Dropping a Dime on the Questionable World of Art Prizes

One of my favorite outdated slang phrases is “drop a dime,” which alludes to the days when a phone call still cost 10 cents and means to tell the truth about someone or something—essentially, to call them out. Last April, controversial Australian artist Richard Bell admitted that he picked the winner of the Sir John Sulman Prize, Australia’s most prestigious art prize since 1936, by tossing a coin onto a floor covered with artists’ names. The lucky coin landed on Peter Smeeth’s name, making The Artist’s Fate the winning submission. Bell (shown above, holding the now infamous coin) still refuses to apologize, claiming that “[m]ost artists know what these prizes are about. They’ve got very little to do with art and much more to do with the institution.” Ever the agent provocateur, Bell dropped a dime on the reality of art prizes with his coin stunt and started a new discussion of what the fate of art prizes should be.


Clearly a poor choice for solo judge in retrospect, Bell probably shouldn’t have been on any list of judge candidates for an establishment-supported art prize. When Bell won the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award in 2003 for Scientia E Metaphysica (Bell's Theorem), which bore the motto “Aboriginal Art—It’s a White Thing” (the title of an essay by Bell found here), he accepted the award while wearing a shirt saying “White Girls Can’t Hump.” (The shirt in the photo above reads in full: “Danger: Intelligent Black Man.)

In Bell’s essay on Aboriginal art, which he promises to be “conversational, playful, serious, tongue in cheek, moralistic, tolerant, sermonistic and informative,” Bell argues that “Aboriginal Art has become a product of the times. A commodity. The result of a concerted and sustained marketing strategy, albeit, one that has been loose and uncoordinated. There is no Aboriginal Art Industry. There is, however, an industry that caters for Aboriginal Art.” Similarly, Bell feels that the world of art prizes has become a kind of commodity in which the winner (and his or her gallery) finds instant fame and monetary success. “Like every prize, it's a lottery,” Bell said in his defense. “'I couldn't make up my mind so I did it by lottery.” Bell sees little fairness in the art prize system, so he simply inserted his own brand of antiestablishment randomness. In Bell’s eyes, all art prize judges pick based on some agenda, so he employed his own anti-agenda agenda in the form of a coin.

From Britain’s Turner Prize to the Golden Lions of the Venice Biennale, art prizes raise many more questions than they answer. As far back as the Lenaia of the ancient Greeks, in which Aristophanes, Sophocles, and other playwrights vied for top honors, a few have chosen to decide for the many what art is the best. Shut out of the awards doled out at the official Paris Salon, the artists known to us as the Impressionists created their own forum—the Salon des Refusés—to compete amongst themselves. Conservative establishments always hoped to hold back the tide of innovation in art by choking off all chances of publicity and profit—the immediate results of prizes bestowed. By tossing that coin onto the floor, Bell tossed something bigger into the eye of the tastemakers of the art world who dangle such prizes as a carrot to reward safe art and keep provocative art in check. Now that Bell’s dropped his dime, it’s up to the public to pick it up.

Drill, Baby, Drill: What will we look for when we mine on Mars?

It's unlikely that there's anything on the planet that is worth the cost of shipping it back

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  • In the second season of National Geographic Channel's MARS (premiering tonight, 11/12/18,) privatized miners on the red planet clash with a colony of international scientists
  • Privatized mining on both Mars and the Moon is likely to occur in the next century
  • The cost of returning mined materials from Space to the Earth will probably be too high to create a self-sustaining industry, but the resources may have other uses at their origin points

Want to go to Mars? It will cost you. In 2016, SpaceX founder Elon Musk estimated that manned missions to the planet may cost approximately $10 billion per person. As with any expensive endeavor, it is inevitable that sufficient returns on investment will be needed in order to sustain human presence on Mars. So, what's underneath all that red dust?

Mining Technology reported in 2017 that "there are areas [on Mars], especially large igneous provinces, volcanoes and impact craters that hold significant potential for nickel, copper, iron, titanium, platinum group elements and more."

Were a SpaceX-like company to establish a commercial mining presence on the planet, digging up these materials will be sure to provoke a fraught debate over environmental preservation in space, Martian land rights, and the slew of microbial unknowns which Martian soil may bring.

In National Geographic Channel's genre-bending narrative-docuseries, MARS, (the second season premieres tonight, November 12th, 9 pm ET / 8 pm CT) this dynamic is explored as astronauts from an international scientific coalition go head-to-head with industrial miners looking to exploit the planet's resources.

Given the rate of consumption of minerals on Earth, there is plenty of reason to believe that there will be demand for such an operation.

"Almost all of the easily mined gold, silver, copper, tin, zinc, antimony, and phosphorus we can mine on Earth may be gone within one hundred years" writes Stephen Petranek, author of How We'll Live on Mars, which Nat Geo's MARS is based on. That grim scenario will require either a massive rethinking of how we consume metals on earth, or supplementation from another source.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, told Petranek that it's unlikely that even if all of Earth's metals were exhausted, it is unlikely that Martian materials could become an economically feasible supplement due to the high cost of fuel required to return the materials to Earth. "Anything transported with atoms would have to be incredibly valuable on a weight basis."

Actually, we've already done some of this kind of resource extraction. During NASA's Apollo missions to the Moon, astronauts used simple steel tools to collect about 842 pounds of moon rocks over six missions. Due to the high cost of those missions, the Moon rocks are now highly valuable on Earth.


Moon rock on display at US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL (Big Think/Matt Carlstrom)

In 1973, NASA valuated moon rocks at $50,800 per gram –– or over $300,000 today when adjusted for inflation. That figure doesn't reflect the value of the natural resources within the rock, but rather the cost of their extraction.

Assuming that Martian mining would be done with the purpose of bringing materials back to Earth, the cost of any materials mined from Mars would need to include both the cost of the extraction and the value of the materials themselves. Factoring in the price of fuel and the difficulties of returning a Martian lander to Earth, this figure may be entirely cost prohibitive.

What seems more likely, says Musk, is for the Martian resources to stay on the Red Planet to be used for construction and manufacturing within manned colonies, or to be used to support further mining missions of the mineral-rich asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

At the very least, mining on Mars has already produced great entertainment value on Earth: tune into Season 2 of MARS on National Geographic Channel.

How humans evolved to live in the cold

Humans evolved to live in the cold through a number of environmental and genetic factors.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
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  • According to some relatively new research, many of our early human cousins preceded Homo sapien migrations north by hundreds of thousands or even millions of years.
  • Cross-breeding with other ancient hominids gave some subsets of human population the genes to contend and thrive in colder and harsher climates.
  • Behavioral and dietary changes also helped humans adapt to cold climates.
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Study: The effects of online trolling on authors, publications

A study started out trying to see the effect of sexist attacks on women authors, but it found something deeper.

Maxpixel
Surprising Science
  • It's well known that abusive comments online happen to women more than men
  • Such comments caused a "significant effect for the abusive comment on author credibility and intention to seek news from the author and outlet in the future"
  • Some news organizations already heavily moderate or even ban comments entirely; this should underscore that effort
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