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

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron visiting a primary school last year  

The only choice in schools is between the one you want and the ones you don’t

Jane Merrick
Zoë Ball says having her two children was the best thing ever to happen to her  

Start a family – you’ll never have to go out again

John Mullin
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn