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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