Grayson Perry’s Reith Lectures sought to make art the public's responsibility – it’s a liberating prospect

The previous Turner Prize winner has opened up a seemingly exclusive party to all

Share
Related Topics

From the outside, the world of contemporary art often feels like a party held by a group of particularly unwelcoming hosts. They’ll invite you into the foyer (Tate Modern prides itself on being one of London’s most visited attractions) before refusing to introduce you to the other guests. You skirt the edges of the room, making nervous eye contact with people you might recognize, but never feel that you really get what’s so great about the whole occasion, or wonder if there’s anything to get at all.

Without mincing my words: it sometimes seems like a party full of arrogant phoneys who separate themselves from the rest of the world with a veil of shibboleths and in-jokes, and couldn't care less what you thought of them or their work -  a fact ably demonstrated by Mark Leckey in what is probably my favourite YouTube comment of all time.

Luckily, the Turner Prize winning artist Grayson Perry, giving this year’s Reith Lectures for the BBC, has done his utmost to pull us into the party fray. In his talks, he mischievously pointed out the inconsistencies and inequalities that shape art, and which propel certain artists to fame while leaving others to drift into obscurity. Perry was a joy to listen to. His gruff Essex delivery shifted our attention from the fact that he was wearing some pretty out-there outfits (entertainingly described by a bemused Sue Lawley): and throughout, he was able to address his audience directly, without condescension. In many ways, radio might be the best place for an artist whose roaring costumes threaten to drown out his words. Grayson Perry proved to be as adept at weaving together vivid little vignettes and quotes as he is at composing his bright, intricate and rambling tapestries

Love-in over, it’s time to look for the nub of Perry’s arguments, which sometimes got lost among the artist’s needle-sharp observations concerning the fickleness of taste, and the swerving, self-deprecating humour of the talks in general. The thread that ran through the lectures was the idea that 'doing' art - both in its creation, and in its consumption - is a skill that can only be learned through practice. As Perry said in his Start The Week discussion with Penelope Curtis, the director of Tate Britain, appreciating contemporary art is something that you have to “work at”: you can't just stumble into a gallery and expect to understand or like everything that's being exhibited. It might sound here as though Perry thinks of art in the same way that Julian Fellowes considers Shakespeare, but the rift between the two couldn't be wider.

Perry firmly persuades us not only that it is our own responsibility to give art a second thought before writing it off as ‘not for me’, but also that we’ve always got the right to go with our guts, however clueless we might feel. Keeping this in mind is a liberating idea - and one which gives us the keys to a whole universe of ideas and expression. With them, we can gatecrash the art-party as often as we like. Try it: the more you do, the faster that feeling of being the uninvited guest will evaporate.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

Tory modernisation has failed under David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Russian President Vladimir Putin 'hits his foes where it hurts'  

Dominic Raab: If Western politicians’ vested interests protect Putin, take punishment out of their hands

Dominic Raab
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game