Earlier this month, Turner Prize winning British ceramicist Grayson Perry done a Reith Lecture for the BBC called Playing to the Gallery. The lecture I listened to was the first of four lectures and was appropriately named Democracy Has A Bad Taste.
His main aim for the lecture was to provide a tool to help understand and appreciate art whoever you are and however much you know about art, and not feel overwhelmed when you walk into a gallery.
His lecture brought up many different and thought provoking points. The first being the idea of quality and who chooses whether art is museum worthy. In other words, who chooses whether a piece of work should go in a gallery or not. Perry states that really it’s down to the right amount of the right people thinking your work is good enough. People must think your artwork is good in order for it to be put in a gallery. He then goes on to talk about the example of David Hockney whose exhibition at the Royal Academy last year was voted the 5th most popular art show in the world that year. In fact a lot of people he spoke to post-exhibition did not enjoy this exhibition at all, clearly the majority of the people who liked it were people who had a strong influence on the art world. This seems to enhance even further the saying “it’s not what you know but who you know”, which in a world of new discoveries and exploits, seems very old fashioned. There still seems to be a hierarchy that exists in the art world.
So then what do people like? Perry went on to talk about a survey proposed by two Russian Artists in the 1990’s, in order to understand what the general public in a variety of countries actually wanted in an art piece. The results of the survey showed that in fact practically every country wanted a landscape mainly in blue tones with a few animals in the foreground. Even though this took place not that far in the past, it makes me wonder that if the survey was retaken today, how would the results differ, if they did differ! Would people in fact want the same art or would they be more open to something different?
So could this be linked to what the general public class as “Beautiful”? Perry discusses the idea of what is “beauty”, concluding that each individual has a different idea of “beauty” that is formed by the world around us. He also says in the art world we can’t use the word “beauty”, he then quotes Marcel Duchamp ” Aesthetic delectation is the danger to be avoided”. Based on this idea of “beauty, Perry claims to have come up with the 21st Century version of the Venetian Secret: The formula for painting the ideal beautiful painting:
1/2 decent-non offensive idea X Number of studio assistants / Ambitious art dealer = Number of Oligarchs and Hedge Fund Managers in the World
This formula does in fact bring us back to the title of the first lecture, Democracy Has A Bad Taste. In a way we see that democracy seems to always be present in art whichever way we look at it. Democracy appears to play a substantial role.
Perry then continues to discuss : Who validates art? Who really decides what is good and what isn’t? Is it the media, the public, the curators, the dealers, collectors, critics? Well according to Perry, all of the above. Each of them plays a role in the validation of a piece of art. However at the top of the validation tree is the curators, they are in some ways the most powerful and nicknamed the “Popes of art”. They seem to be the top of controlling what is considered as ” good enough” to be in a gallery, and what is considered “Museum Quality”: the highest accolade an artist can receive. You also need the support of fellow artists and of course the media which have become a more permanent and significant role for the artist of today compared to ten years ago. The art world is fairly inward looking, although important, the art world doesn’t need the public to be able to strive in itself.
Throughout this lecture, the idea of money is very dominant. Perry discusses the way that a small painting in a commercial gallery sells for less that a large painting in a gallery. He goes on to say it is seldom the case that an artist’s largest piece is his best. At an auction, the best pieces sell for the most amount of money, which seems a lot more fair. But saying this what people consider good pieces of art differ. So really however much you appreciate the piece, depends on how much you will be willing to pay for it. Art has become a luxury, in such a way it falls into the category of having a Ferrari and a Louis Vuitton handbag. Perry says that seriousness also equals value, it is the currency of art. This is linked to the notion of International Art English. This is the English that is used when writing anything to do with art that was “invented” in the 1960’s. However for anyone who is not “fluent” in this language, it makes galleries look daunting, which brings us back to one of the first points that Perry touched on about people feeling overwhelmed walking into galleries.
Perry closes his first lecture with a very interesting quote which really makes me think about art and how I feel when I go into galleries. “You don’t have to like it all” which is what Alan Bennett said should be posted on a banner outside every gallery. This idea that you don’t have to like it all to me is what makes up an exhibition of art work. In some cases, the artist isn’t going to like all of the work he produces, so why should the viewer. If we went into the Musée du Louvre in Paris or the National Gallery in London and came out and said ” I loved every single piece that was in there” we would be lying.
This lecture discussed some important issues in the art world that may not be apparent to someone who isn’t directly associated. I really enjoying and appreciated Perry’s lecture. It opened up my mind to some ideas that I hadn’t thought about before and really made me think about the art world today and how it has grown. I thought the part about what we consider beautiful as a thought provoking point and it made me come back to an idea I looked at last year in high school linked to what we consider beautiful. I was intrigued by the way Perry summarized really clearly how everyone’s views of beauty are completely different and how they are based on our social, political and environmental surroundings. I also loved how he described the art language and how I can relate to the idea that art is becoming more inward and less public as the art language makes it difficult for us to understand what the pieces really represent. For me, I know that I walk into some galleries and don’t understand a word, and this makes it harder to appreciate the work and I can see how people would be insecure going into a gallery thinking they won’t know what it is about so why bother. I would definitely be interested to look at Perry’s work and listen to his other lectures. I think he is a really interesting and bright character who sees the art world in a very unique and in depth way.