A few days ago the BAFTA list came out and there has been, quite rightly, a response to them about the "best film" nominations being from all white male directors (except one). Yesterday the self-celebrating egotist LBC Global broadcaster James O'Brian who's recent book "How To Be Right" also asked a question on his phone in show about the awards for "best podcast" of which he was won and was also an all white middle class male list. The question was
"But what if they actually were the best podcasts".
And here in lies the whole fault with all awards and lists and gongs. The word "best". The first thing to recognise is that best is inapplicable to art; there is no universal criteria that means "good art" the fundamental point of Art is to express the world you see and would like to see through the form that is most you at the apex of the form that people will consume it in. If Art is for social change how can it be comparative in quality? The first failure of these things is that there can be no comparative quality in Art because quality is subjective. If there was a painting prize and Picasso, Brughel, Bacon and Rothko entered who would win? If Shakespeare, Pinnock, Kane and Brecht entered who would be best? How would you even go about comparing those things? And on what basis? Art isn't about being good it's about being honest. Each piece has it's own, intrinsic, value to the society it touches so why try and measure and compare? Why not celebrate all the awesome things.
This, unfortunately, brings us back to another question that's been raised recently about "relevance" verses "excellence" which I wrote about breifly but just to reiterate you can be both Excellent and Relevant. If awards are about celebrating excellence then you, as award givers, are setting the value system which you see excellence through. You are saying to 'be good' and to 'progress' this is what you should aspire to which limits the creativity, insctints, passions, forms, pallats of anyone not like that. This is the second problem with making celebrating a years work about "quality"... it means you are dictating what is good. And the consequence is that that is how we start to see Art. We judge everything by the attributes of those lists. We see films like Booksmart, everyone loves it, it reimagines women in cinema, is a box office success and people go "but it's not an good film". Is it not worth of celebration for it's impact and joy? What's the point in awards if they can't celebrate a wide type of authorship, form, objective, content and impact? We judge life changing films on the unspoken criteria of major award bodies and it stinks.
What I like about the Bruntwood prize, beyond that fact you don't know who wrote the plays, is that there are loads of winners. We celebrate, with it, an array of voices that are different, that speak from different perspectives, that live in different worlds and different forms and they say, at the end, these are a bunch of things we think are awesome... And there is a winner but that's because it's a theatre and they have to produce something. it's not say that play is the best it's just saying that that's the play the theatre would like to engage in. Which is cool. I would much prefer a system where they go "here is a bunch of cool stuff from the year" and here's something that the awarding body wanted to give special celebration to "X" rather than the term "best"... Because that's an antiquated format for celebrating Art.
In Germany every year they have Theatrethreffen where they bring back a bunch of stuff from the year that was awesome at the same time and they do it again. I think that's how we should start to see awards. By all means have lists but make sure they celebrate the diverse nature of the nation we live in. Make a celebration of a years worth of Art not a compeition. Make everyone seen. If you have to give it a special award at the end don't make it "best" make it... A special award that was voted on by the loads of people.
We need to democratize the way we celebrate our culture; we need to stop making Art competative and instead celebrate the diverse stories, forms, and objectives we're having all the time. That's how we start making Art useful and we drive out the ego cunts. Art for the people; not for the powerful.