A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Sunday, 20 October 2013

You've Got To Work At It A Bit


Grayson Perry.
Andrew Anthony: Can anyone appreciate art?

Grayson Perry: Well, not instantly. That's the mistake people make, that you're going to walk into an art gallery and have a fantastic time the first time. Same as a lot of culture — classical music, ballet, literature — you've got to work at it a bit. Get used to the language and the conventions and history. I've been looking at art all my life and there are still artists I don't feel up to liking yet.

The Observer Sunday 13 October 2013


Perry as Claire, his female alter-ego.
Potter and cross-dresser Grayson Perry gave the first of his four Reith Lectures (transcript here) last week to justified acclaim. Entitled Democracy Has Bad Taste, I found it enormously enjoyable, entertaining and thought-provoking. He's sharp and smart, and some parts of his talk were laugh-out-loud funny. As he replied, when asked by the press (after winning the Turner Prize) if he was a lovable character or a serious artist: 'Can't I be both?' And there's no doubt that Grayson is both witty and seriously artistic too.

I was particularly struck by a point he made in the lecture, a point he repeated in the interview with The Observer quoted above: that often you can't appreciate a work of art immediately. Sometimes you do, naturally; but many works of art you have to reconsider, reevaluate, revisit. 'You have to work at it a bit', as he says, and familiarise yourself with 'the language and the conventions and history'. How true this is. Why should we expect a serious work of art to spill its secrets as easily as the latest episode of EastEnders or a seaside picture postcard or the latest Lady Gaga single? But, of course, we all want things so quickly and effortlessly these days. If we don't 'get it' at once, we're on to the next thing, the next tweet or text, the next 'clever' Facebook comment, the next Spotify song, the next web image.

To spend quality time in an art gallery (not rushing round, but concentrating perhaps on just a few pieces), to sit in a concert hall and really absorb the music, to read a book leisurely but with active participation, to do a little research before seeing that Shakespeare play or entering that latest exhibition — yes, all this requires a little bit of work, but the rewards will always repay the effort.

(Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)   

12 comments:

George said...

This is an insightful post, Robert, and I agree entirely with Grayson Perry's observation that one has to work with art to fully appreciate its depth and value. It's one area in life in which we should be skeptical of first impressions. More often than not, we need to turn off the judgment switch and wait patiently for art to speak to us. The key, I think, is to always be open to discovery. That's the way good art is both created and appreciated.

Dominic Rivron said...

It was good, wasn't it? He was on "Start the Week", too.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, George. I agree with you.

And Dominic — I heard that, but didn't much care for the interviewer/ host who seemed to subject everyone to over-rigorous and unsympathetic questioning for that time of the morning.

am said...

"I've been looking at art all my life and there are still artists I don't feel up to liking yet."

Here I am thanking you again. Just went out on a Google search for more about Grayson Perry. Among other things, found this which you may have listened to already:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgY2HlRbWyI

Wow!:

https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=grayson+perry&gbv=2&tbm=isch#gbv=2&hl=en&q=grayson+perry+art+work&tbm=isch&imgdii=_

The Solitary Walker said...

I hadn't heard that interview, Am, but I agree with you — wow, wow and wow! Grayson-Claire is such an eloquent artist, and I love the fact he's not Oxbridge and public school and all the rest. His Reith Lectures for the BBC are absolute gold, and sublimely entertaining, and I hope you can catch some of them.

Ruth said...

Thanks for this introduction to Perry, and for your reflections on his lectures. This conversation is enormously important, and I appreciate you bringing it before us (again).

It's really about paying attention, long enough to begin to understand. Filling out the background, context. It's true of art, music, poetry, of people's lives and actions. I am more committed than ever to putting in a bit of work before making judgments . . . and well, maybe not making judgments at all.

The Weaver of Grass said...

My view on going round Galleries Robert has always been to choose one area and stick to it, otherwise one tends to become satiated.
If I go to the National Gallery I love to look at the two Seurats - I might spend an hour there rather than trek from room to room glancing at works.

The Solitary Walker said...

Paying attention . . . understanding background and context . . . oh, that's so right, Ruth. If we all did this, the world would be a better, less judgmental place.

The Solitary Walker said...

I think that's just the thing to do, Pat! An overdose of art is exhausting and counter-productive. But so many of us feel 'guilty' we haven't seen this or that in such and such a gallery, just because we are there, and feel we need to see x or y. Recently, in the Liverpool Tate, Carmen and I spent several hours with the Chagalls, but there were only a few rooms, and it was doable. Still, it was amazing how many people just seemed to 'glance' (as you say) and rush by. Incidentally, that Chagall exhibition was fabulous! The effect on you of the original painting, its colour and vibrancy, really brought it home how much of a 3rd rate experience reproductions are. (Still haven't done a post about this.)

Friko said...

I am thinking of posting a similar piece, seen from the perspective of personal experience. Grayson’s quote is exactly what I need. Your conclusions are mine too.

K Samulis said...

You've hit a nerve here! In a conversation with one of my daughters in law, I mentioned bringing the girls to the Philadelphia Art Museum. She replied there wasn't anything there to interest children. And I realized how lucky I'd been growing up.

I was taken there fairly regularly. By my parents. By my grandparents. By school. And never to see the whole thing in one go. It became, and is still, one of my favorite places to visit. But for someone unfamiliar, it can be a complete overload, if taken all at once!

So now to make a date with my little ones. TIme to introduce them, one room at a time! Even a two year old can appreciate looking and trying to find details on a beautiful Indian temple or in the Japanese Tea Garden.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for your comments, Friko and Karin. One room at a time. That's it!