Part 1. Project 1. Reith Lectures – Grayson Perry

I was instructed to listen to at least one of and take notes on the Reith Grayson Perry lectures.

I found the transcripts online which proved to be very useful!

Reith Lectures – Tate Modern. (2013) Playing to the Gallery: Democracy has bad taste. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/profiles/2dx4W4RjBBQ2JG2tqPbTl7r/how-to-watch-and-listen : (Accessed on 17 July 2019)

My notes on – Lecture One. Playing to the Gallery: Democracy Has Bad Taste

Contemporary art, once a bit of an eccentric niche, has gone mainstream, it’s all around us. A lot of people still aren’t comfortable with the idea of modern art and need more of a frame of reference with which to approach it which is what Grayson Perry (GP) wished to address.

There is a somewhat backward relationship between what we are told is good and what is actually popular. What is popular is different again to what we think we want, this was demonstrated by the experimentation of Komar and Melanie in the 1990’s. Currently something is only judged to be ‘of quality’ if deemed so by a range of different people from the artists peers to critics and dealers. After these inspections have taken place we are allowed to approach the ‘art’ knowing that this must be good. To me that defies the whole point of art, what’s right for one person is not right for another, if you happen to be in a minority of people for liking something then why should this mean that it is worth less, if, for you, it still takes your breath away?

Art takes itself very seriously as GP discovered when he was asked if he was a loveable character or a serious artist. The impression that the art world gives off is that you have to be high brow or your work is not worth as much, why? One example that springs to my mind is Banksy, an artist who regularly makes political statments through the use of representational elements in a very contemporary medium, admittedly a little illegally. His paintings are protected and auctioned for thousands which implies that he has passed the inspection phase that GP mentions by the curators, collectors and peers. Still though I do not see him feted in the art world for his talent, from what I have seen so far he seems to be an artist recognised and celebrated by the people rather than the experts.

This made me think twice about the title that GP gave this initial lecture. ‘Democracy has Bad Taste’. Does he mean that we, the great unwashed, have got no taste in what is art and what is not? Quite possibly it is instead a reference to the fact that what is deemed to be good by the experts can be at odds with what is actually popular. GP is a bit of an enigma in this interview both poking fun at the art worlds seriousness whilst simultaneously shuddering at the thought of fashionable people deciding that they like his art so I’m not sure which definition he would have been leaning towards.

In 1998 I watched the Turner Prize as recommended by my Art Teacher at the time. The winner that year was a man called Chris Ofili who uses a lot of elephant dung in his work to either adorn or support his paintings. Elephant dung. Now this guy must be classed as a good artist, he attended the Chelsea School of Art followed by the Royal College of Art in which time he was awarded a travelling scholarship around Zimbabwe (https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/turner-prize-1998/turner-prize-1998-artists-chris-ofili Accessed 20/02/19) . On top of all that, he didn’t pull that Turner prize out of a cereal packet, he won it fair and square. It is the ‘how!?’ that blows my mind.

He’s attached poo to the painting of a black woman. If anybody else on the planet did that right now there would be outpourings of accusations of either racism or gender inequality. On top of that the painting doesn’t even look that good, to me, but as I’m sure is coming across I am one of the Great Unwashed who has no ‘taste’ in art and thinks Banksy is an inspiration. If that means I never have to look at a painting covered in elephant poo and look for deep significance within it then I’m ok with that to be honest!

Lecture Two. Playing to the Gallery: Beating the Bounds

Within this lecture GP sets out a criteria to help people decide whether or not something is art.

He also mentions an artist called Marcel Duchamp who brought a urinal into an independent art gallery in 1917 . Duchamp (GP says) believed that he could just point at something and say “That’s art”. I can’t believe that there was not a single person there who said to him “No mate, that is a urinal”, writing your name on something does not make it special. GP mentions further examples such as an artist (Robert Rauschenberg) who was asked to paint a portrait to which he wrote a response claiming an approximation of “this is a portrait if I say it is”, and this GP alleges is another work of art. No Mr Perry, that is someone being a tit.

As if his examples could not get any more hair-pullingly frustrating for their utter lack of hand skill, once again we are drawn back to excrement. It seems in 1961 an artist called Piero Manzoni canned his own faeces and sold them for their equivalent weight in gold.

*head in hands*

I listened to GP’s different litmus tests of whether or not something is a piece of art and came to the conclusion that he is actually one of the establishment of people he claims to poke fun at from afar.

Only one thing he mentioned in his lecture had any resonance with me. It was something he was told by Charlie Gere, Professor of Media Theory and History at Lancaster University. GP asked him ‘Can you give me a definition when I would know I was looking at a piece of web art rather than just an interesting website’. The reply was ‘you know it might be art rather than just an interesting website when it has the grip of porn without the possibility of consummation or a happy ending’. Now, ignoring the (once again) overly sordid frame of reference and applying it to art in general, that is the closest definition that I have found so far that correlates with my own opinion of what is and is not art.

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