Almost at the end of the last of his four Reith lectures Playing to the Gallery on BBC Channel 4 in 2013, the British artist Grayson Perry says:
For me art is refuge, a place inside my head where I can go on my own and process the world and its complexities, it’s an inner shed in which I can lose myself
(BBC, 2013, 1)
I must confess that these simple, almost humble words did surprise me coming from an artist as witty, self-ironic and disenchanted as Grayson Perry, but they sound very true. And on me, at the beginning of this learning journey in Creative Arts, they also have a reassuring effect because in this puzzling, very complex and at times bewildering and also a bit intimidating world of contemporary art it’s still possible to say something so disarmingly personal.
Then of course there are all those difficult questions he asks, that I jotted down as I was listening to him:
What is art actually? What are the boundaries of art? What is quality in art, how might we judge it, who says that something is art and does it really matter? Can art still shock us? Has art a role? How do you become an artist today?
Perry gives many clever hints, suggests some possible answers, some answers lead to other questions, makes jokes and is very entertaining, also. He takes sides, though, he has very personal views, he says what he thinks of artists and art movements, he’s never neutral or too poised. And it’s obvious that art to him is very serious business, not play.
I wrote down abundant notes from his lectures and I shall keep these in mind as I progress through this course. A selection from my scribbles.
From the first lecture Democracy has Bad Taste (BBC, 2013, 1)
Marcel Duchamp … he said aesthetic delectation is the danger to be avoided … Proust said something to the effect that we only see beauty when we’re looking through an ornate gold frame, because beauty is very much about familiarity and it’s a reinforcing an idea we have already … Because our idea of beauty is constructed you know by family, friends, education, nationality, race, religion, politics, all these things make our idea of beauty
the self-consciousness is the very DNA of modernism, I mean modernism really, the whole of modernism, the last hundred years of art leading up to say the 1970s
the nearest thing we have to an empirical measure of art is the market
we live in an era where everything can be art, not everything is art
you don’t have to like it all
From the second lecture Beating the Bounds (BBC, 2013, 2)
In many ways I am a kind of conceptual artist, using traditional media like pottery, tapestry …
Arthur Danto, a philosopher, said an artwork is about something, has a point of view, a style, and it uses rhetorical ellipsis – that is, it engages the audience to fill in the gaps … art needs an art-historical context
today self-consciousness is in the DNA of contemporary art … you can’t be an innocent in the art world, you can’t be a child
From the third lecture Nice Rebellion, Welcome in! (BBC, 2013, 3)
to be outside the boundaries is not going to happen anymore
outrage has become domesticated
detached irony has become a default mode of our time in the art world
in the past artists were the true innovators of technology … now we chase technology instead of leading the innovation … technology in many ways is more cutting edge than art
we live in an age of creative capital, the skills learnt are incredibly useful in the modern creative economy
there is no avant-garde anymore, there are just multiple sites all over the world at different levels, in different places,using different media for experimentation … most of it is rubbish, but that was ever thus, and some of it is absolutely amazing
From the fourth lecture I Found Myself in the Art World (BBC, 2013, 4)
art primary role is meaning making
it’s very very deep this need to express one-self
art college is a place to make it wrong, to make mistakes … what you pick up at college is understanding the time and place you are as an artist … the best art takes quite a while to find their voice, art is a marathon not a spring … coolness is the enemy of creativity
for me art is refuge, a place inside my head where I can go on my own and process the world and its complexities, it’s an inner shed in which I can lose myself
art, it’s a serious business!
For the time being I’m happy to know that these questions and answers are there for me to consider and I quietly look at them, turn them in my mind, connect them with other things and try to be alert. I’m sure I shall come back many times to these issues throughout my Course. From what I am reading and listening in these days it has already dawned on me that to these questions there may be no easy answers, that answers may be multiple and self contradictory at best or perhaps not even available. Or that every answer might be true. Or that they could depend on ‘time’ and ‘place’, the two fundamental themes around which Creative Arts Today revolve. Mmmhhh a lot of food for thought!
(1) BBC Radio 4 (2013) The Reith Lectures, Grayson Perry: Playing to the Gallery: 2013 1 [online] 15.10.13. At: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03969vt (accessed on 27.07.16)
(2) BBC Radio 4 (2013) The Reith Lectures, Grayson Perry: Playing to the Gallery: 2013 2 [online] 22.10.13. At: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03969vt (accessed on 28.07.16)
(3) BBC Radio 4 (2013) The Reith Lectures, Grayson Perry: Playing to the Gallery: 2013 3 [online] 29.10.13. At: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03969vt (accessed on 27.07.16)
(4) BBC Radio 4 (2013) The Reith Lectures, Grayson Perry: Playing to the Gallery: 2013 4 [online] 05.11.13. At: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03969vt (accessed on 27.07.16)