The Reith Lectures – Grayson Perry on ‘Art’

This morning the BBC broadcast the first of this year’s Reith Lectures on Radio 4. Traditionally, the Reith Lectures are given by a well-known and leading figure in a specific field tackling a prominent and contemporary issue within that field. There is an extensive archive of past series of lectures available on the BBC website.

This year’s series, “Playing to the Gallery”, is given by the Turner Prize winning artist Grayson Perry. (A previous post of mine discusses his ‘Hogarthian’ tapestry series.)

As an artist making contemporary pieces that carry subversive messages Grayson Perry uses the traditional craft forms of pottery or tapestry. His work is both popular and highly respected. Proposed with some glee as well as seriousness, he sets out to answer the significant question of who validates art. It is the theme for his first lecture called, “Democracy Has Bad Taste”. The lecture is a half hour talk with a 15 minute Q&A at the end. It is an easy listen as Grayson Perry fluently and amusingly covers the interrelationship between the different groups, artists, dealers, collectors, curators, media commentators and the public that make up the received consensus.

During the lecture he mentions painting and sculpture, but also discusses the significance of ‘found’ art (objet trouvé – Marcel Duchamp) and also the rise of performance art. He admits to bringing an autobiographical overview to the questions he poses and divulges his preference as a school boy for Victorian Narrative art such as works by Frith.

Derby Day - Frith
Derby Day – William Powell Frith, RA, 1858. Original in Tate Gallery, London.

But a surprising insight into what Grayson Perry personally values now as ‘great art’ was revealed in the Q&A when Art Historian and Tate Trustee, David Ekserdjian, asked, “If we could give you as a present, a work of art, what would you take?” Interestingly, he chose a sixteenth-century painting, Bruegel’s ‘Procession to Calvary’.

Bruegel Brueghel Procession to Calvary
The Procession to Calvary – Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1564)
Oil on oak panel
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
The Web Gallery of Art

Grayson then quipped, “You could probably get a tea towel of it, it’s that popular!”
Actually, the first image on my Google search for Bruegel’s ‘The Procession to Calvery’ 1564, was not a tea towel, but a T shirt for $24.99.

Bruegel  art t shirt
Not a tea towel but a T shirt!

The full lecture “Democracy Has Bad Taste” is available for one year.

Little note – I have to admit to being especially interested when I read reports of Grayson Perry discussing various aspects of his young life in Essex. He spent some time living in a small village called Bicknacre (hence the name of the pot – top right) and I grew up in Bicknacre’s adjoining village, Danbury.

Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

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