I am a huge fan of podcasts, even before lockdown I listened to comedy, art history, and philosophy. Most recently I’ve been playing The BBC4 Reith Lectures, in particular, the 2013 series by Grayson Perry, entitled Playing to the Gallery (a book I have purchased and gifted more than once by the same name https://www.amazon.co.uk/Playing-Gallery-Contemporary-Struggle-Understood/dp/184614857X). This four-part lecture discussing the role and place of art in the global landscape of the 21st century, including the role of art in society, the limits of contemporary art and the idea of how we judge quality.
Having studied Fine art at Portsmouth Polytechnic and subsequently pottery lessons, Perry first exhibited in 1983, and won the Turner Prize 20 years later, his highly decorated vases are classically beautiful but carry a subversive message. A well-known crossdresser he sees himself, according to Sue Lawley’s Reith introduction, as a modern Hogarth or Gillray.
Perry's presentations are articulate, amusing, informative and enlightening, often irreverent, his musings resonate with me, his thoughts fascinate me, amongst them
- His belief that anybody can have and enjoy a life in the arts
- That the arts are a very rewarding vocation
- Popularity versus quality and discusses the survey by Russian artists Komar and Melamid-
- Crippling self-consciousness that inhibits production and the joy of creativity
- The definition of the nature of art and Duchamp’s Fountain; the post historical, post-post modern, ‘end of art’
- Warhol’s Brillo box and the fuzzy boundaries between art and life
- Craft versus high art, outsider artists and going to art college
- Becoming a contemporary artist and finding yourself
- Meaning making and the need to express
- The importance and role of play in creating art
Throughout, Perry cites innumerable artists working across all media. He quotes, amongst others, Leo Tolstoy, W H Auden, Martin Parr, Robert Hughes, Allan Kaprow, Joseph Beuys, Picasso, Raymond Tallis, and Marcel Proust. Attuned, because of my dissertation research, I am interested in his mention during the third lecture, of capitalism and the Spectacle and the commodification of the art world.
In the final lecture Perry speculates about art college, “The skip outside an art college is a repository of the ugliest objects on earth, they’re not just ugly objects, they’re ugly objects trying to be art, a skip is a potpourri of broken dreams but that's how it should be, because an art college is a place to experiment, it is a place of unique freedom, a place to get it wrong, to make mistakes” (min 19) at art college “you're exposed to a kind of sensibility of what it's like to be an artist ... and you are there with fellow travellers on this journey with facilities and tutors on hand and I think it's very moving ... that kind of kindred spirits”
The most pertinent part of these lectures to me, refers to the difficulties in finding your own original style; Perry describes an art career as “a marathon not a sprint”, the following transcription is at minute 22, lecture four .....” and one of the best descriptions of the process is by a guy called Arno Minkkinen, a Finnish photographer, and he said he had this thing called the Helsinki bus station theory; he said when you're leaving art college and you choose your style and what path in the art world you're going to take, it's like going to Helsinki bus station. It has 20 platforms and each platform, maybe 10 buses leave from it, and you choose your bus, and you get on the bus and each stop is a year in your career and maybe after about 3 stops you get off and you kind of walk into a Gallery and you show them your work and the people look at it; ‘reminds me a bit of Martin Parr’ so you think I’m not original, I’m not unique, and you get a taxi back to the bus station and you get on a different bus. What happens is same thing, you get on for three years and the same thing happens, what you need to do says Arnaud McKinnon is stay on the effin bus - it’s a marvellous description of the process”.
I reflect upon this ‘on and off the bus’ metaphor, which describes my practice exactly. As a mature student I am late formalising my interest in fine art, although I have always been interested by and involved in the arts more broadly. So I always feel like a child in a sweet shop, staring, eyes wide at the myriad options and ways to express myself. As for the bus, my late start makes me feel as though I must not miss anything, any opportunity, any line of enquiry and that I do not have the luxury of time, to meander on my journey. This urgency forces me on and off the metaphorical bus with unhelpful frequency. In effect, lockdown, due to Covid-19, has forced me to stay on one bus, to work with the materials I have to hand, in its restriction I find focus and I settle in for the ride as a collage artist......for the time being at least.