This is a remarkable decision for one important reason. At last the Turner Prize, for the first time in its twenty-year history, has been won by a potter. For years there has been a division in this country between what has been praised as art and what has been vilified as craft, and potters have been very much talked down to as mere craftsmen. Why otherwise would we have two distinct organisations, one called the Arts Council and the other the Crafts Council? Why otherwise do we so seldom see ceramics in so-called art galleries? Craft has meant the home-spun and the home-made, the slightly risibly amateurish.
Art, on the other hand, is more exalted and more valuable - financially and spiritually, because the two go hand in hand, of course.
Even the writers of this year's official Tate brochure about the Turner Prize, when describing the work of Grayson Perry, managed to use the disgraceful, tell-tale phrase "the modest craft of ceramics". Why is making a pot more "modest" than wielding a paint brush or a video camera? Try telling that to the Japanese or the Chinese. Put it down to cultural blindness.
Grayson Perry has dragged pottery out of that ghetto.
But Perry's earthenware pots aren't like those crafted by other potters. They look, from a distance, mounted on plinths in glass vitrines, like tall, elegant urns and vases, fit to adorn some ante-chamber at Versailles. The glazes are lavish, the gilding often sumptuous. But the appearance is deceptive. When examined close up, the decoration on the pots tell stories quite the opposite of their formal appearance. The titles point the way: "A Tradition of Bitterness" reads one; another announces "We've found the body of your child". The decoration itself is an often frenetic collage of photographs, transfers, drawings and text. The pots tell dislocated, disturbing stories in the round - of rape, murder, child abuse. An innocent girl pushing a doll on wheels says "hand over your mobile"; a surly little Alice with long, frizzy tresses says: "Are you an art lover or an art cockteaser?" It is traditional ware with a desperate, post-modern message.
There is another, less interesting side to Perry: his presentation of himself as Claire, a middle-aged transvestite. This is a crude, attention-seeking device. It is unnecessary. The pots tell the story. We don't need to delve into Perry's psychology to be convinced he is a worthy winner - for his sake, and for that of ceramics too.Reuse content