Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

 You are in: Talking Point
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Friday, 14 December, 2001, 11:43 GMT
Turner Prize winner: Is it art?
Classical artist Leonardo da Vinci and Turner Prize winner Martin Creed
A piece of work entitled The Lights Going On and Off has won the Turner Prize-one of the most sought-after awards in contemporary art.

Minimalist artist Martin Creed collected £20,000 for the installation, which centres around an empty gallery with a pair of flashing lights.

The Turner Prize is no stranger to controversy -Tracey Emin was nominated for the award in 1999 for her unmade bed.

The organisers have said it is not designed to show the best artists, but the art that is most interesting at the time.

The latest winner says of his work: "I think people can make of it what they like. I don't think it is for me to explain it."

Does this make it a work of art? Does art need to be explained? Is this year's Turner Prize a brave and pioneering move? Or does it make a mockery of art prizes?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

I find it sad that as a nation we have not moved beyond the debate about art being an oil painting

Lawrence, UK
What I find most disappointing about the comments here is that the majority of negative response comes from people in the UK. I find it sad that as a nation we have not moved beyond the debate about art being an oil painting or a marble sculpture. This country is too overly concerned about the effort of the hands rather than the effort of the mind. Which is probably why Mr Creed doesn't live here.
Lawrence, UK

Throwing good money after awful art!!
I. MacIntosh, Canada

Martin Creed is an oversensationalist artist. His works do not move the viewer emotionally nor contribute anything to the art word. I feel Richard Billingham or Isaac Julian should have won due to their stylisation of society through film or photography. I particularly liked Julian's experimentation with the working of film through camera angles, colour and overall mood and atmosphere.
Yaiza Gardner, England

I like it. You can stand under it and see the light bulb appear above your head when you finally realise what it's all about.
Alex Banks, UK

Art is dead and artists are pointless

Edmor, UK
I stopped purchasing art ages ago but not because my walls and empty spaces are now all covered. Once, artists died and their work became priceless. Now, art is dead and artists are pointless.
Edmor, UK

I am pushed to think that ANY of the Turner prize winners are worth the cash! I'm all for contemporary art but I think all of these winners are really taking the biscuit! And don't give me any of that hogwash about self-expression and art for art's sake.
Lenny, Canada

If you don't like a piece of work, don't buy it! Simple. If you haven't got anything nice to say, then don't say it. Not everybody shares the same thoughts and opinions.
Geoff Ma, UK

Money for old rope

Andy W, UK
How do I enter for the Turner Prize? It sounds like money for old rope. Now, there's an idea for my entry - a pile of old rope!
Andy W, UK

My entry for next year will be "The light's on but nobody's home". Maybe I should be one of the judges instead.
John Thomas, UK

If there is a power cut, does it cease being art?
Martin, UK

The Turner Prize has once again achieved its aim

John, UK
Art is essentially a subjective matter. It's amazing how many people equate their opinion with fact. I happen to think that the works of Turner, Constable and their ilk are not "good art" but I cannot claim that view to be fact! I also happen to think that the winner of this year's prize is not "good art" though I have enjoyed the work of other recent winners. Whatever we think, the Turner Prize has once again achieved its aim, which is to encourage debate and raise the profile of modern art.
John, UK

Next year I shall be putting forward my entry entitled - 'Extracting the Urine'.

I wasn't going to bother venturing an opinion on this until I saw a suggestion that we should take this "art" seriously. The Turner Prize has as much relevance to art as the contents of my dustbin. It is simply a device for selling the artefacts of the untalented poor to the gullible rich. Nobody with the slightest taste would touch this junk with a bargepole.
Andrew, UK

We have had a small spider living in our bathroom for the past month, "weaving" his way around the ceiling. Perhaps I should submit an exhibit for next year's Turner Prize entitled "Spider Living in Bathroom"?
Cathy Harrison, England

People always ridicule what they don't understand

Leigh, USA/UK
The Turner prize isn't intended to appeal to the mass population. We are not the target audience. People always ridicule what they don't understand. By laughing at it you're attempting to diminish its merit, therefore making you think that understanding it isn't necessary. It seems to me that the Turner Prize is very successful. It always gets people thinking about the subjects.
Leigh, USA/UK

I can understand the modern art idea that art is defined by intention rather than skill. However Creed has gone further with his statement that he has no idea what his work means. So now the viewing public must also project what meaning they can think of onto the object. Art without skill is one thing, but art without ideas is pushing it.
Alastair Somerville, UK

I don't think it's fair to have a go at Martin Creed for trying it on. Instead, we should all enter a piece of art next time, and see what happens.
Iain, UK

This can be summed up in just five words: What a load of rubbish!
Tel, UK

While I like Creed's dodgy wiring, I get a sense of what it must be like to be in the room when the motion sensors in my office incorrectly decide I have gone out and switch off the lights to save energy. The Turner prize continues to ignore the winning speech given a couple of years ago by Brian Eno in which he attacked the art establishment for its inability to rival the explanatory power and teaching ability of so much contemporary science writing. Much of the science which is written about cannot be understood except by experts. Scientists, unlike artists it seems, are the only ones who bother to explain why they do what they do.
Mark T, UK

Why assume that an artwork has to be a carefully hand-crafted object or painting? Art moved beyond that tired old notion over a hundred years ago. Neither is art necessarily the product of unique genius. Art is what happens when you, the spectator, perceive the work. Your reactions here are the art.
Mark, UK

To Mark, UK. Why don't we get the prize money then?
Jim, UK

Surely it would be better to donate £20k to an Arts College

Rick B, London
I think this has become a total joke and I can't believe it commands respect from anybody. Instead of this annual farce, surely it would be better to donate £20k to an Arts College, thus investing in people who have artistic talent.
Rick B, London, UK

Bit difficult to hang an empty room with lights going on and off, above the mantle piece.
Darren, Oxfordshire, UK

I wish I had known about the Turner prize during my student days. My university bedroom must have been worth a small fortune! When the national average salary is about £20k, and the Turner prize awards this sum for something that takes a few minutes to "install" (or less, if you've got some dodgy wiring), it certainly beats working for a living.
John B, UK

If a Van Gogh is worth $84 million, then Mr Creed's piece is probably worth £20,000.

Martin Ternouth, UK
If an installation that turns a light on and off causes us to reflect - even for a few moments - upon the technology behind it, and the vast social achievements that electric light has enabled, then it would seem to have served its purpose. And if a Van Gogh is worth $84 million, then Mr Creed's piece is probably worth £20,000 on the same scale.
Martin Ternouth, UK

Reminds me of a fable I once heard as a kid: "The Emperor's New Clothes". To recap: he wasn't wearing anything, but his subjects and the emperor himself were too afraid to say this for fear of being branded stupid, so they kept on saying how beautiful the clothes were. Modern 'Artists' use the same methods. If we don't understand their 'art', we must be stupid. The tailors in the fable did this for money, hence the similarity.
Arno, Scotland / Holland

As Edison invented the light-bulb and was therefore the first to switch it on and off - does this make him the first artist of this genre?
Jeremy, England

Why are so many people so upset about who the Turner prize goes to, when most of them probably don't even go to art galleries?
Barney, United Kingdom

Perhaps we could submit this web page next year and split the £20k between all of us

Keith, Ireland
Perhaps we could submit this web page next year and split the £20k between all of us.
It could be titled: "Expressing An Opinion" and we could describe it thus: A marvellous work of art, reflective of today's modern internet world, where people of all races, creeds and colour come together to share opinions and ideas.
Keith, Ireland

From what I picked up in passing he didn't even wire the lights up himself - surely if that's true he shouldn't even be allowed to enter. Maybe I could put some sunflowers on a chair and ask someone else to paint them for me. Who would take the glory for that?
Paul, UK

A light flashing on and off? Half a dead sheep? An unmade bed covered in rubbish? I should have won at least 3 turner prizes last year alone. My bacon sandwich was truly an inspiring sight this morning, please send the prize money to...
Jeff Dray, England

Even I, as a former art student, was sceptical about Martin Creed's installation, but the Times art critic explained it in a way that must, I feel, be considered. He said you really have to be there and experience it to appreciate it and that the experience was oddly disquieting. For any installation to have an effect on someone like that totally legitimises it in my eyes and I won't pass personal judgement until I'm able to experience it for myself.
LD, Cambridge, UK

Good luck to the bloke

Andy, UK
The Turner prize just shows that we can still laugh at ourselves and we are quite happy to continue throwing good money after bad. Good luck to the bloke, I wish I could get £20K for being rubbish at something! I hope he gives the money to charity (I bet he won't).
Andy, UK

Creed is not representative of modern art, and not all modern art is brutal, ironic nihilism. The problem is that the general public sees it through the Turner Prize prism. This time they even hauled in Madonna so that more people would be taken in. If you don't understand modern art, then use the following rule of thumb: if it's endorsed by the likes of Madonna, it ain't art.
Stephen Cahill, UK

Flashing lights in an empty gallery? A gallery devoid of art... maybe that's what he was getting at.
Kris Heskett, UK

It's nothing more than a cheap publicity stunt

Chris, UK
Let's face it, it's a big joke right? It's rubbish like this that gives art a bad name. Why don't we celebrate real artists with real talent? The Turner Prize is the home of the talentless. It's nothing more than a cheap publicity stunt.
Chris, UK

Congratulations to Mr. Creed for getting away with doing nothing and cashing in on it.
Victor D, Amsterdam, Netherlands

The trouble is, by even responding on this subject I feel that I'm contributing to a debate on art...which a light bulb going on and off clearly isn't!
Mark M Newdick, US/UK

It isn't even refreshing, let alone controversial or challenging.

Barry Yardgate, England
I am amused by the way we fall for the same old trick year after year! The Turner prize is nothing but an exercise in generating publicity through stirring up 'controversy'. The formula is painfully obvious - select the silliest work, get some glamorously vacuous celebrity to hand over the money ('spontaneous' swearing predictably adds to the 'controversy') and wait for tomorrow's tabloid rants against modern art. As for the short-listed works - it has all been seen and done so many times before that it isn't even refreshing, let alone controversial or challenging.
Barry Yardgate, England

Perhaps for the philistines like me, who consider this to be absolutely ridiculous, the adjudicating committee could explain what precisely makes this absurdity art, let alone prize-winning art?
Cynewulf, UK

I've got an idea for a submission to next year's competition. It's called 'Void', the subtext of which is 'Empty space for empty heads'. If you haven't guessed by now the nature of this stupendous piece of artwork, just imagine a completely empty room with nothing in it at all. The space becomes the exhibit itself. Obviously. However, unlike the Emperor's New Clothes, this concept really does have a deep meaning. No, really it does. Why, don't you believe me? I suppose seeing is believing, then.
John McVey, Scotland

Collings' expression was a dead giveaway - half the time he looked as if he was going to burst out laughing

Sam Palmer, UK
It is hilarious how people still take the Turner Prize seriously. The joke is painfully obvious and stale. So stale, that they had to get Madonna to swear to liven it up a bit. Why, even Collings' expression was a dead giveaway - half the time he looked as if he was going to burst out laughing any minute.
Sam Palmer, UK

I'm inspired - next year I'm going to enter 'Garage Door', 'Broken Biro' and 'Who's Just Broken Wind?' Then I'll use the £20,000 to buy some proper art.
Andy D, England

Art will eat itself.
Rupert, UK

Turner would turn in his grave if he saw his name being attached to what is now perceived as art.
Adrian, UK

The shock value and the amount of debate it generates is what fuels contemporary art

Dr Duncan Campbell, UK
By people talking about this they actually give it credence. The shock value and the amount of debate it generates is what fuels contemporary art of questionable merit. If we all shut up about it the contemporary arts scene would hopefully go away and produce something of merit. Though in a media-ruled society, where over-reaction is now the norm, I hardly think it likely that people will stop stoking the fires of publicity.
Dr Duncan Campbell, UK

With apologies to the memory of Kipling if this is not verbatim but it comes from memory and was written by him about 100 years ago:

"When the flush of the newborn sun fell first on Eden's green and gold, our father Adam sat under a tree and scratched with a stick in the mould. And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart. Until the devil whispered behind the leaves 'It's pretty, but is it art?'"

Next year I am going to submit an entry for the Turner. It will consist of nothing and be entirely intangible but titled 'The Nation Striking a Pose Depicting the Attitude of Indifference'.
Peter Birkett, UK

It may be art to some people but to me it's definitely rubbish

Caroline, UK

It may be art to some people but to me it's definitely rubbish! I just hope there's a sea-change in art school fashion sooner rather than later, with a return to more traditional media, and that this sort of 'installation' stuff gets consigned to the rubbish bin of history where it belongs.
Caroline, UK

If you reach the stage where anything can be art what has art become? If the exhibit had a title which provoked some deeper thought it would not be so bad. It really is the case of the emperors new clothes.
Tim, UK

The Empty Room is a great metaphor for a post -Christian age culture and art - totally vacuous, devoid of meaning, hope and understanding.
Michael, UK

I studied at Art College during the mid eighties, an experience which left me completely disillusioned with the art establishment. The tutors weren't interested in talent but in the personalities of their students. Those who were pushed forward and encouraged were those who had the loudest and most extrovert personalities, those who were the more confident self-publicists in other words. It didn't matter how amateurish and childish their painting and drawing techniques were; that, after all, wasn't considered to be the point of art. These days I find art galleries depressing places. The Art establishment is completely caught up in its own elitist and misguided sense of superiority over the general public. The best artists practising today are probably the technicians who create the spectacular effects on computer games and the animators of Manga films.
Jane, UK

One would think that the term 'art' implied some form of craft, skill or expertise in the chosen form? Personally, I intend to take this morning's rubbish, put it in a box, label it 'Urban Detrius' and send it to the Tate. Who knows? I might be £20,000 richer by this time next year!
Kate, UK

Call it stupid, call it pointless, or even call it clever. But just please don't call it art. We do not need to change the definition of art, it's served perfectly well for thousands of years. But we do need to think of a new name for this sort of nonsense, so that a new generation of people isn't put off real art forever.
Alastair Stevens, UK

Every time some Gallery pays good money for such tosh as piles of bricks, pickled dead sheep, unmade beds, empty rooms etc they should have the amount paid deducted from their next year's funding - or they should have no funding except entrance fees - then see how long they would keep these buying these exhibits if they had to attract real paying customers !
Chris, UK

I take it that none of this is serious, is it?

Colin Mackay, UK
It's nice to know that in these troubled times, there are still those with a sense of humour! I take it that none of this is serious, is it?
Colin Mackay, UK

Flashing lights: Fantastic! And in an empty gallery: Oh joy! Minimalist Martin doesn't need to explain the sense of his astonishing work to me! The great thing is that modern art has apparently advanced so far that anyone can be an artist! Even better, the Government can now cut all subsidies to artists and hand out discount vouchers for DIY stores. The money saved could be invested in the NHS, or the transport system, or foreign aid or....
Anthony, Germany (UK)

Everyone is missing the point. It's an excellent move on the gallery's part - now they have a large, nicely decorated, clean, well lit (some of the time) room that they will be able to put some nice pictures in when all the fuss dies down. And for just £20,000. A bargain I reckon...
Chris A, England

Absolute utter rubbish, how can this be art? I am disgusted. There are people with no homes starving, who have done more to deserve £20,000.
Jacqui, UK

I suppose I must be very old-fashioned, boring and conventional to think that a work of art should be something the artist has created, like a painting, sculpture or photographic work. The likes of Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, Rodin etc will be remembered for many years to come. Can the same be said of works of art which consist of animals in formaldehyde, a rumpled bed, an empty beach hut and an empty room with faulty lighting?
Cathy Harrison, England

I presume that the Turner Prize's job is to do as much as possible to alienate the general public from art? A job it does exceedingly well.
Andrew J Chisholm, UK

Art is not just painting, sculpting etc but also ideas.
William B Clarke, UK

A ridiculous empty space, what a farce

Chris, UK
A ridiculous empty space, what a farce. I work hard throughout the work day, and these 'artists' (?) with Willow the Wisp minds can't even describe what they've 'created'! No talent at all, apart from deception in trying, very badly, to impersonate an artist! Nearly all of the population will think of this 'art' as insulting!!
Chris, UK

You get the same 'art' at any NCP car park.
B. Cartwright, UK

I know that art depends much on individual taste etc. But I have to say I'm worried that there are people out there who consider a faulty bit of wiring to be anything other than a problem which requires fixing. When Martin Creed says that it is not up to him to explain what it means, it is because he doesn't have a clue himself. He's just laughing at the con trick he's just pulled.
Pete L, UK

The Turner Prize organisers have said it is not designed to show the best artists, but art that is most interesting at the time. I am therefore tempted to assume that the other exhibits were in total darkness.
Chris B, England

Surely the whole point of great art is that it can only be created by people who possess a rare and unique talent. I could spend 10 years trying to paint a replica of the Last Supper and not achieve it, just as I will never be able to play football like David Beckham or play guitar like Hendrix. However, I have a whole load of things on my bedroom floor which could probably win a Turner prize. Someone receiving £20,000 for a lightbulb going on and off is a payout so obscene it makes the most unfair excesses of footballers and actors pay look reasonable. Have these people not got anything better to do?
James Warwick, UK

Is it art ? Of course it is. Is it good art ? No, it certainly is not. In modern art the statement is considered to be everything and skill is no longer part of the equation. Good modern art has a balance of both, yet we rarely see this when it's time for the prizes to be given out. Is this because there's no such thing as bad publicity? Blu-tac and unmade beds might not be good art but year after year they makes good headlines.
Bill, UK

Art is anything that someone says is art

Nikolai K, Edinburgh
Art is anything that someone says is art. It doesn't matter that so few people see the value in some art but at the same time, why is the prize not going to a piece of art which communicates the most to the most people? Real genius is a communicative entity - if people don't get it - what's the point?
Nikolai K, Edinburgh

Sorry but this kind of thing just makes art into a joke. I remember the time when some esteemed critics were falling over themselves reading meaning and wonder from a mess of paint on a sheet of paper. You should have seen the looks on their faces when they were told it was painted by an elephant, completely at random. Sorry, but there is no skill or talent involved in this kind of modern art, and for people to be awarded amounts which are more than most people's yearly salary for what is essentially just a joke. The classic arts are true masterpieces, involving plenty of vision, skill and talent. A can of baked beans, or a light switch going on/off; any child can come up with.
Michelle, UK

At least with Damien Hirst's animals in formaldehyde you could appreciate the effort that went into it, even if you didn't appreciate the result. But, to win twenty grand because your wiring's dodgy and then not even bother to make up an explanation! I always thought with a lot of contemporary art the real genius was making up the spiel to explain your "piece", now it seems you don't even need to do that, I'm clearly in the wrong job!!
Rich Pollard, UK

When is someone going to fix that light? After all, they could win next year's prize!
Steve, UK

I went to the Tate Modern last year and had to laugh at all the pretentious people taking it seriously. How can this bit of garbage be worth £20,000? I have some lights in my garage that I could do the same with. And my version would be cheaper. Any offers?
Richard H UK, UK

As always people have misunderstood the purpose of the Turner Prize circus. The Prize isn't supposed to be about art - it exists for the sole purpose of generating a huge amount of cheap publicity for the Tate, and for its commercial sponsors - and to give the media a chance to fill space by reprinting the same tired clichés that they used last year. The fact that this year's award was dished out by a pop star should have been enough to set the alarm bells ringing for most people. It's a gimmick - but then again so is most of what passes for British culture these days.
Stuart Whatling, UK

I installed a new three-way spotlight in my kitchen yesterday. Does that make me an artist? I could argue that as an installation it illustrates the futility of man's struggle against the consumerist society (I was replacing another light which fell apart) and on another level illustrating the success of technology over our primeval fear of the dark. On TV last night, I note that Mr Creed couldn't actually explain what his work was about. That's because it isn't about anything. It's a light. It comes on. It goes off.
Andy D, UK

Please don't forget that these 'installation' artists don't actually create the objects they call art. Specialists create them on request. All the artists do is come up with the idea. Obviously Martin Creed thought long and hard before coming up with lights turning off and on.
Martin Hanna, UK

"I wish I could do that." Now that's what you should say if you look at art. Not, "I could do that". The Turner Prize has become a type of weird side show where so called artists try to think of the most mundane thing and call it art. Empty rooms, unmade beds. I don't think it will be to long before somebody submits nothing as their art.
Ben, UK

See also:

02 Apr 01 | Arts
Tate team wins major award
06 Nov 01 | Arts
In pictures: Turner Prize 2001
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Talking Point stories