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Opinion: We need more information about how the Turner Prize works

Posted by Rob Alderson,

Each week we’ll be taking a look at an issue in or around the creative industries and we’d love to hear from you too. Comments will be open for a week at which point we will round up your views.

It’s tin-hat time for anyone connected with the art world as today sees the opening of the Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Britain. The four shortlisted artists – Spartacus Chetwynd, Luke Fowler, Paul Noble and Elizabeth Price – can expect to attract attention and opprobrium in almost equal measure, and certain sections of the sceptical press will have their copy-and-paste outrage all ready to go.

For a prize that brings contemporary art into the mainstream (for good or ill) it is interesting to consider how may people know what the criteria for the Turner Prize is (in all honestly I didn’t). In fact it’s very straightforward – it’s awarded to “a British artist under fifty for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work in the twelve months preceding”. But with such simplicity also comes a certain vagueness.

What is the criteria for outstanding? Who sets this criteria – the organisers or the judges? Depending on your stance, one of the prize’s great advantages/horrors is the bringing together of very different artistic disciplines on a single shortlist but how are these compared against one another?

Of last year’s winner Martin Boyce, Tate director Nichoals Serota said: “He is an extraordinarily strong artist who has been steadily maturing over the past seven or eight years. He has consistently reinvented the language of early modern art and he is deeply engaged in that. But he makes work that does not depend on an understanding of early modern art: it is beautiful and arresting in its own right."

But Serota wasn’t part of the jury who selected him, and the actual judges appear to have remained tight-lipped. None of this is to diminish the significance of the Turner Prize nor the talents of the artists who make the shortlist. But wouldn’t it be better if 28 years after its launch, there was a bit more clarity to what constitutes an “outstanding” contemporary artist in 2012?

We’d love to see a real effort to reward originality for example and a real commitment to newer talent. But above all we’d just love some more information about how the whole process works. Maybe then we can avoid some of the backlash…

What do you think the Turner Prize should be about? What qualities should the judges seek out?

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Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.

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