The Turner Prize 2010... and beyond (2)
I heard some interesting points made by people in the art world yesterday while researching my Ten O'Clock News piece about the Turner Prize short-list and its omission of any any artists in their 20s or 30s.
First, a senior member of London's art-world elite said that "looking at the new crop of young British artists is like watching the class system in action". There was a suggestion here that the prohibitive cost of courses and materials and the slim chances of later success mean that only people from wealthy backgrounds can afford to go to art college.
A related issue came up last week in conversation with the artist Michael Craig-Martin. He taught many of the famous YBAs while lecturing at Goldsmiths College but stopped when changes were made the status of art colleges. He said that previously, they had been more akin to old fashioned polytechnics - free to teach how they saw fit. University status, Craig-Martin said, came with stifling bureaucracy and a reductionist approach to teaching.
The second comment I want to share was this: "Young artists have moved on, but the Turner Prize jurors are looking in the same places."
"Moved on", in this context, means "moved away". I was told that many young British artists find London too expensive and have chosen to live elsewhere, such as India or South America. The implication here is that trawling the galleries of Hoxton and other areas previously ripe with artistic potential may not now be the most fruitful way of finding new talent in an age of globalisation.
Both these comments relate to finance and to the idea that opportunities to succeed as an emerging artist in Britain have receded. If this is the case, perhaps there is an opportunity for some of the publicly-funded arts institutions to help. They could consider looking at the subsidised theatre sector for inspiration.
The Royal Court, the National Theatre, the Donmar Warehouse and other theatres run young writers' programmes. It doesn't matter if you haven't gone on a creative-writing course or even if you have an English GCSE; all you need is an aptitude for writing and a bit of determination. If, for example, an under-25 wannabe playwright sends a script that demonstrates some talent to the Royal Court, they will be invited on the programme. They don't need to give up their job, just most of their social life.
The rewards can be high. The Royal Court will work with the writer to help produce a script that might just make it to the stage. And in the case of recent successes such as Polly Stenhem (That Face), Laura Wade (Posh) or Lucy Prebble (Enron), this has helped to launch a high-profile career.
It's worth considering how this model might work at an institution like, say, the ICA, which lost its sponsor for Becks Futures a while ago. A gallery could run a Royal-Court-type Young Artists' Programme in concert with its curators, willing artists and a range of lecturers, with an annual show presenting the best of the work to the public and art world.