I’m writing this the week after The Brit Awards. Some people seemed to be pretty miffed about the whole thing. I on the other hand didn’t watch them, I cant really remember any of the results and I wouldn’t have any strong feelings about them even if I could. Still. HOW DARE THE ARTIC MONKEYS WIN BEST MUSIC!!!! Obviously they aren’t the best music. I mean look at the main Arctic Monkey. He behaved barbarically (again I haven’t seen or researched this). If there is one thing that makes rock ‘n’ roll what it is, it’s an overpowering sense of politeness and humility. You wouldn’t catch James Blunt acting like that. He’s lovely.
It’s now the time of year that demands, regardless of interest or knowledgeability, that everybody have an opinion. That’s right, we’ve entered Awards Season. That magical time of year, where through the power of alchemy, opinion is turned into fact like piss into gold. We all know that this year marks the 86th anniversary of when the entertainment industry officially rebranded the boring old seasons into seasons that people would actually care about. Gone are the days of Christmas, Flowers, Shortsy and Brown. Now we have Awards Season, followed by some empty space we spend waiting for Awards Season. Awards Season is a time when the most knowledgable and pure of heart members of the entertainment industry come together to decide once and for all, which is the best art. This is the time that the contestants have been working towards since they first picked up a crayon, or spread their baby food into a passable picture of a horse. So aside from just talking about what an all-round top bloke James Blunt is, I mean he really is a fantastic man, I do want to make a serious/wise point on the nature of Awards Season. I’m going to try and make this point properly, so there won’t be many jokes for the next couple of paragraphs. Sorry.
Even on the surface, the concept of turning art into a competition doesn’t make any sense. In a competition you have well defined goals and parameters. Who can score the most goals, without the use of your hands or arms? Who can jump the highest, without using a trampoline? Who can run from A to B the fastest, discounting Human/Leopard hybrids? Art doesn’t work like that. The creative process is an act of exploration on the part of the artist. There is no pre-defined ‘end-goal’ that the artist is working towards other than the idea in their head, which even then is susceptible to change throughout the process. There are no measures by which a piece of Art can be said to have definitively succeeded. That might sound a bit wishy-washy but I’m trying to point out the category mistake people make when they try to objectively compare two pieces of art. Art isn’t the kind of thing which can be evaluated in the same way you judge a sporting performance or a prize marrow. Very clever people with huge grey beards debate endlessly about ‘WHAT ART IS?’. So it’s fairly stupid that The Brit Awards think they can judge who does it best. In what way can you compare Bastille against Arctic Monkeys? You may as well have a boxing match between a microwave and a carrot.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t say anything meaningful about Art. It’s just that when you do, it can’t be in relation to any pre-existing standards but rather to the thing itself. To make complete sense I’ll need to clarify where I’m coming from; I’m about to place my metaphysical balls on the table. So, you know, prepare yourselves.
No object or action has any value in and of itself.
All objects have are properties. Big, small, red, blue, loud, quiet. It is us who take these properties and project values onto objects. Good, bad, exciting, boring, pretty, ugly. When I’m out for a walk in the countryside and I see a sunset, all the sunset comprises of is an array of colours. When I describe the sunset as beautiful, I’m talking about the effect those colours have had on me and the value I’ve attributed to the thing I’m seeing. So far, so tedious. The relevance is that when I listen to a piece of music, watch a film or interact with any piece of art, there is no ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ in the thing itself but only in how we value it. Does this piece entertain me? Does it provoke me? Does it have the effect on me that the artist intended? If it does, was the artist ambitious enough? These are the questions you should be asking about when considering the merit of any piece of art. Not whether it’s ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than the piece I saw last week. So when it comes to talking about the merits of Art we need to keep these two points in mind: 1) that the piece should be judged on its own grounds, and 2) that the only meaningful relation is between me and the piece.
Now to finally get back to the point about Awards Season. Awards are just advertising. That’s been said a thousand times before. By giving something an award they are trying to interfere with the direct relationship you have with that thing. They are trying to insert a sense of ‘ought-ness’ into your consideration. When you engage with the piece you wont just have the values that you judge it to have, there will also be the sense of “I should like this”, or “I shouldn’t be liking this”. Obviously, reviewers and critics are useful as a gauge of what’s likely to be worth your time. Most people don’t have the time to view everything and so critics can be a helpful guide. However, what’s worth remembering is that nobody can tell you how to feel about a film, album, or a crap little column on the internet. But seriously, if you don’t like this column you are an idiot. That’s just science.