that needed to get off my chest: I'm afraid realpolitik
has compromised the integrity and worth of the Young
Artist of the Year Award (which I'll call YAYA).
rules make it clear that an individual has to be nominated
by a member of the public in order to be eligible for YAYA.
Presumably, I'd imagine this is to ensure that the nominee's
qualification and merit for the award has earned the genuine
(and spontaneous) confidence of at least one other party
are waiting their turn to be called.
are jumping queue.
other words, YAYA is not (at least according to the brief
laid out by the NAC) intended to be an open grant (although
specifying what you plan to do with the award money is
presumably part of the selection process). It's not a
bursary you apply and compete for on a level playing field
with all contenders. You have to be invited (by someone
else) to play. It's supposed to endorse a certain consensus
about the reputation and quality of your work.
But it's engendered something of an entitlement mentality
among artists of a certain age and output, who appear to
be waiting their turn to be "called to the bar" by their associates. Some are jumping queue where they can.
In recent years including this one, there have been open
solicitations for nominations (at least, in one particular
field) by would-be YAYA receipients.
least two recent YAYA receipients had actively solicited
-- and successfully received -- nominations and endorsements
from well-placed individuals they know. Their motives vary:
from needing the money to political reasons such as the
desire for some sort of formal endorsement and validation.
Pardon me for being a prude but I can't help thinking there
is something fundamentally flawed with this whole business.
The YAYA is at least ostensibly intended to be a recognition
of artistic merit, not a popularity contest or god-help-us
a US style presidential candidacy race.
there can be no quarrel with those candidates and awardees
who were approached by admirers who of their own accord
wanted to nominate them. Nor with those truly deserving
talents who have rightly won the award in recent years (and
whose artistic impact have been clearly visible, with or
without the endorsement of YAYA).
issue is with all those who have come to believe that the
only way to win in the system is not to trust the meritocratic
process, but to circumvent or shortcircuit the rules, in
spirit if not in letter. Not to mention the quiet complicity
(or at best, indifferent negligence) of all involved.
It's not even all hubris either: the appalling thing is
that some of these self-help YAYA candidates admit that
they would probably not have gotten the award or ever been
nominated on their own merit alone, especially relative
to others at work in their field. There is a certain moral
fatigue and earnest fatalism at work, a "c'est la vie" ethic which I cannot help translating as nothing but base
cynicism. And this cynicism extends to the bystanders: any
attempt to point out the problem is regarded as sour grapes
rather than an attempt to correct an appalling loophole
in the system.
I guess I once held and still want to hold the system and
the award in high regard as a medal of honour, a badge of
merit, to be aspired to. But my impression of the YAYA has
been deeply sullied. Sadly, the general public and many
officials are still largely unaware (or even apathetic)
to the mechanics of the system, and continue to look solely
at the prestige and influence the YAYA bestows; the doors
it opens, rather than its now-questionable credibility.
In the meantime, other possibly more deserving but less
populist (or thick-skinned) practitioners of the art(s)
may well go unregarded. But that's less of a tragedy (fame
is after all a fickle mistress) as the dilution (or worse,
ignorance) of artistic standards implied by the endorsement
of less-deserving but louder voices in the field. Who are
we recognising as our most treasured artists?
the Award is no longer an impartial yardstick of
merit, why not call a spade a spade: turn
it into a grant?
the question must go to the body of work that has been produced.
If all we have anywhere are artists of a given quality,
mediocre or middling or marvellous as the case might be
-- then so be it. But if patently better candidates exist
but are disregarded for reasons as banal as publicity and
cronyism, then there is cause for great concern. Surely
the Arts Council has the stated imperative to counter-nominate
candidates (assuming it has an intimate appreciation of
the the artistic fields it purports to oversee).
Without the basic credibility of fair and due meritocratic
process, the YAYA dishonours all its receipients, more and
less deserving tarred alike. Human nature being what it
is, one doubts that the appeal to a loftier ethic would
prevail upon those bent on taking the easy path to knighthood.
Nor is there a pragmatic means of ferreting out self-solicited
possible solution: if the Award is no longer in essence
an impartial yardstick, why not call a spade a spade?
In other words, publicly do away with the myth that the
YAYA is an award meant to reliably and objectively gauge
prevailing artistic merit. Call it the Young Artist Excellence
Grant, open the floor to all who wish to have a go at it,
and let the same rigid standards apply to whoever you choose
to receive the grant. This is what already happens with
the NAC's many grants, bursary and scholarship schemes.
Indeed, a reputable, open-competition grant such as the
Guggenheim fellowship in the US often carries as much if
not more weight than the odd or arbitrary award.
The key difference from the existing YAYA structure: it
would level out the playing field between those who want
and know how to increase their chances of winning the award
(regardless of merit) and those who deserve it (but have
not been nominated). And it would eliminate the moral hazard
of having to quietly nudge a nomination out of an obliging
mate. Let those who feel they need and deserve the grant
openly apply for it themselves. And may the best artist
This would make explicit the de facto way in which the system
currently operates. It may even go some way to bury the impression that our current YAYA artists aren't truly
the best we have in the business, but rather merely the