How does the stuff we see in art galleries or the middle of roundabouts come to be made and valued?
Drawing (LOL!) on his life as an artist in his new illustrated handbook, Playing to the Gallery, Grayson Perry explores the boundaries and tensions at the heart of modern art (featuring Grayson’s colourful and satirical ‘Purple Ronnie’ style artwork throughout).
From the troublesome topic of quality to the tricky question of what can or can’t be a work of art, Playing to the Gallery aims to demystify contemporary art and remove the inhibitions we may have about it. The text is closely based on last year’s Reith Lectures, a series of talks Perry gave at the Tate Modern.
“I firmly believe,” Perry writes at the start, “that anyone is eligible to enjoy art or become an artist–any oik, any prole, any citizen who has a vision they want to share.”
“Anybody can have a life in the arts – even me! For even I, an Essex transvestite potter, have been let in by the art world mafia.”
When describing the way the word “art” has come to be all-encompassing, he says:
“When I think of the sort of bag that art might be, it’s one of those very cheap dustbin liners – the ones that, when you drag them out of the dustbin and you’re walking towards the front door, you’re praying that all the rubbish won’t spill out all over the hall.”
We love his “handbag and hipster test” for judging whether or not something is a work of art:
“If there are lots of people with beards and glasses and single-speed bikes, or oligarchs’ wives with great big handbags looking a bit perturbed and puzzled by what they’re staring at, then it’s probably art.”
He certainly asks many important questions, like ‘what counts as art?’ and ‘why has that man pickled a shark?’ (maybe that’s our question) but we are not necessarily provided with definitive answers.
Still, Playing to the Gallery is a thought provoking, engaging and vibrant read, stripping away the pretentious highbrow veneer of the modern art world.
Perhaps the most pertinent point is made with Grayson’s discussion of children’s charity The Art Room: “When a child takes a decorated stool or lampshade back to a home that has little furniture and bare light bulbs, it must give them a sense of empowerment, that in a small way they have begun to change the world. Because, of course, art’s… most important role is to make meaning.”
Playing to the Gallery: Helping contemporary art in its struggle to be understood, published by Particular Books, is out now.
Want to get your hands on some accessible art? Come to OPEN, an exhibition of UK artists on Etsy.com (Oct 17th-19th 2014). Download the flyer for the art exhibition here and invite your friends and family!