ARTYFACTS: Grayson Perry – ramblings of a rip-off celeb

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Grayson Perry – ramblings of a rip-off celeb

Listened to all four of Perry’s Reith Lectures and got angrier and angrier. His ramblings were derivative and rarely rose above the level of anecdote and memoir. Autobiography is not analysis. Personal musings would have been fine, as he can spin a tale and shape an anecdote. But to simply parrot a theory, which he stole from someone else, was unpleasant, especially when that person actually died during his lecture series, without Grayson even mentioning the fact. That was unforgivable.
Arthur Danto
Let me explain. Arthur Danto is one of the most significant figures in 20th century philosophy of art, well known for his ‘Institutional’ theory of art which defines art as something decided by a circle of practice, namely curators, critics, collectors, dealers, gallery owners and so on. Grayson unashamedly downloaded and replayed the whole theory without acknowledging the originator. I wonder how he’d like it if one of his pots was copied down to the last detail, mass produced and sold on. I fully understand that the lectures were recorded before Danto's death, but the last two were broadcast after his death and some sort of acknowledgement should have been made.
Of course, he hadn’t really read his Danto or he would have presented a more sophisticated version of the theory, which is open to the obvious criticism that, if you say that art is simply the views expressed by a circle of experts, that simply begs the question of what they define as good art. It simply displaces the question, it doesn’t give any answers. In the end he was full of dead-ends, such as “Anything can be art but not everything is art” – as vacuous a statement as I’ve ever heard on the subject. Danto gave us a detailed analysis in books such as Beyond the Brillo Box, showing that art had freed itself from the tyranny of history and entered an era of pluralism.
Caught out
The fundamental problem is that Grayson’s a player in a game that many despise, an art world ruled by a small clique, driven by money and fame. The suspicion is that the art has become secondary to their objectives. Perry got nowhere near examining these criticisms, as he’s become part of the problem. His response to serious criticism is, no doubt, ‘call my agent’
A sign of his shallowness was him being caught out by the much smarter Will Self who challenged him on the technological reproducibility of art, something he pretended to accept, but rejected later in the series, contradicting himself. The only moment of revelation came in Lecture 3, when he discussed the fact that technology was often ahead of art and that art was slow in catching up. That was a theme worth exploring but no, off he went again with his personal musings.
Artist as R4 celeb
I like his work and admire the way he brought the underrated art of ceramics into modern art but he’s become that worst form of ‘celeb’ - the BBC and Radio 4 celeb. Sue Lawley did the usual fawning introductions and it didn’t surprise me that he opened his Reith lectures with a reference to The Archers. Oh how the BBC loves to create a National Treasure, especially a cross-dresser, it’s so transgressive dear! To be honest, I find the cross-dressing thing rather creepy, predictable and tediously narcissistic. As for the talks (I’m reluctant to call them lectures) he reminded me his namesake, Larry Grayson, playing for camp laughs.

My local museum in Brighton, yes ‘museum’, has a Grayson Perry. It’s a beautiful object but it’s locked away in a cupboard. This is what happens when ‘curators’ are in charge of art. It becomes commoditised, curated and used as an object in a game that many dislike.


Blogger Paul Hollins said...

Thank you for writing your critique of Perry's Reith lectures or musings if you prefer.

From an academic perspective I can't criticise your critique of his musings and yes he should have at least referenced Danto but, he did reference many art historians within the lecture and has celebrated influence in all his artisitc work.

I have to say ,that I thoroughly enjoyed the lectures and in many (most) respects I feel they satisfied ,fully, the original intent of the lectures in that they clearly advance public understanding and debate (evidenced by your posting). Yes it did lack sophistication of substantiated argument and was full of contradiction but isn't art, isn't life, aren't artists aren't we all ?

Yes Perry is a contemporary celebrity , he is "colourful" and engaging but in my humble opinion a quite brilliant practising artist. I would (contentiously I know) argue that he is Britain's greatest living artist. He makes no personal claim to be an academic and readily acknowledges,as he did during the course of his lecture his position as a beneficiary of the system or, as you say, a "player in the game"

His exhibition at the British museum last year was in my view a highlight of contemporary British art over the last decade. I was, in attending ,witnessing an artist at the height of their creative power, one who within the exhibition clearly recognised,referenced indeed celebrated his influences and inspiration.

He is engaging and accessible and was a perfect choice for the lecture. Even my father who has previously expressed no interest whatsoever in art discussed the lecture with me.

On another point for me Art, in the developed world, at least has always been comoditised , todays "obscene" price for Bacon's work is further evidence of this comodification . The "problem" has always been there ,Nothing new ... its not of Perry's making and he didn't shy away from this in his lecture

Perry did resort to anecdote and "insider"personal musings as "insider" he is well positioned to comment. He was objective, self deprecating which added to the strength of message of a practising insider and placed art firmly on the public agenda . Perhaps next year a more academic lecture might serve counter balance Perry's perspective...

12:40 pm  

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