is it art? food? architecture? does it matter?

Great headline in the Guardian about the Turner Prize 2015: Turner prize winners Assemble: ‘Art? We’re more interested in plumbing’.

Charlotte Higgins goes on to say “That’s architects, not artists. To some, it seems like a monumental category error, like giving the Man Booker to, say, an oral poet.”

It reminds me of an interview I had, many years ago, for Poetry Can, as a web designer. It must have been in the 90’s, when I learned html and was making experimental online web-works with text and images. They offered me a role as a poet. I was shocked and declined, saying that if I accepted it would be unfair on the other applicants, who were, in my mind ‘real poets’. They all thought my online bean project was poetry – but I had a Masters in Fine Art and could not see it.

They were right. I was wrong. I was clearly, at that time, very hung up about titles/roles/labels. Last year when I attended a writing course at Arvon for writing about art, I (and others too) remarked on more than one occasion that the course was affecting me, and several of us found ourselves writing – gulp – poetry. Indeed Charlotte Higgins was one of the leaders on the course.

I love this quote too: “nor do they talk about their work as art.”

Hmmm, how we talk about art, artists, being artistic, it’s like sticky treacle – gloopy, messy and hard to handle.

This week, thanks to the Turner Prize, the “is it art?” question yet again hangs in the air, a bit like the mandarin-scented vapour that I experienced in a restaurant the other day. It was a birthday treat, going with my daughter to a Bristol restaurant – Casamia – to ‘experience’ creative cooking. It was a wonderful experience and I found myself reflecting on it as a performance, a theatrical event, a choreography, in short, as art. And it was. It was expensive, but so are music concerts, theatre tickets etc. It wasn’t very filling, considering the price, and I had to pick up a knock-down price pizza later, but it wasn’t a meal where food, or nutrition, were the priority. It was an experience. It made me curious, we exclaimed with glee when the food sizzled, or pinged a flavor onto the taste-buds. The textures were just as pleasurable as enjoying the glass scaffolding tower by Fiona Banner yesterday in the Ikon.

It was poetry.

It was art.

Another question is, therefore, are all chefs artists, or are just some chefs artists? Are all web designers poets? Are all architects artists?

I suspect not.

Can anyone be an artist? I doubt it. We’re all capable of being artistic, that’s for sure, just like we are all capable of cutting a carrot exquisitely thinly – but it would not be effortless. It would take practice, sensitivity and determination. I could swirl some chocolate around some ice-cream – but it wouldn’t be as fine as a human hair yet taste like a cocoa explosion in my mouth.

We make our choices about our creativity and we focus on them (or not).

Art is an experience, something unique, something that is transformative for both the artist and the viewer.

It may sound very simple, but it’s not.

Does the label matter? I’m not sure that it does really, but what does matter is that we recognize excellent art and treat it with respect. And be truly glad it happens.




Published by carolyn black

I'm an artist and also commission contemporary art in unusual locations. As a producer, I fundraise, curate, project manage and deliver projects. I'm also a writer and film-maker.

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