Is awarding rewarding?

Alice Wilson discusses the worth of awards & prizes within something as subjective as the arts.

Alice Wilson
12th February 2018

Awards in the arts - some of them have been around for hundreds of years. And why shouldn’t they? They’re essentially a celebration of books, pictures, films, albums, plays, that have been sometimes, years and millions of pounds in the making, and are certainly worthy of recognition. they can be a lifetime’s worth of work, and therefore its only fair that some people earn a life-changing achievement.

In a similar way, these awards have the potential to highlight areas of industries which you otherwise might not even consider- when you sit down to watch a film, do you think initially think about the screenplay writer or the costume designer?. Awards such as the City of Culture are great ways to get the government (who seem otherwise particularly reluctant to do so) to invest in the arts industries within cities struggling to engage their citizens, and these kinds of awards are particularly effective as they leave long-lasting marks on the cities in question. For example, 2017’s winner, Hull, have now got permanent arts companies and hubs across the city as part of the award’s legacy, and we hope to expect the same from Coventry in 2018.

This cultural identity can also be felt on a national level, as is demonstrated by organisations like BAFTA and the BRITs, which concentrate on British productions, promoting local creativity, and supporting our very own home-grown artists. However, naturally, paired with this patriotic concept is the danger of exclusivity and simultaneously overlooking foreign contributions to the arts, which are, it goes without saying, invaluable to the development of creativity wherever you are.

Most recently, awards ceremonies have been a great way to bring public attention some very important political and social issues- take the all-black-clad A-Listers at the Golden Globes promoting the “Time’s Up” campaign.

Awards ceremonies in the arts are often in the social headlines and making the wider community aware of current affairs. The winner of 2017’s Turner Prize, Lubaina Hamid’s artwork promotes awareness of the legacy of slavery and colonialism, and the ongoing effects it is still having on today’s political climate, and she made history by becoming the first black woman to win this prestigious award. However, for an award that’s been running annually for 33 years, the fact that she was the first black woman is remarkable, and questions whether the very racism she brings to light in her artwork actually manifests within the arts industry itself. On top of this is the fact that the only reason she was able to win this award is because the restriction of eligibility for the award of being under 50 was only lifted in 2016, allowing the 63 year old to succeed.

Some would argue that awards such as these feed the ego of an industry already brimming with people who certainly have no shortage of people telling them how great they are. You only need to watch Alex Turner’s mic-drop at the BRITs to realise that. 

Indeed, the existence of these awards has been brought into questions by those within the industry- Mumford & Sons after having won Best British Group at the BRITS said that it ‘didn’t really mean anything’, and that ‘making music a competition is silly’, but that they were grateful. And it’s true- once you’ve got your name on one of these shortlists, you’re pretty much sorted for your career. Which is another excellent function of these awards- they put otherwise unknown and overlooked artists into the limelight. Deservedly so? Here is where the real difficulty lies- who are we, or in fact any other art critic around the world, no matter how qualified, to judge such a subjective field?

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