Hello Daniel Barnes, what have you been up to since last Winter Pride? Tell us a bit about yourself and your work, and how you came to be involved with Winter Pride Arts Awards?
The last year or so has been really busy. I’ve been writing a lot – working on catalogue essays, reviews and features for Aesthetica, my State magazine column and my gay lifestyle column for Winq. I’ve also been working on curating an exhibition of large-scale photographs by Benedict Redgrove, which opens in April this year. Somewhere in all of this, I have found time to make gentle progress on a book I am working on. I came to be involved with Winter Pride through Simon, who asked me to sit on the panel after I’d interviewed him for an exhibition of his paintings last May. I feel that Winter Pride is a great event and its a real pleasure to be a part of it.
What do you think of the Art Awards brief this year ‘Line of Beauty – exploring sexuality, gender and identity’. Has it been inspired by the changes that have been happening in politics and the media recently regarding LGBTI recognition and rights?
The brief is the perfect blend of classical aesthetics in ‘the line of beauty’ and cutting edge contemporary issues to do with gender, sexuality and identity. There have, even since the last Winter Pride, been very swift and very great changes in the visibility of LGBTI issues in the media, which has fostered much needed open dialogue. It is important for art in general and Winter Pride specifically to acknowledge this, since it is an essential part of the fabric of society, and I think that the inclusive nature of Winter Pride reflects that. Of course we have been inspired by recent developments, but it is important to remember that all that has changed is mainstream visibility and levels of acceptance – beyond that there are still real human beings facing the same very issues concerning identity that have always preoccupied humanity. The brief, I think, captures both the renewed sense of urgency we are facing and the non-negotiable fact that rights are universal, which is the kind of essential truth that art exists to promote.
What are you looking for in entries to fit with this brief?
It is crucial that artists do not feel constrained by the brief, or by anything else for that matter – I see it as a thematic guide, from which anything could arise. I am looking for strong artworks which liberally interpret the theme, fearlessness in the face of convention, and the courage to express oneself. Sure, there are aesthetic considerations, but I am interested in how ideas are manifest in artistic form.
The Arts Award is open to eleven different art forms this year – what to you is art?
That’s a big question! We tend to be quite sloppy in our use of the term ‘art’, as if it has no boundaries, which I, as a philosopher, find a bit distressing. Art, for me, is an amorphous field of activity in which ideas are given aesthetic expression in order to enlighten, entertain and edify the spirit. I come from a school of thought in which ‘art’, insofar as it could be defined at all, is not defined by objects or the qualities of objects, but by the ideas and intentions that inhere in them. That doesn’t mean everything is art, but that – with the right theoretical backdrop – anything could be. So to include eleven different artforms is a realistic acknowledgement of the diversity of artistic practice.
With cuts to funding and art studios looking to continue in the UK, what do you think are the greatest challenges to current artists? Do you think that society still values art and artists?
Society at large seems to value art and artists more than ever before, which can only be for the good of everyone. Art is everywhere, and not accidentally or coincidentally – it is there because people enjoy and demand it. This fact is, however, difficult to square with the further fact that although governments acknowledge the central importance of art they do not want to pay for it, which is why we are seeing an expansion of commercial galleries and private initiatives. That stems from a deeper problem – namely that the state does not value intellectual culture, which is what art is. But so long as society values art, intellectual culture will find a way, as it does in Winter Pride, which is a beacon of hope on a landscape ravaged by funding cuts.
And finally, we are all going to be feeling proud this Winter Pride season, but what else makes you feel proud?
I feel proud of the people who struggled and fought and suffered for the freedoms I enjoy.
Interview by Alice Botham, Winter Pride Art Awards Co-ordinator