“Beautiful” artwork wins the Turner Prize

The 2009 Turner Prize has been awarded to the painter Richard Wright. Wright’s winning work is a site-specific wall painting with gold leaf applied using a medieval technique. Dr Stephen Deuchar, director of Tate Britain, summing up why Wright was selected as this year’s winner said “in the end we just all felt that it was because it was a really beautiful work of art.” Poet Carol Ann Duffy reaffirmed the status of Wright’s untitled work as beautiful, as did Alan Yentob (Creative director, BBC) and Anouchka Grose (psychoanalyst and writer.)

The repeated description of Wright’s work as beautiful stands out because beauty is not usually a term that is applied to Turner prize winning pieces. In 2002 Culture Minister Kim Howells described that year’s nominees as “cold, mechanical, conceptual bullshit.” The connection of the Turner prize to conceptual art seems to have left many prize commentators unable to describe Wright’s work using any perceptual aesthetic terms other than “beautiful” (however I should mention that 2001 Turner prize winner Martin Creed did not use the term beautiful and instead repeatedly described both the 2009 show and the works as “nice.”)

Fortunately philosophical aesthetics treats beauty as one of its prime subjects and also engages with many other aesthetic properties like integrated, delicate, graceful, and splendid, all of which may also be used to describe Wright’s work. Given Wright’s win an examination of the nature of these aesthetic properties and of aesthetic taste looks set to be a worthwhile pursuit even for Turner prize enthusiasts.

You can view reaction to the 2009 Turner prize winner here.

Related articles:

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£1.99 - small Taste and Objectivity: The Emergence of the Concept of the Aesthetic

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