Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Wednesday 23 October 2013

In Need of a Lecture

Some weeks prove to be a bit of a challenge.

Least said soonest mended.

I hope that I’m back here for a little while, and, who knows, I might even have a little bit of something to say.

Some of the ways I spend my time when the black dog descends and I fail to be productive is to watch documentaries and tune in to Radio 4. If I simply sit in front of mindless television, I soon withdraw into my head, and that way real madness lies. So, it’s Netflix for non-time-specific stuff and Radio 4 for current affairs.

It was actually the husband who pointed me in the direction of the Reith Lectures on Radio 4.

Grayson Perry with Sue Lawley who introduced
the Reith Lectures on Radio 4
I’m familiar with the annual lectures, named for Sir John Reith, the first director general of the BBC, which were inaugurated in 1948 to enrich the cultural and intellectual life of the nation. A leading figure of the day is invited to give a series of lectures in his or her field, and this year Grayson Perry CBE, the contemporary artist and potter, and winner of the Turner Prize 2003 is talking about “Playing to the Gallery”.

Ever since the YBAs burst onto the scene in the late eighties and early nineties, and began shaking things up, the press has been up in arms about contemporary art. Damien Hirst, Tracy Emin, Sam Taylor Wood, Sarah Lucas and Mark Wallinger, to name but a few, have been praised by the British art establishment and condemned in the tabloid press. They’ve become huge celebrities, seen their stars rise, along with their prices, and are recognised as much by their faces as by their works. 

The British art scene hasn’t been so vibrant, so exciting, probably since that young upstart Turner began to exhibit in the 1790s. The British art scene probably hasn’t been so controversial since Turner in the 1790s either.

Whatever happened to drawing? people ask. That’s not real art! they exclaim. And it’s not just people, it’s critics, too, it’s the press. The arguments about what constitutes art and the loss of skills and techniques, and what should and shouldn’t be taught in art school have been raging for years. I know this, because I was in art school for three years between 2006 and 2009 and my in-laws were both in art school in the fifties. I also take a private art class, I have a number of friends and acquaintances who are practising artists, and the husband and I collect art. I have any number of conversations and even heated discussions about what makes art and who qualifies as an artist, and what constitutes conceptual art and whether it qualifies as 'real' art, and whether skills are enough to give work meaning.

I’ve heard two of the series of four of Grayson Perry’s Reith Lectures so far, and very interesting they are too. He doesn’t shy away from the tougher questions, or from the controversy. He attacks them head-on. He is sharp and funny, and hugely articulate, and he makes his points with conviction. He is also a very lively and unpretentious speaker.

Grayson Perry knows his stuff. He is without any obvious prejudice, and yet he nails his colours to the mast without a whiff of self-consciousness. He also tackles questions from the likes of Nicholas Serota and Will Self with confidence and humour.

The Rosetta Vase 2011 by Grayson Perry
The Reith Lectures are not always such a relaxed affair. I have heard them delivered in a much more formal, dare I say po-faced fashion, but you don’t get any of that with Grayson Perry. You don’t get any bluster and nothing is mealy mouthed. This is a man who knows what he thinks, and he knows that there are opposing views. He is assured and good-humoured and he is confident that he will be heard and understood. He is a kind of Everyman in the art world and it rather suits. him.

If I was you, I’d listen to this. You don’t have to be interested in art to understand what this debate is all about; you’ve been on the periphery of this argument for twenty-five years, if you’ve bought a newspaper during the past couple of decades, and I’m betting that you probably have. I'm also betting that you, too, just like everyone else, come with an opinion, and that it couldn't hurt you to listen to an inside point of view. You never know, you might even be a little bit surprised by some of what Grayson Perry, who is, after all, a very skilled potter, has to say.

1 comment:

  1. Well I have no real 'education' in art, but the wife and I do rather enjoy taking in the odd gallery now and then, and I am always happy to appreciate a beautiful piece on canvas and such. The Louvre was captivating (though we had not nearly enough time there) and the Vatican Museum was similarly stunningly stocked. The national gallery in Edinburgh wasn't half bad too.

    Modern art is a subject I can't even pretend to know anything about or understand, but your article has introgued me enough that I will certainly make the effort to track down these lectures and have a listen - who knows? I may even learn something :)