Marmite Prize for Painting catalogue essay 2016

Jaundice is easy to catch: no-one looks at the art world today through a rose tint, imagines it’s composed of unworldly obsessives pursuing their altruistic vocation to make the world a better place for us, the spirituality- and illumination-starved audience. Far more likely, it appears as a nightmare jumble, a meaning-free free-for-all seen through a bilious blur, peopled by celebrities as vain and vacuous as any in the non-art world outside.

And, what’s worse, with young artists primed to aspire to join them.

None of this is new, it’s what we’ve been living with for some years now, in fact the decay of art (let’s call it YBAitis) is stretching well into its third decade. Artists are leaving the colleges who’ve known nothing else. But there is, as there always is, an alternative. There’s more to a life in art than getting a good score on Artfacts, and provoking a standing ovation when you break the price barrier at Sotheby’s. There’s actually making art. Art’s what you do when you’re useless at anything else; that’s to say, when it’s all you care about, and you do it for itself. Which isn’t to say you’ll be any good at it. Communication is something else.

It’s making a bold case to exempt painting from the indictment, but it can be done. After all,

In the greatest revolutionary act in the history of art R.Mutt only signed the urinal, he didn’t decorate it. What a different 20th century we’d have seen if he had. Though Duchamp could paint, somewhat, he deflected our attention by doing other things. Leaving painting still, largely, depending on definable skills: choice of subject, and the ability to somehow convey it, possibly on canvas, board or paper. Or to refuse a subject, and to be able to communicate that.

At a panel discussion a few years ago, a young commercial gallerist’s advice was ‘Don’t get in touch with me’, and the ACE representative’s recommendation was ‘Win a competition’. Well, yes. But actually just entering can be good, too. If you choose your competition carefully.

Unless something has gone wrong and a bolt of lightning or a star in the East has provoked a detour in the road the Art world has taken, the Marmite Prize for painting is still the only one worth its salt. This year is its tenth anniversary. After a slight pause for breath it’s returned in amazing and well-deserved good health.

Who’s on the panel, what are the chances? What is the prize and who enters? The usual questions the usual answers. Marmite bucks these still. Having had the privilege of previously being on the selection panel we can testify to the sincerity, integrity and rare hard work that Marmite P P puts into the selection.

We have witnessed and heard tell of less rigorous selection processes… We ought to recognise the major part played by accident: who’s on the panel, what’s the dynamic between them, how are they feeling on the day, who else has decided to enter this year, how does their work look in a jpg, all the variables, but the desire to win, to be singled out, keeps us submitting our work to be cursorily scanned and dismissed in favour of… Well he’s just been signed by and… Oh she’s applied she has to go through.

How many artists are there out there? So many more than there used to be. So many more than there should be (given we’ve grown out of Beuys’ kindly claim of universal artistry). Most of them are shit, either because they’re misguided, stupid or deluded (however successful they are)

I suspect that the statistics, the demographic proportions as it were, are consistent – of the successful artists working in Britain today 90% are misguided, deluded, stupid, or all three and their work meretricious, juvenile, stupid, or all three. (Perhaps more, as their success depends upon an art market that is almost universally yes universally all three and most importantly risk averse and thus preternaturally unable to understand art as such.

The Mpp is uniquely interested and arrogantly thinks it can discern the other 10%

How is art made, how is it distributed


It’s good to have the Marmite back, and the record number of submissions is a testimony to how much it’s been missed. We’ve already started hearing of excellent painters who didn’t make the shortlist. Welcome back!