Vacuous Visual Arts Blogs

It’s great that there are so many blogs out there dedicated to visual art. Some of them have thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of followers. It goes to show that there is an appetite for art out there which is hugely encouraging.

However, I can’t help but feel that these blogs and the constant sharing and reposting of images and videos of work is damaging the integrity of our visual arts. The content is often just so vacuous.

Artwork identified as being worthy of sharing is not selected because of its value as an intellectually stimulating piece of work that comments on our existence, the development of society, politics, war, or other such poignant matters. Work is selected because it is pretty, aesthetically pleasing, well executed, and most importantly non-offensive.

Many blogs even state outright that they do not accept challenging content, as exemplified by this snippet taken from Colossal’s submission guidelines:

If your project involves sex, violence or particularly sensitive topics it regrettably may not be appropriate at this time. Sorry!

Whilst I agree that there is room for technical ability to be applauded we should encourage these skills to be used in more thought provoking ways and not simply celebrate a work because it took 100 hours to draw.

Yes your very detailed portrait of a person drawn over an ordnance survey map looks lovely and is exquisitely executed but does it actually communicate anything at all?

It’s great that you can paint a detailed landscape in the style of old masters on the back of a postage stamp but does this tell us anything other than you have a keen eye and very fine paint brush?

Much of the work I see churned out across these blogs is nothing more than curiosity or decoration. Once one blog shares an artist’s work you can rest assured that you’ll see exactly the same work pop up on every other visual art blog online within a week. God forbid those bloggers miss a trick and let their peers post all the most popular content and get all of the page views.

These blogs are the visual equivalent to Radio 1’s daytime radio shows repetitively pumping out manufactured mind-numbing pop music. These pop singers (most of them at least) have the technical ability to deliver a song just like these artists have the technical ability to produce an accurate drawing, painting or sculpture. But similarly they’re all pretty vacuous and lacking in any real depth.

Viewers online are lured in with superlative headlines that would sound more at home in Heat magazine than Art Review:

This Painting Will Blow Your Mind When You Find Out What It Actually Is

The Tiny Landscapes This Artist Paints On Snacks Are Just Too Good To Eat

9 Unbelievable Works of Art Created With Just Some Ballpoint Pens

I get that it’s subjective, but as audiences why have we come to accept so little from the visual art we’re presented with. Surely a painting or drawing is not by default “a work of art”? Doesn’t it have to communicate something beyond its execution or function?

I see these images featured on various blogs making their way into galleries in real life. Not surprisingly really as galleries main priorities are visitor/customer numbers. If a blog post featuring some drawings has been shared 50,000 times then it must be popular and therefor a draw for gallery-goers. But this waters down the experience for those of us looking for something more than a well-executed technical exercise in drawing, painting or whatever other medium the artist has selected to use.

Art should challenge us, question us, make us think!

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The Silent Treatment

So until just over a month ago I was on the hunt for a new job. Not an enjoyable task by any means. Thankfully the hunt is over for now though and now I’ve had a little time for reflection.

The process of finding a new job is not easy and requires a large amount of time and effort filling out application after application, writing cover letters and constantly tweaking your CV. If you’re serious about finding a job then approaching each application afresh is important. Sending a generic CV and covering letter, or writing stock responses to the person specification in your application just doesn’t cut it.

Having submitted numerous applications over the last six months I’ve estimated that completing a job application can take as long as eight hours if you’re serious about landing the job that you’re applying for.

That’s why it angers me when organisations don’t even have the common decency to respond to your application. Job listings are frequently appended with a line such as:

“If you have not heard from us within three weeks of the application deadline please assume that your application has not been successful.”

These statements are often qualified with a reference to the large volume of applications that are expected in response to the job listing.

If an organisation is receiving 10 applications for a vacancy and every one of those individuals has put all their effort into the application then they could be receiving as much as the equivalent of 10 days’ work towards their recruitment process… for free.

Of course some people may rattle through their application in just a couple of hours. But then having been on the other side of the recruitment process in the past I have been in situations whereby I have received in excess of 50 applications for one post. That free labour towards an organisation’s recruitment process soon adds up.

I don’t know whether it’s arrogance, laziness or a fear of having to deliver bad news that causes so many organisations to treat applicants with such disregard. We live in an age in which Microsoft Office programmes are the administrative tools of the trade and so the excuse that replying to “X” many applicants takes too long just doesn’t wash. It’s a task that shouldn’t take much more than 10 minutes, if that!

If the argument that it takes up too much time is genuinely the reason for which an organisation has opted to give unsuccessful applicants the silent treatment then they should consider replacing their administrators!

In our world of art, design and crafts a huge number of the organisations that offer employment opportunities are publicly funded. As such they should treat the public that fund them with respect in all situations whether as visitors and customers, or as prospective employees.

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Beyond the Border Donation Box Commission

I’ve been sent details of an ‘opportunity’ this morning from Beyond the Border story telling festival.

They have issued a brief and an open call to artists for the creation of a donation box ahead of this year’s festival as follows:

Beyond the Border would like to commission a sculptor to make us a beautiful donation box. The sculpture must:

  • the words Beyond the Border Storytelling Festival on it
  • Be robust enough to be kept outdoors during the festival and to last at least four years
  • Be transportable to our other events, but also be sturdy/large enough not to just be picked up/stolen
  • Be made of recyclable, sustainable or found materials
  • Be interesting and interactive to use, for example a coin would make a noise, set off moving parts, go on an interesting journey and somehow reflect the theme of stories and storytelling

I opened up the full details of the brief that I was sent eager to find out more as it sounded like an interesting project and one that I thought some friends of mine might be interested in; particularly with regard to the interactive aspects of the project.

However, as I scanned through the document I clocked the fee for this job which totals £200.00.

Maybe I’ve missed something, or maybe the visions of donation boxes that I was imagining having read the brief were a far too fanciful, but £200 for a project of this scale seems ludicrous. I’d actually go so far as to say I felt disgusted at reading this.

The donation box that they are asking for is essentially a one off handmade piece of sculpture with interactive components, whether that be digital or mechanical, and must be of a size that it can’t be stolen – which in my mind is a sizeable object.

Now I could rabbit on about the amount of funding that the festival receives, or the price of their tickets, or even the fees that they pay to festival staff or storytelling performers, but the fact of the matter is that regardless of all of those other counterpoints £200.00 is a pitiful amount of money for this brief.

I think I would be less offended if the the Beyond the Borders festival organisers had leant heavily on their charitable status crutch and simply come out and said that they are strapped for cash and would like to find an artist / maker who would work for free.

The briefing document states that the £200 offered is divided in half with £100 allocated for materials and £100 as the artists fee. It is stated that the box should be made from “recyclable, sustainable or found materials” so I’m sure a thrifty maker could scrape by with £100 materials budget.

The current UK minimum wage is apparently £6.31 per hour and £100 at this rate would allow for 15 hours of work by the appointed artist which equates to two full days work. However, I’m assuming that Beyond the Border storytelling festival are seeking a skilled individual to create their donation box. After all they refer to it as a ‘Sculpture‘ (see above). With this in mind a basic minimum wage would seem to be far too low a rate of pay which would mean that the fee that they are offering would barely cover a days work.

It’s oft been said that you get what you pay for and there is a little part of me that hopes Beyond the Border will end up with not a lot more than a cardboard box and a tin whistle. But the sad thing is that for every artist who looks at this brief and agrees that the fee offered doesn’t come close to work being asked for, there will be another who will jump at this opportunity because they will make and do regardless of whether they’re paid (fairly) for their creative endeavours or not, and of course this perpetuates the cycle of poor pay for visual artists.

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Cardiff M.A.D.E. Cafe

I popped in to take a look around Cardiff M.A.D.E. just before the Christmas holidays. It opened last autumn in the space previously occupied by Milkwood Gallery and efforts are being made to continue the creative endeavours; the acronym stands for Makers, Artists, Designers and Enterprise.

In their own words…

We aim to provide a platform to showcase the work of Cardiff based Makers, Designers and Artists to the community, offering exhibition space, online shop, special events and a place to meet and eat with locally sourced food.

I have to say that they have done a great job with the space having completely renovated it following the takeover from Milkwood Gallery. The space has been knocked right through from front to back opening up what was formerly the gallery space at the back of the building.

However, it is not a big building at all and the provision of an exhibition space –and- a place to meet and eat is going to be a big ask of them. There’s barely enough room at the front of the space for two reasonable sized tables which means that for reasons of commercial viability they must be considering placing tables and chairs in the gallery space to the back.

At the time of my visit the main wall was covered in a mosaic of pleasantly framed prints, drawings and paintings by artists based in the locality. The gallery was occupied by five or six homemade Christmas trees made from a range of media from cardboard and wire to expanding foam which was possibly the work of local school children – I couldn’t see an explanation but it would make sense for them to be engaging the local community through schools and such in this way.

Unfortunately there was nothing to indicate that any curatorial nous had been exercised in the hanging or display of any of the artwork I saw reinforcing the appearance of Cardiff M.A.D.E. as a potentially nice café with some pictures by local artists on their walls. This is further emphasized by a look at their Facebook page, which at the time of writing features talk of cheese, chocolates and chutney as well as the exciting news that their orange toilet is just about ready for use and a meat slicer is on the way!

I totally understand the need for Cardiff M.A.D.E. to be a financially viable enterprise but the local area is not short of lovely coffee shops and cafes. Cardiff M.A.D.E. is hardly in a prime location being tucked away on an invisible corner between two residential streets and so they’re going to have to do something special to start attracting the attention of Albany Road shoppers.

It might be a smart move presenting themselves as supporters of Cardiff’s large creative community; at the very least it might help them to develop a small customer base from which to develop.

Of course, if I was to be really cynical I would suggest that this is exactly what they are doing and that their only real interest is in developing a successful café… but I’ll give them a chance as they’re new.

That said, if the artwork does start to appear like it is a mere afterthought then I can’t see the artists hanging around long. Curation can be a struggle, especially when trying to make ends meet, but integrity and respect are important commodities in the arts. Displays of art for art’s sake are, in my experience, more often than not some of the worst exhibitions that one can experience.

If Cardiff M.A.D.E. don’t show that they care about the art then why will the public?

Art-Speak Drivel

I had the pleasure of a meeting at the local art school yesterday. It’s a while since I’ve visited the place and the whiff of oil paints and dark room chemicals put me in a rather nostalgic state of mind reminiscing about my own time as an art student.

The school’s main gallery appears to have been decommissioned but there was a small show of work by Masters students on the ground floor where I stumbled upon some of the most nonsensical art speak I’ve encountered for a while. Brace yourself, this is a treat…

The artist, Katherine Fiona Jones, states that she is “Juxtaposing the objectivity of anatomy with the human form and bodily process, to present the debate on how beauty is perceived in western contemporary culture, inviting the discussion on the cultural view surrounding beauty and natural bodily function.”

Now I’ve come across plenty of art-speak nonsense in my time but I had to to take this one to task as it’s apparently postgraduate level. It sounds like something that has been written by a keen foundation student.

If I understand this correctly, based upon what she has written, she is placing the objective view of anatomy alongside the human form and bodily process for a contrasting effect. That’s despite the fact that anatomy is the study of the human form and it’s internal workings.

So by placing the science of anatomy next to the subject of anatomy she is going to present a debate about the perception of beauty?

That almost, sort of, starts to make sense when you think about it logically, but in order to have a debate you need to have at least two different, if not opposing stances from which to argue. What the artist is doing here is presenting us with a scientifically objective stance and the subject around which the debate is to take place but offering us no opposition to facilitate a debate.

You won’t be surprised to hear that the lack of clarity is mirrored in the visual work that was displayed next to this woeful statement of intent. The works featured what appears to be a female midriff and thighs clad in big knickers from which red ribbon hangs. This is all very badly photo-shopped over some black and white photocopies of God-only-knows-what.

Like her statement says, the work presents the human form; or part of it at least. The red ribbons she states are representative of menstruation as the images “explore the honesty of menstruation as a bodily process, allowing the ribbons to act with gravity to represent the natural flow.

Now I have no idea how menstruation is honest but I’ll put that down to my own ignorance.

Again these lines from Katherine are utterly confused and actually contradictory to what she has hung on the wall – one of the two images shows the ribbons flowing upwards as if blown by a gust of wind and defying gravity rather than going with flow – so to speak.

As an artist it is not enough to tell us what your intentions are you have to back this up in practice. In this instance the artist’s statement is so nonsensical that it suggests that the artist doesn’t have the capacity to articulate a simple debate.

- If you are “juxtasposing” two things then they should be contrasting.
– If you are presenting a debate then both sides of the argument need to be presented.
– Your artist statement should facilitate a deeper understanding of the work not try to explain or justify it.

I can’t decide whether the artist here is simply making the visual work that she wants to make and conjuring up some art speak drivel to wrap it up with because that’s what she thinks is the ‘done thing’, or whether she really believes that she is presenting and exploring a coherent and interesting debate about western perceptions of beauty.

You can find more work and equally rambling and incoherent commentary on her website if you’d like to make your mind up for yourself.

Fine Art often has a hard time engaging the general public through the presentation of high concept and abstract philosophical lines of enquiry that are often presented in quite personal visual languages. But if this work is what the future holds then we might as well all give up now.

keywords: kea, illustration, katherine fiona jones, illustrator, katie jones, katie eats apples, katieeatsapples, design

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Artist Opportunities – Fresh Meat

I’ve just come across this open call for artists from Fresh Meat Gallery who describe themselves as “a pop-up gallery and artist-run space established in late 2012″. Their mission statement is as follows:

Fresh Meat Gallery provides opportunities for emerging artists across the UK as well as continually developing creative opportunities for the East Midlands and Yorkshire. We intend to create programmes that focus on participation and debate, building relationships between artists and audiences. We aim to focus on working with young creatives in developing their practice and providing the public with contemporary, innovative art.
- (www.freshmeatgallery.com/?page_id=824, 8 April 2013)

Hardly ground breaking or awe inspiring is it?

Clearly Fresh Meat’s definition of an “opportunity” for emerging artists (whatever an emerging artist might be) is very different from my own.

It’s irksome enough that artists so often have to pay, through a submission/application fee, for someone to even look at their work. I can understand that there may be a need for those holding exhibitions to charge an exhibitors fee to cover the cost such as hiring a space, insurance or marketing, amongst others. And I can accept that more commercial galleries will take as much as a 50% commission. This at least puts the onus on the exhibition organisers to at least try and sell the work rather than hosting an exhibition and then sitting back with thir feet up expecting the work to sell itself.

The costs for exhibition with Fresh meat are: £20 entry fee. 40% commission on works sold.

That’s right; not an application (or exhibition) fee or a high rate of commission. They’re milking these “emerging artists” for all they can get.

Frankly I find this disgusting and far from an “opportunity” for artists.

I have a distaste for exhibition entry fees as it stands but this £20 fee is not far off the fees charged by the likes of Jerwood Visual Arts for their open calls or the Oriel Mostyn Open as previously discussed. In these instances artists applications are reviewed by arts professionals with a wealth of experience and proven track records (not that I approve of entry fees in these instances either).

But who are Fresh Meat? Apparently they are Calum Crowther and Alexandra Cavaye who graduated from their degrees (in fine art, or a related undergraduate degree, presumably?) in 2011 and 2012. So with the possibility of a whopping 18 months of real world experience between them how can they justify a £20 application fee for this “opportunity”? It seems to me that they are no more qualified, if even as qualified as many of the artists from whom they will likely be receiving submissions. Yet here they have placed themselves are arbiters of taste.

I can’t help but think that this exorbitant fee is simply a money making fee to help get their venture off the ground. Sadly there are hundreds and thousands of artists out there who will cough up the cash in the hope that their work my be exhibited in a real world exhibition in London.

But then this “opportunity” does offer “long-term promotion and the possibility of commissions”. …apparently.

The possibility of commissions? Surely every single exhibition opportunity out there offers such possibilities?

Given that Fresh Meat have only existed for a matter of months I can hardly believe that they have a network of buyers and collectors chomping at the bit waiting for their exhibition to open. Whilst I’d like to believe that these potential gallerists will be working their socks off to elicit countless commissions for their exhibitors the location of the show puts doubt in my mind.

The exhibition is to be held in the offices of a technology company. It’s hardly Cork Street. Yes, London W1 is a desirable location, but despite Fresh Meat’s bold claims that they are “working together to providing [sic] their contemporary space with artwork by emerging artists“, and that this partnership offers the “possibility of selling work to a high-end market“, I can’t believe that the staff at this technology company will have the time to be acting as sales representatives for Fresh Meat.

Likewise I find it hard to believe that the the Directors of Fresh Meat Gallery will be camped out in the offices of this technology company drum up sales in their makeshift gallery.

I have no problem with young graduates try to start up their own galleries and art organisations. In fact I would applaud anyone who is trying to do so. However, seeing such organisations, run by young graduates, exploiting their peers, or “emerging artists” if you prefer, in order to help themselves get a footing disturbs me.

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Welsh Artist of the Year

So today is deadline day for getting your application in to the annual Welsh Artist of the Year competition.

Though to be honest if you’re not in Cardiff it’s probably too late already as there is still no online application process. Yes the Welsh art scene is still apparently entrenched in the dark ages of pre-digital media. It’s ridiculous really because the application form asks for little more than a name, address and title of the artwork. With the amount of time a digital submission process could save the organisers could probably half the submission fee which would be very welcome in these austere times.

Of course they could still make a hard copy available for the old dears who have a fear of technology. After all it should be as inclusive as possible.

Not that – finally – updating the application process would encourage me to apply.

The competition is a bit a joke really. How can they judge the Welsh Artist of the Year based on the submission of one piece of work?

Not only are the artists judged by one single piece of their output but there is no opportunity to contextualise their work either in the context of their own practice or within a wider view of the contemporary arts. After all context is everything.

It’s an issue I’ve had with an number of Welsh open exhibitions recently such as the Cardiff Open last autumn. By judging an artists career off the back of one single image without context perpetuates the notion that visual art is about nothing more than the creation of an images and that the intellectual values of the work are redundant.

The judges might as well pull names out of a hat or employ the age old ‘ip-dip dog shit’ technique.

Not that any of this will stop hundreds of artists from around the country handing over £10.00 on the of chance that it might be their year. After all without any context ‘Welsh Artist of the Year’ as a stand alone CV entry reads rather well doesn’t it?

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National Eisteddfod of Wales’ Visual Arts Exhibition

The application form for the National Eisteddfod of Wales’ Visual Arts Exhibition (competition) 2013 landed on my desk this week.

I’m gob-smacked that there is still no online application process for the open submission exhibition. To apply artists must:

“send their £20.00 fee, a completed application form, the Jpeg images or DVD works, together with a clear statement concerning the work to the visual arts officer at the following address: Eisteddfod Office, 40 Parc Ty Glas, Llanishen, Cardiff CF14 5DU”

I’m not suggesting they completely replace this real world process with a digital process. There are plenty of ancient artists across this country who would no doubt have a heart attack at the prospect of having to complete an online form. But, I’m a millennial. I don’t have a chequebook, I don’t have a writable CD drive on my computer in order to burn jpeg images to a disk, and a certainly can’t remember the last time I sent anything by snail mail.

The thing is, this postal application process is typical of Wales’ national art events. The Welsh Artist of the Year organisers offered no digital submission process either this year, instead opting for their usual expensive hard copy application forms.

I do wonder if it’s an age thing. I know the key organisers behind both of these events and they are not exactly young whippersnappers! I get the impression that these open submission events in Wales are organised in this way because that’s the way they’ve always done things. For example, I never get an invite to the Welsh Artist of the Year exhibition via email. It always arrives through my letterbox.

The expense of continuing to issue hard copy only literature must be phenomenal. There’s the cost of having the fancy leaflets and application forms printed, and then there’s cost of posting these papers out. In addition to this there is of course the man hours needed to stuff and label hundreds of envelopes.

Using a digital submission process alongside the traditional postal method would not only make these open submission exhibitions more widely accessible, but also help to reduce the administrative costs.

Of course I’d like to think that any costs that are made would be passed on to the artists and the organisers would reduce their submission fees.

This years Eisteddfod is charging a £20.00 submission fee for their Visual Arts Exhibition and that doesn’t guarantee you anything but a quick glance across photographs of your work by the judges.

That in itself is enough to put me off. I occasionally pay £1.00 for a lottery ticket with ambitions of winning a million pounds or two, or a large fraction thereof. Why would I pay £20.00 for the chance to win five thousand pounds and risk the feeling of dejection that comes with not winning the Eisteddfod’s grand prize – or worse still not being selected for the exhibition?

After all it is just pot luck. The organisers will receive hundreds of submissions no doubt from across length and breadth of the country. Whether or not one gets selected is ultimately going to come down the mood of the judges on the day of selection and possibly whether or not they recognise your work.

Between the expensive submission fee and hassle of having to prepare a hard copy submission there is no way I’ll be submitting anything for this year’s National Eisteddfod of Wales Visual Arts Exhibition, and in my humble opinion that’s their loss.

I always have the feeling that these exhibitions are incestuous, introverted; constantly looking inward on our country ignoring the bigger picture. Open submission events such as the Eisteddfod and the Welsh Artist of the Year need shaking up from top to bottom.

Lets get some new blood in and bring them all kicking and screaming into the twenty first century. The country needs some national exhibitions by Welsh artists that we can shout about and be proud of.

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Welcome to Roath

We ventured back into the heart of the big city today to visit Milkwood Gallery in Roath, Cardiff, to view their current exhibition, Welcome to Roath (Croeso I’r Rhath), curated by Bob Gelsthorpe.

“Shwmae a croeso i’r rhath, welcome to five responses to the locale of Roath. Welcome to observations of the overlooked, celebrations of the community, the old, the new, the cracks in the pavement and the spaces in between. Welcome to outside perspectives and insider explorations, welcome to an exhibition of CF24 and welcome to Roath” – (via www.woic.co.uk)

The exhibition features work by Laura Cooper, Carwyn Evans, Mark Houghton, Tiff Oben & Helene Roberts and Becky Williams. Some of these names are more familiar to us than others with Carwyn Evans having been awarded the Gold Medal for Fine Art in 2011.

There was a mixture of work on display including fabricated steel, wood and glass sculptures by Carwyn Evans, a old table top painted with bands of colour by Mark Houghton and a video ‘installation’ by Tiff Oben and Helene Roberts.

Interestingly the signage on the wall as we entered through into the gallery gave the Curator, Bob Gelsthorpe, equal billing as the artists. We weren’t familiar with his name prior to this exhibition but having done a little online digging we have discovered that he is a recent Fine Art graduate.

Apparently this exhibition was brought together, at least in part, via an open call online:

“Artists/ Makers of any level making work that is critically engaged but also ideally involves the geography, community or idiosyncrasies of Roath. We are currently looking for expressions of interest from artists/makers of any level from Cardiff or further afield in using the Milkwood Gallery as part of a group exhibition, Croeso I’r Rhath/Welcome to Roath” – (via www.isendyouthis.com)

Whilst the work that was exhibited maybe “critically engaged” at some level there was no apparent engagement between one work and the next in the context of the show. Any concepts revolving around the exhibition’s “Welcome to Roath” theme were also rather lacking which was a shame given that the exhibition purported to present a “celebration of the community“.

Tiff Oben and Helene Roberts’ did presented a video of someone (presumably one of the artists) wrapping bunting around a lamp-post in Roath but we found it rather uninspiring and any ideas that it might have been trying to convey were lost to the deafening silence screaming out from the void between the works.

Becky Williams also presented a locally inspired work entitled the Roath Exploration Experiment. This was a participatory piece that was sloppily represented by a wall of grainy postcard prints curling from all corners. This didn’t do much to encourage us to participate.

Milkwood Gallery is not a large exhibition space and the nooks and crannies resulting from the old architecture of the building would present a challenge for any Curator. In this instance however, there was a sense that the Curator had selected work for the show without any real consideration of how the works would work not only with one another but with space in which they were being exhibited.

The exhibition appeared not to have been curated but roughly assembled.

To suggest that the exhibition had been curated would imply that there was a dialogue between the works on display with regard to the overarching exhibition themes. Unfortunately we found the show lacking in dialogue and any engagement, critical or otherwise, with the exhibition’s central themes that were alluded to in the press release.

That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy some of the work. Mark Houghton’s painted tabletop, for example, was appealing but in the context of this exhibition it was difficult to get a handle on the work at a conceptual level. The work would appear to be a part of a wider practice which say nothing to us of the “geography, community or idiosyncrasies of Roath“.

We’ve complained before on this blog about the all to free and easy use of the word “Curator” and derivations thereof and this exhibition was a prime example of the way in which the term has been dumbed down to be nothing more than a fanciful word for an “organiser”, “administrator” or on occasion “collector”.

Whilst we’d certainly look out for an opportunity to view work by these artists in a different context, on this occasion we were left a little cold as a result of the (lack of) presentation and curatorial nous.

The show continues until the end of the month so there’s still time for you to visit the gallery and make your own mind up.

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The Lumen Art Prize

I discovered this week that Cardiff city is the proud supporter of the Lumen Prize. In their words:

“The Lumen Prize is an international award that celebrates the very best fine art created digitally. Our goal is to focus the world’s attention on this exciting, emerging genre of fine art through a curated competition that will find the very best examples of digitally-created art and then take this work on a global tour in 2013.”

It sounds like an ambitious project although I’m not quite sure what a “curated competition” is. The word “curate” and various derivations thereof seem to be bang on trend at the moment and so I guess the Lumen Art Prize organisers thought they’d better slip it in there.

Yes I know I’m being pedantic but there was a time in the not so distant future when to curate something meant more than to organise or simply compile a collection of things. There was once the understanding that a Curator is an expert in their field, normally following a considerable period of study and research which would enable them to orchestrate exhibitions (for example) with a degree of intellectual rigour.

These days it seems one can curate a competition or even a blog. It won’t be long before we start referring to our accountants as ‘Curators of Finance’.

Anyhow, that’s my carefully curated rant over. Back to the Lumen Prize.

Is digital fine art really an “exciting, emerging genre”? Digital art has been around for well over a decade if not for the best part of two. There are hundreds if not thousands of online galleries which house millions of digitally created artworks. Behance, Cargo Collective and Deviantart, for example, are three big online portfolio sites where artists from all around the world share their work.

Perhaps it’s the idea that the selected entries are works of “Fine Art” rather than just “Art” that is of importance. After all, the literature produce consistently refers to “Digital Fine Art”. But having looked through the short-listed artists artworks I cannot see anything special that would indicate that these are works of Fine Art. Then the Lumen Prize organisers muddy things even further:

“The Lumen definition of digital fine art: Exceptional Artistic talent expressed through the use of a digital app or software. It may include elements of graphic design, animation, illustration, photography and film as part of the creative process.”

So entries must be works of Fine Art but can incorporate graphic design, illustration and so on? Like the use of the word ‘curated’ that irked me above. The more I explore the remit of the Lumen Prize the more I think that the term “Fine Art” has been inserted into the literature under the assumption that it adds some intangible level of credibility to the project.

It certainly seems to have led to a certain type of digital art being selected for the short-list. Whether this is reflective of all the work that was submitted I guess we’ll never know but I for one certainly don’t find these images inspiring or engaging. Many of them look like amateur attempts at chocolate box art.

Despite the fact that this genre of art is apparently “exciting” and “emerging” the selectors seem to have short-listed work that looks like it is trying to replicate traditional methods such as painting and drawing.

Excuse me for a moment whilst I just bang my head against my desk…

I think that this project suffers from the same problem as the Cardiff Open I mentioned in an earlier post. The Cardiff Open suffered from restrictions that were too loose as it was bound only by geographical location. Similarly this competition suffers from only being bound by media. To suggest that the competition is curated as the organisers do is ludicrous when the subject matter of the works is so wide ranging.

I do like the Lumen Prize concept but like many such projects it seems to be lacking from any serious pre-planning which has resulted in a rather flaccid selection of work.

As I understand it they received nearly 500 entries to the competition and almost 1000 votes for the public vote. For an international project with such apparently grand ambitions this is a minuscule number of submissions and barely two votes per submission. If I’d submitted work myself I wouldn’t have been happy unless I’d received a couple of hundreds votes for my work alone.

I hope that artists aren’t discouraged from applying from future iteration of the Lumen Prize by the “Fine Art” tag or by the work that has been submitted so far.

The idea of creating digital displays of art in non-traditional locations is in interesting idea. I hope the Lumen Prize organisers are able to take a more open stance in future to encourage participation from a breadth of artists and not just those who consider themselves Fine Artists.

The three Lumen Prize winners will be announced at Cardiff City Hall on Friday 19 October 2012.

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