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Why isn't there a Nobel Prize for the arts?

October 9, 2008 | 12:39 pm

Nobel We're in the thick of Nobel Prize season -- the Oscars of the global intelligentsia, if you will --  and something has got us seriously miffed. To put it bluntly: Why isn't there a Nobel Prize for the arts?

It's an old question and one that we at Culture Monster think should be asked more often. If the Nobel honchos in Stockholm can award novelists, poets and playwrights in its literature category, why can't they create a separate award (or awards) for visual artists, architects or music composers? What makes a writer more Nobel-worthy than any other creative type?

The obvious pro to such a hypothetical prize would be greater exposure for artists from under-represented parts of the world, like Africa and Latin America. The Nobel committees are known for plucking laureates from, shall we say, non-superpower nations whose achievements are frequently overlooked, if not totally ignored, by the English-speaking world.

Another pro: considering how much press coverage each Nobel prize receives, wouldn't the arts in general benefit from the Nobel touch? Media exposure, blessing and curse that it is, can bring the arts to the attention of people who normally wouldn't give a hoot about classical music or architecture.

But as with all awards, there is such a thing as too much -- as the late Paul Newman called it -- "honorrhea." The art world certainly doesn't lack international prizes and another medal on top of everything else could create an awards glut -- something we in Hollywood know all too well.

It would also be naive of us to hold the Nobel Prize as some kind of beacon of purity. Like any other award, the Nobels aren't immune to internal politics and childish turf wars.

As Edward Albee recently told NPR: "All prizes are peculiar. There's politics in everything, and some judges just don't know what they're doing."

Still, in our seemingly endless era of cultural austerity and cutbacks, any opportunity for the arts to get more public exposure can only be a good thing, no?

— David Ng

Photo credit: Olivier Morin / AFP/Getty Images

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