On 27 October 2012 I was in Manchester trying to make a decision about what I was going to do the following day. I was sat in a cafe I don’t know the name of with a friend drinking milkshakes. There was a competition I could enter, little art obsessed writer that I am quite liked the prospect of being an art critic for a day. The problem was that I’d only found out about the competition the day before and it closed the following day, the only day I actually had free and Labyrinth was showing at the FACT Liverpool cinema. Little David Bowie obsessed me did not quite know what to do. My friend said I should do both, I thought about it and decided that although it would be a push, it was worth a shot.
The competition was the John Moores Art Critics Prize for writing about the John Moores Painting Prize, currently on display in the Walker Art Gallery. I purchased my Labyrinth ticket before I left the house then caught the bus and an hour later I was in Liverpool.
I have a love/hate relationship with modern art, in fact if you catch me in the right mood (usually around midnight), and get me onto the subject, I will rant about how utterly pretentious the ‘modern’ art world can be. I even wrote an essay on it a few years ago after I had a disagreement with a Picasso exhibition. As a result I never really hold out much hope for exhibitions like this, so when I got to the gallery I was reassured to discover that the exhibition lived up to all pre-conceived notions of ‘modern’ art. It wasn’t all bad though and I did find a painting that, not only did I like but I actually really liked. I picked it, had a good stare, made a few mental notes, bought the book and left the gallery.
I went to FACT, bought breakfast, ate breakfast, got my computer out and started writing something vaguely sensible about the painting. Then I got uncomfortable because someone was sat near me and my writerly bubble doesn’t really like anyone to be within a 5 mile radius. Fortunately the time was getting on so I packed up and went to watch Labyrinth. When it finished I came home and finished the piece, left it alone for a while then edited it as best as I could. Trying to do this not long after you’ve written it is really hard, you really do need the luxury of distance to edit or re-draft properly. As satisfied as I could be I sent it off.
I received an acknowledgement email and then, on 12 November 2012 I received another email that advised me I’d been shortlisted. I saw the email in the inbox and clicked on it truly expecting it to contain the word ‘unfortunately’, it didn’t, which is quite a novelty. The overall announcement was today.
We gathered together in the ‘special exhibition’ part of the gallery and listened to the founders and judges and various assorted people whose names I didn’t catch, talk about the importance of each other for approximately 40 minutes. All very nice people I’m sure but please remember that word, that irritating little descriptive word – pretentious. This isn’t my world, I don’t understand how the organisers of something that exhibits and requires talent suddenly become more important than the talent itself. The actual prize giving lasted for approximately 5 minutes, given that there was some general waffle about the decline of ‘art criticism’ and a need to see it re-emerge, it struck me as slightly bizarre that so much time was dedicated to the hard work of the judges, who they were and how long and arduous their task had been in the judging. No-one at any point during the ceremony mentioned so much as the title of the winning piece of writing, nor did they quote from it. And after all, wasn’t that the reason we were all there!
Admittedly it may seem like bitterness because I wasn’t the winner, never truly expected to be given how quickly I’d written it. I believe it might get published, though having gone back through the emails the information is vague so I’m not entirely sure what happens with it.
I’m not a ‘critic’ kind of writer, all the time that I was writing the piece I wanted to take it into some kind of fictional realm; there’s a story in it, lets breathe some life into it. If I write about things I do it because I enjoy it; my previous blog entries on silent film I’ve written because it fascinates me, because I’m a little bit in love with silent German cinema and because it’s research into the world I’m currently trying to write about. I want to share enthusiasm, not simply opinion. So why did I enter – because anything’s worth trying once.
I declined the nibbles laid out for us, I was bored and the University library and a copy of Haunted Screen by Lotte Eisner was calling to me. I also don’t really do socialising because I’m trying to be a massive reclusive writer cliché.
You can read my shortlisted entry here.