Every year I become increasingly angry with the extent to which I am expected to not only tolerate, but admire, the tawdry trash competing for the Turner Prize. ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, I’m told - a phrase with the power to silence all complaint. ‘It does not exist on its own, it is created by observers.’ Margaret Hungerford has, innocently, much to answer for.
Are we really saying that nothing is ever more beautiful or more ugly than something else? If so, then we are in great danger of trivialising the very topic of discussion. And might a reluctance to engage in debate be a symptom of lack of confidence in our own taste?
And does this, in the same way, apply, for example, to issues like music and food? Is music, then, in the ear of the listener? Few, I believe, would have difficulty in asserting that a Beethoven symphony has an edge over 'The wheels on the bus go round and round.'
It may be that the ‘beauty’ phrase was intended as a protective shield against high handed ‘experts’ - those holding the cultural reins and shaping taste with belittling authority. Yet, still we are told what to like and almost all dissent is treated with distain. An inability to talk sensibly and publicly about beauty condemns our society to the perpetually ugly.
As I understand it, art gives form to concepts and is the portrayal of reality, where intersecting and interacting topics comprise the world views of each artist. If so, the message of today’s art, as portrayed by the Arts Council and the Tate Galleries, and personified by their doyen, Sir Nicolas Serota, seems one of despair and subjective meaninglessnesss.