In his second Reith lecture, called ‘Beating the Bounds’, Grayson Perry takes us on a whistle-stop tour round the parish bounds of contemporary art. This half hour talk delivered in his provocative yet playful style discusses the question – can anything be called art? It is available to listen to at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03dsk4d.
Grayson Perry explains that through the course of the twentieth century the boundaries of art have expanded rapidly from the time of Duchamp (‘Fountain’ 1917, a found, mass produced urinal) to include pretty much anything. A shark in a tank – if I say so. A sleeping Tilda Swinton in a glass box – if I say so. Well, it is art if Damien Hirst and Cornelia Parker say it is. But, Grayson Perry, himself a conceptual artist, suggests that everything is not art and there are boundaries even if they are porous, ill-defined and flexible. In his entertaining lecture he lists a number of markers to consider. For example, who created the work, where is the work situated both in the physical world and the art historical context, why was the work created and what is the audience engagement and response.
As with his first lecture he embellishes his points with significant and contemporary examples which are fascinating and often amusing. He wants to make contemporary art more accessible and less intimidating to the non-specialist audiences. A more personal insight into Grayson Perry’s own approach to the process of creation was glimpsed during the brief Q&A at the end of the lecture. A member of the audience enquired about the nature of creativity quoting Picasso saying, “All children are artists, the problem is keeping them artists”. Grayson replied that there were good child artists and bad child artists and credited children with relaxed, spontaneous and free expression, but nevertheless it is creative expression without self-awareness. He suggested that to make art the maker cannot be an innocent. However, the very state of being self-conscious brings pressure. He mused, “I can tell you from personal experience, that, the more successful you become the more pressure there is of self-consciousness, and how I would love to be that little child with a box of Lego bricks again.” He suggests that to be a contemporary artist the artist needs to be aware of art’s history, that art works have both aesthetic and financial value in the art world and that these works have audiences. Furthermore once set free from the artist, audiences will ultimately engage with and respond to these creations subjectively. Of his own response to art Grayson said he is old fashioned and that what is important for him is he can go and see and touch ‘the real thing’.
Below I have selected three images. Each is an example of a ‘type’ mentioned by Grayson. Just glance at these three images out of context and decide which one you think is art. Then click on each for more information, but still be subjective – draw your own conclusion!
Sorry, not really a fair question as they should all be excellent versions of their type and they are not. But speaking subjectively (and that is very subjectively) I think two of the three examples are very nearly the best of their type!