Art competitions: What's the real prize?

The debate of what might constitute art may never beresolved. 

The Red Vineyard at Arles, the only painting van Gogh sold in his lifetime.

The debate about what constitutes great art will, hopefully, never be resolved. 

Should it be, then one of the richest seams for high-stool pontificating would be needlessly closed off. In any event, history shows that first impressions in this area are not always valuable.

Herman Melville had to die before his 1851 masterwork Moby Dick, which had been excoriated during his lifetime, to begin to get the recognition that now regularly places it among the best books ever written in English. 

Vincent Van Gogh sold just one painting — Red Vineyard At Arles — during his lifetime but the 1987 sale of Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers for €28m (regarded as €77m in today’s terms) shows how very differently he is appreciated today.

Various competitions for writers, poets, painters, dancers, and musicians play a significant part in how a medium is viewed and how those who practice within that medium are valued. Winners set trends and drive sales. 

Maybe that is why some assessments of artistic endeavour seem so very questionable, so very crass and commercial.

Film’s Academy Awards — such ironic branding for such a ruthlessly commercial exercise — may be the most obvious example of this marketing-as-art manipulation but there are many more. Wake up and smell the sunflowers and whale oil as it were.



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