Monday, October 16, 2006

The downside of prizes ...

... Do awards like the Man Booker trivialise literature? (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

The fact is, there is no necessary relation between such prizes and the literary merit of the works honored. The prize is arrived at by a consensus among experts - and readers of this blog know that I am skeptical of experts. Reliance on them is a reliance on authority - which has its uses, but is not without its perils. If you go to the Phillips Collection in Washington, the original collection, gathered by Duncan Phillips and on display in the main part of the museum (which was his home), is uniquely impressive, a true collector's collection. Among the more interesting items are some abstract landscapes by Augustus Tack. Once you get to the new wing and the works chosen by curators - in other words, works the current experts approve of - the drop off in quality is palpable. There is no character to what is on display there. That part of the collection does not cohere. It's committee work. Luckily for Augustus Tack, Duncan Phillips had a sharper eye and better taste than any committee. At left, is an untitled work by Tack.

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