nor does it require any kind of grounding in, or reference to society. Art is at its most powerful when considered as aesthetically autonomous. An autonomous art needs no defense.

It is no surprise that the papers have focused on how this year’s Turner Prize winner is more of a ‘traditional’ artist. The Daily Mail calls it “Actual Art” in their special little article.

And I am very glad at the announcement of Wright as this year’s winner of the Turner Prize. In fact I haven’t met a single person that didn’t want him to win this year’s Turner Prize.

But, given my views above, it upset me that this year’s judges said things like “it is just so beautiful” instead of providing a good reason as to why he won this year. This, I feel, makes a mockery of contemporary art.

Jan 09

To what extent must society shape capitalism?

Another post from a self-proclaimed economy non-expert.

This post is one big question mark, just so you’re aware!

I am sure that most of us, even the most right wing, would agree that capitalism is most effective – from a utilitarian point of view – when tempered to an extent by social forces. These may be ethics, the metaphorical workers’ rights of the marketplace; regulation, the health-and-safety handbook; economic progress, the constitution and philosophical goals of capitalism; trading law, the global rules of operation; process, the top-level efficiency of the capitalist system; communication and diplomacy, the oil in the machinery; the list could go on.

In fact if that list were to go on, it would become less and less directly related to capitalism, and the metaphors would become more and more broad. This is because capitalism itself eventually gives way to the aspects of society that surround it. For example, business ethics are informed by the aspects of global/local society that feed it, namely politics, environment, art, national and regional development, media, and so on. I hope to have explained this point as a construct rather than a view, as it exists whatever one’s views on the autonomy of capitalism within a state are. Whether you believe capitalism should be capitalism and completely uninformed by society, I am attempting to at least define the interdependence that could, does, should, or should not exist.

Which leads me to the point of writing this. As a layman I’m totally ignorant as to the schools of thought that define these boundaries. If anyone reading this knows of some studies on the interdependence between capitalism and society, I’d really appreciate a reading list. Or maybe even just a quick summary, or some keywords or authors I can search. Specifically the questions I have are as follows.

Most ‘moderates’, as I would consider them, believe that a marketplace should have a good degree of independence, but that there should be some healthy acknowledgement of the surrounding world. National politics usually define regulations, international consortia define trade law, but my question is to what extent should free market ethics be defined by society? A business should be able to use its powers to create a market and generate demand where there isn’t any, but the equal and opposite is that a business should also be able to use its power to close down a market, reduce demand, force down wages, etc. The obvious questions of business ethics arise from this example of irregularity. More importantly than “to what extent should free market ethics be defined by society”, is “who theoretically makes that decision” (this is rhetorical because it’s the powerful who end up making it), and “what system of rationale governs who makes the decision”?

I guess there are inevitably no answers to the above questions, but I am interested if there’s any research in these more esoteric areas.