Mention the Turner Prize and you are likely to be greeted with knowing nods, defensive explanations or a snarl of disapproval. In fact there's a whole new movement for those who probably regarded Tracey Emin's mucky (is that a loaded term?) bed as the last phase in the degradation of contemporary art.
Well, there weren't any "Stuckists" - that's the term, proudly worn, by those who prefer old-fashioned skills such as drawing - in evidence when I visited Tate Britain this week. But then, there wasn't anything too shocking either, unless you take exception to Tomoko Takahashi's carefully arranged heaps of rubbish, or "found objects".
The notion that anything becomes art if an artist makes it so could not be more clearly exemplified than in this room with its delineated areas bulging with road signs, bits of technology, toy vehicles, board games and office furniture. Is the "Please do not touch" card on the draught boards part of the installation? Do the plants growing out of a desk drawer say something about a worker's need to escape? Are the higgledy-piggledy direction signs a comment on western society's rush and muddle? Maybe. The official line is that the display is about "the tension between order and chaos". There is, oddly, something restful about it all; a team of helpers has taken such trouble to place every last bollard, photocopier and steering wheel in an exact position, and the whole room is a wonderful jumble of colour, like a satirical version of an expensive toy department at Christmas.
The work of the other three exhibitors is comparatively conventional. Glenn Brown plunders and transforms the work of other artists. "The Tragic Conversion of Salvador Dal! (after John Martin)", for instance, mixes Martin's 19th century vision of the apocalypse with science fiction. The result is what appears to be a nightmare in a volcano with a futuristic domed city in the far distance. The "tragedy" is Dal!'s conversion to Catholicism, which, Brown believes, marked the demise of his painting.
Wolfgang Tillmans's photographs - of everything from a window box to city views and close-ups of body parts - exhibit his questioning of conventional beauty. But Michael Raedecker would get my vote for the prize. His strange imaginary dun-coloured landscapes, often using threads to give a three-dimensional effect, are other-worldly and atmospheric, but show the influence of the real world of decay and alienation.
In the final room an instructive video examines the artists, their work and philosophy. In the months to come, there will be a programme of talks by and about the artists and the Turner Prize, a course on Tuesdays and, on November 25, anyone can join a non-stop, day-long game of Patience, cards and instructions provided. Turner Prize events will take place in Southampton on November 22 (02380 632601) and Manchester on November 25 (0161 200 1500) and, on November 28, Channel 4, sponsor of the prize, will broadcast a live programme from the Tate hostd by Matthew Collings. The exhibition runs until January 14. Information: 020 7887 8000.
Art appears to be more decorous at the British Museum in Gladiators and Caesars: the power of spectacle in Ancient Rome, but it was executed in the context of controlling the masses with, in the words of the satirist Juvenal, "bread and circuses". The theatre of the time, which is accorded a small section, was often daringly subversive and could be dangerous for actors making fun of authority, but they did not regularly risk their lives. That was a matter for gladiators and, to a lesser extent, the charioteers who raced around the Circus Maximus to entertain 200,000 people at a time. You won't meet Russell Crowe at the BM, although he does appear in a clip from Gladiator, but there are some splendid examples of the armour and weapons used by the different kinds of gladiator - the heavily armed murmillo, thraex and secutor and the more lightly armed retiarius, who wielded a net. Gladiators were highly trained and valuable and not lightly sent to their deaths by their owners. Only dispensable prisoners and felons were likely to be thrown to beasts. For information about the teachers' evening on November 23 and other events: 020 7323 85118854; www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk Jonathan Dove's The Palace in the Sky is a community opera about a very contemporary conflict, although it echoes the Bible story of the Tower of Babel. Four hundred Hackney residents, including dozens of young people and involving school choirs, join professional singers to tell the story of a tycoon's plan to build a giant skyscraper, and the opposition to this of Jericho, a retired gangster whose home has been demolished. Danielle Warren (14) from Cardinal Pole school and Angela Amoateng (15) from Our Ladies Convent, Stamford Hill, both play Street Kids, part of a group of 20 or more who are "the glue that holds things together", as Danielle puts it. Angela is disappointed that so many boys "shied away", but like Danielle, she is delighted to have been introduced to opera.
This is an English National Opera Baylis Programme project, with backing from Hackney, the Standards Fund for Music and private sponsors. Performances are tonight, tomorrow and Sunday at the Hackney Empire. Tickets: 020 8985 2424 Meanwhile, in Hampshire, the search is on for Billy Elliots (although girls are not excluded). The dance company DansConnect will offer pupils aged 10 to 14 in various schools the chance to work with professionals in dance inspired by The Avengers and James Bond films. Scott Ambler of Adventures in Motion Pictures is one of the dancers involved in creating new work for young people to be performed next spring. Information: 01962 846025.
I was wrong-footed on October 20. Apologies if you have had problems contacting the Campaign for Drawing. The correct email address is: artconnectukgateway.net, but the organisers would prefer those interested to view their website: www.linst.ac.ukdrawingpower.