Guest blogger: Nicol Phillips on education and The Turner Prize

Nicol Phillips is currently undertaking an MA in Curatorial Practice at Bath Spa University. Alongside her studies she works at Spike Island, a Contemporary Arts Centre in Bristol. The main focus of her curatorial interests lie in the complex and often challenging relationships between literature and the visual realm; her blog can be accessed at monyeux.wordpress.com. Here she discusses the role of education in communicating the importance of art and the arts for Artzine Cardiff. 

Martin Boyce accepting his prize as the winner of The Turner Prize 2011 from photographer Mario Testino

Martin Boyce was awarded The Turner Prize 2011 at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead. He received this career changing accolade for his architecturally inspired, site-specific installations that walk a fine line between a cold urban landscape and a more poetic approach, referencing the fading dreamscape of modernism. The other three finalists: Karla Black, Hilary Lloyd and George Shaw were all worthy of their place on the international art stage: with Black working on large scale installations that push the boundaries of the seemingly ephemeral mediums in which she is working, Lloyd presenting film and video works that manipulate the orientation of the viewing process and Shaw who uses the council estate where he grew up in Coventry, as subject matter for his stunningly detailed paintings that explore emotional responses such as nostalgia.

In a stormy climate of economic instability and huge government funding cuts, the arts has taken (and continues to take) a harsh battering. That is why, during one of the most prestigious events on the contemporary arts calendar – The Turner Prize – Martin Boyce’s words resound with particular power and significance – ‘when education is going through the wringer, it is important to acknowledge the value of teachers’. This statement is powerful on numerous levels, but I think it is important to highlight its significance in relation to the critics of contemporary art that disregard its value, and poke fun at its insincerity. Contemporary art, as with any form of workmanship (regardless of medium) needs time and thought invested in it by the viewer for anything more than a superficial and unsatisfactory experience to be gained. Such understanding can be achieved by an art education or investment in widely accessible (and often free) cultural resources. These educational sources are key in communicating the value of art in all its guises. Art is directly relevant to society  in its often political and thought-provoking nature, a nature which can inspire change for the better. In this sense, contemporary art does not have to be detached from the everyday and placed on an inaccessible plinth, but can instead be accessible to a diverse audience, should they be willing to take the time to explore it.

Aside from the dodgy channel 4 commentary on the event (mainly due to the arguably misjudged inclusion of Goldie on the feedback panel) the relevance of contemporary art, and with it The Turner Prize, is clear. However, without investment and education, the accessibility of art is greatly reduced –  an outcome that many practitioners and curators, such as myself, are keen to turn around. At the end of the ceremony, when confronted with a rogue streaker, the photographer Mario Testino commented ‘art is everywhere’ and I would be inclined to agree. As with many aspects of life though, timing and understanding are key;  so my closing words will be on The Turner Prize’s continued contemporary relevance in giving intelligent artists such as Martin Boyce a platform on which to express himself artistically, and voice the underrated importance of learning and the value of teachers.

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