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Monday, 21 January, 2002, 12:53 GMT
Is concept art "craftless tat"?
Most conceptual art is "pretentious, self-indulgent, craftless tat", according to Ivan Massow, head of the Institute of Contemporary Arts.

Concept art is all hype and no substance, he said in an article for the New Statesman. His comments, however, have led former Turner Prize nominee Tracey Emin to call for his resignation.

She told the Daily Telegraph: "Massow should resign. I spent 12 years studying art, and up to 1,000 a day visited my last exhibition."

But the Stuckists, a group of artists who protest against what they see as the domination of conceptual art over more traditional art have leapt to Massow's defence.

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.



There will always be pretentious people with too much money to spend

Simon, UK
Unfortunately, Ivan Massow bravely speaking out against conceptual art (would you want to argue with Tracey Emin?) will not change a thing. There will always be pretentious people with too much money to spend, who will buy such "art," admire the poetry of Murray Lachlan Young (what happened to him?), and go to performance art. All these activities then give them the chance to discuss why they like such works, which in turn leads them to their favourite subject - themselves. Leave such pretentious people to themselves, and the world may soon return to normality. There is more than enough quality art around for the rest of us to enjoy.
Simon, UK

Conceptual art, now a cliche nearly a century old, is being endlessly recycled by new generations too poorly educated to even realize how unoriginal their work even actually is. The work of young conceptual artists is about as new, "shocking" and transgressive as the Wright flyer and the horseless carriage. Recent Turner Prize winners prove that artists today are incapable of inventing new, relevant forms, only mindlessly repeating what little they know of art since Duchamp/Cage/Warhol.
James, USA

The saddest part of discussing this nonsense (that is passed off as art) is that no publicity is given to modern artists with real talent!
Steve Adcock, England

To me art is something someone wants to look at. An unmade bed I can see every day in my children's' room; however I do not want to look at it and feel compelled to make it. However we have many pictures and statues, both traditional and modern. These I enjoy looking at even when I have to dust them. As for dead animals, these are useful for teaching the children biology. However I can see no difference between an animal being killed to be displayed as art or one being killed for a fur coat.
Caron, England


Art is surely about creativity, imagination and originality

A. Wood, UK
When I read that an 'artist' had won an award for setting up a room where the lights went on and off, I was furious. I cannot believe that these people can get away with taking an object or creating a scene from everyday life, placing it in an art gallery and calling it art. We have had to wait far too long for someone from the art world to have the courage to speak out on this issue and thankfully Ivan Massow has done this. Art is surely about creativity, imagination and originality. Let's recognise those artists who display these qualities in their work and stop giving so much publicity to those who don't.
A. Wood, UK

Conceptual art was clever and fresh in 1917, when Marcel Duchamp presented his urinal; hopefully some day soon our sense of irony will finally be satisfied.
Matthew, USA

Conceptual Art seems to take the form of a visual joke with a punch line. The problem is once the joke is heard and a wry smile extracted, the "Art" is left with no merit. It is either visually offensive or dull, and cannot be appreciated as the work of a skilled artist. Conceptual art has a very short shelf life (whatever happened to the famous Brick the Tate once displayed?), and seems to be the nonsensical output of arts graduates unable to find a proper job. I can't blame them for trying to make a living, but who are the boneheads who pay to see this stuff? I'd love to see a video showing the faces of a procession of chinless wonders gawping at conceptual art. The initial confusion, quickly followed by the "Ah, I get it" and then the listless wait staring at it, so they don't move on too quickly and look foolish.
Roly, UK

"I spent 12 years studying art, and up to 1,000 a day visited my last exhibition" does not explain why conceptual art is not "pretentious, self-indulgent, craftless tat". Twelve years studying art should at least impart a decent ability to respond to criticism.
Chris, UK

Alex (England) - if conceptual art really is something that anyone could do, requiring no talent, and if successful conceptual artists are making large amounts of money from doing things that anyone could do, why don't you do it too?
Simon Moore, UK


An unmade bed with clothes strewn around it is NOT art

Jeff, UK
An unmade bed with clothes strewn around it is NOT art and I challenge anybody to convince me otherwise. How many years studying took place to come up with that rubbish? Twelve years? For what? If it is art, then my bedroom is a priceless piece and I should win the Turner prize. Wow, I've been a top artist all my life and didn't realise it! No studying either so that makes me a natural. To think that lottery money goes toward this 'art' beggars belief and to think that prizes are awarded really does make me laugh.
Jeff, UK

If art, of any type, sparks debate and discussion it has succeeded its most important function.
Steve Saul, UK

It's not my cup of tea, but let's be fair - even the Sistine Chapel started out as a "concept."
Robert del Valle, USA


Concept art is the biggest fraud I have seen

Jonathan Michaud, US/UK
Concept art is the biggest fraud I have seen. Anyone can do it. It requires no talent or creativity. I could do a Tracey Emin exhibition with the help of a few friends from the local pub! Enough said. But as long as there are pretentious fools, there will be a market for it.
Jonathan Michaud, US/UK

Someone who spouts rubbish to sell sub-standard goods is usually called a con-artist.
Ed Vista, UK

Not having an original thought on the subject, but from a note I carry in my wallet: "Skill without imagination is craftsmanship, and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art."(unattributed).
David, USA

Long live conceptual art, I say! After hours of touring round galleries, having my mind and my senses blown away by the sheer emotion stimulated in me by many of the pictures or sculptures I've seen (modern and ancient), conceptual art is a comic relief at the end of the day. It's like the froth at the top of a 'real art' cappuccino, and a means of desensitising the emotions after viewing real art. I'd suggest every major museum tacks a conceptual art section right at the exit - I guarantee it would be a success!
Donna Gordonston, UK

If Tracey Emin spent twelve years studying art and all she could come up with for a Turner Prize nomination was an unmade bed, then she's wasted her time! It takes me a maximum of about five seconds to create that look in the morning!
Lucy, England


Thank heavens someone else has spotted the fact that the emperor has came out unattired

Graham, Scotland
Thank heavens someone else has spotted the fact that the emperor has came out unattired. However having said that I can only applaud them for their guts at selling the art equivalent of snake oil to the numpties willing to pay for it.
Graham, Scotland

I'm thinking of buying a new masterpiece known as "new sofa", but will need to sell the existing artwork I own called "old grubby sofa in living room" (flashing light optional). Any takers? A snip at four grand.
Sarah, UK

It's about time someone said those things out loud. In my mind it all started with that submarine made out of tyres.
Tim, USA (from London)

Well, if Tracey Emin spent 12 years studying art, all I can say is, what the hell are they teaching them there! But isn't it nice to know that when you go home tonight and look at the housework you haven't got round to, the unmade beds, the lights you haven't bothered to fix, that in fact you have your very own masterpiece to gaze at? My kitchen is currently 20,000 worth of art. And what's more, it's interactive art, because I can add more unwashed dishes to it whenever I choose!
Jayne, UK

Finally someone has pointed out that the emperor has no clothes on. The tailors may be protesting but we all know it's true.
George, UK


I don't rate this year's Turner Prize winner, but that doesn't make all modern art bad

Wendy, UK
I have to say, I am rather surprised that Mr Massow took the job if he considers it all such a waste of time! I am also surprised he thinks like this - he of all people should know that we shouldn't tar all artists by the same brush. I don't rate this year's Turner Prize winner, but that doesn't make all modern art bad. It's not such a difficult connection to make.
Wendy, UK

If these 'artists' can make money - good luck to them. Provided always that it does not cost me - a tax payer, or me - a lottery ticket buyer, one penny, I do not care. Whilst the people who spend their money on such trash are daft, the 'artists' are anything but daft.
W J Andrews, England

I couldn't agree more. Art from the preceding centuries has endured many changes to what is classed as art. I cannot see Tracey Emins 'art' being bid for in years to come for millions of pounds. They are certainly no Caravaggio or Michaelangelo. Just like the popular music scene of the last few years, it is shallow, over-hyped rubbish (often quite literally).
Thomas, UK

I myself am not a big lover of conceptual art, but what it has managed to achieve, this forum being a perfect example, is that it makes everybody question what art is. This in itself may just be a natural and maybe even unavoidable progression/reformation in art, maybe from this artistic void a new form of art will emerge, one that we can all truly agree is art.
James Morris, UK

I find the whole conceptual art idea has the "conspiracy theorist" argument applied to it. These artists create something and then ask us to "prove it isn't art" - instead of the other way around. It's a no-win situation because if I argue it isn't art, they'll tell me I just haven't got it.

Art is meant to be interpretative, and expression comes in many forms and I'm not close-minded, but I do feel artistic works such as the blinking lights are mired in pretension, and the real shame is that those with a genuine artistic talent struggle to get themselves established because of a small-minded modern art establishment. The half-eaten sandwich on my desk isn't my lunch, it's a work of art. Prove I'm wrong. (That'll be 10,000 please.)
Pat Holliday, Portsmouth, UK

As usual "The Simpsons" has said it all. At the risk of being branded an anorak I refer you to the episode AABF15 "Mom and Pop Art" where Homer's disastrous attempt to build a barbeque pit lands him with his own art exhibition (briefly).
Of course Mr Massow is right but if people get a kick out of looking at unmade beds or even want to spend their money on such things who am I to stop them. Forgive me if I snigger a little though
Steve Harrison, UK


Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is art

Alex, England
Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is art. Personally conceptual art has no appeal whatsoever to me and requires no artistic talent to create whatsoever. The reason it exists is because people pay to see these exhibits and hold awards ceremonies for them! Fair play to the 'artist' for making a living from people who are willing to admire their work! Supply and Demand.
Alex, England

As Kenny Rogers once sang "They don't make 'em like they used to".
Fraser Howse, UK

If the work of Tracey Emin & Co is art then what in the world is 'not' art. Surely the whole point of gaining a prize like the Turner is that the winner has managed to achieve something that the average person cannot do. I couldn't possibly sculpt or paint the Sistine Chapel but I could certainly show off an unmade bed or a room with the lights on. If the Turner prize is awarded for guts then yes these people deserve to win for pretending to be artists.BR> Mark, England


As an art lover I would have to say most of the Turner prize tat would make Turner turn in his grave

Chris, UK
As an art lover I would have to say most of the Turner prize tat would make Turner turn in his grave. A blinking lightbulb requires an electrician not an artist. And as for an unmade bed, I'm with Massow; the only genius involved is persuading the already gullible trendies to consider it worth their money. I am not decrying modern art per say as Chagalle, Maigreet and others challenge you to look at art and the way you look at life in a new way. I'm not saying that only the classics such as Titian, Da Vinci and Constable have any worth as artists. However the only thing Ms. Emin inspires you to do is turn your washing machine on and practice your hospital corners. The Turner Prize judges should indeed extract themselves from each others backsides for the sake of British art.
Chris, UK

A colleague and myself constantly debate this, with me being accused of being a Stuckist. However, my view is that the Turner Prize committee constantly make the winning award for entries for which they know will maximise controversy, and not for any artistic merit.
Malcolm Haig, UK

See also:

12 Oct 01 | Arts
The Brits and modern art
16 Jul 00 | Entertainment
Tracey makes a pile
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