This year's obligatory row over the Turner prize for art has been kicked off by culture minister Kim Howells, who thinks the whole lot, exhibited at the Tate, "cold, mechanical, conceptual bullshit." My own knowledge and understanding of visual art is too limited for me to make a judgement on the Turner nominees. But bigger questions are raised.
In all the arts there are fashions which work rather mysteriously, commercial pressures, and "arbiters of taste" - people employed to make decisions about, for example, who gets commissions, who makes a living, what reaches the public. According to friends who are fine artists, the long-standing vogue for "conceptual" art, installations, etc, makes it difficult for old-fashioned painters to get gallery space. And most artists need to sell their work to pay the rent, so they need to make things people (normally, rich people and corporations) will buy. Nothing's really just "art for art's sake."