The Uses of Reason in Critical Judgement: Commentaries on the Turner Prize

Gillon, Leslie orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-2428-1866 (2016) The Uses of Reason in Critical Judgement: Commentaries on the Turner Prize. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Through an analysis of critical reviews and other commentaries on the annual Turner Prize shortlist exhibitions, I examine a philosophical problem which has put into question the rational basis for evaluation in art criticism: the lack of any agreed criteria for the evaluation of artworks. This problem has been most often addressed within philosophical aesthetics through two contrasting approaches: the attempt to formulate evaluative criteria, and the denial that such criteria are either possible or necessary. My response to this meta-critical issue is an interdisciplinary study, in the form of an analysis of published commentaries on the Turner Prize, that examines theories of critical evaluation against an empirical investigation of actual critical practice.
The Turner Prize has a number of advantages as a case study. Extensive media coverage of the competition means that it is possible to study a wide range of sources intended for the art-going public, that contain a large body of examples of comparative critical evaluation, and as an annual event it offers the opportunity for both synchronic and diachronic analyses. Moreover, the regular presence of artists whose work has been characterised as ‘conceptual, ensures that many of the commentaries focus on an area of art that presents a particular challenge to aesthetic theory and critical practice. In order to develop a critique of criteria based approaches, the contrasting approaches to art criticism taken by Noel Carroll and Frank Sibley are explored within an analysis of the critical reasons given to justify evaluations of Turner Prize exhibits. Suggestions are offered for ways of developing alternative approaches, drawing upon theories of the aesthetic developed by Suzanne Langer and Kendall Walton.

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