Grayson Perry : What makes us tick, creativity, demystification and over simplification



I have been hearing a lot recently about a stateside show that’s been airing on Bravo called Work of Art. Now I haven’t seen the footage but I get the general idea from conversations that it has more than a touch of reality TV style competition about it.

The artists are presumably chosen and then set tasks using various mediums to compete against their compatriots in a cash award prize set-up, complete with the well known Brooklyn Museum’s backing and subsequent endorsement of the winning artist.

Ho-Hum well one of my earlier posts went into the whys and wherefores of School of  Saatchi in December ; similar sort of set up celebrity art world big wigs and a handful of aspiring TV artists.


School of Saatchi
School of Saatchi TV programme

images from the BBC website

and a quote from the BBC listing

“Sam faces disaster when Saatchi deems his artwork too dangerous to exhibit. Matt takes on the massive task of building a full-scale caravan from scrap wood, and almost drives himself insane in the process. Eugenie discovers her artwork while walking down the street, but has to persuade the council to sell it to her.”


School of Saatchi panel
The panel


Apparently the Bravo series has generated more interest and debate than Saatchi’s BBC venture (which was listed under factual on the BBC web??). It seems Bravo has more of a Big Brothery type of who-are-you-routing-for approach. With a web-message board teeming with opinions and rivalry, all in all the board as pure value-add entertainment in itself.

And in spite of the do-good we’re raising art awareness in a TV friendly way mantra from both productions. The bottom line is a reality show format that has been tried and tested from chefs to business *schools* ; get a load of willing contestants and throw them into the metaphorical (delete/add appropriate industry here) lion’s den.


TV ratings screaming at you.


So huzzah!! for Grayson Perry this week, again delving into what it means to be creative. A word he believes is being crowded out by bureaucratic buzz words from government and media alike with their creativity this & creativity that = GDP ratings (ie; international film, music and the like – the BIG stuff). And supposedly endorsing the have-a-go (defeatingly cruel??) lottery-like Britain’s Got Talent and the X Factor approach.

You don’t need expensive to run institutions for have-a-go, just willing guinea pigs to have a pop at the lottery.


I suppose this TV style presentation is sort of blowing away cobwebs of years of myths about artists with all that ingrained traditional rhetoric that people have felt in general; not being comfortable with art works, that they possibly feel alienated from because they don’t understand all the arty world speak that goes with *understanding* it.

Grayson’s Radio4 debate took him via Terry Pratchett, and psychologist Ray Tallis exploring;

“The myths of art and to show how creativity isn’t a mystery, but at the same time it isn’t necessarily easily accessible.”

Precisely so, all artists are different, all art is a personal thing from maker to viewer. And it is just the intermediary landmarks of bodies such as buyers, critics and the like who set the bench marks of how and what works evolve into the general consensus.


But creativity is a personal endeavour, not, I suspect that suited to reality TV. I said in my Saatchi Art School rant that really art is so personal; the expression may be physical but to try and force it through the narrow model of this style of TV just doesn’t resonate.


Art is not something instantly recognisable as entertaining, (no more than the day to day of most occupations). Maybe the finished piece but only in the very broadest sense of entertaining.


The R4 discussion touched on things like, the have a go – anyone can do it attitude, apparently extremely prevalent in the UK. And the fact that also, not everyone can be a brain surgeon, but people think writing, and art is easier than, say science, so therefore just to do it is enough. Not, I don’t think, to put off or to suggest it’s exclusive, but that the involvement can be pretty intense.

The reality is more on the lines of; you never really stop looking, listening feeding yourself information and imagery. For example, even on holiday you are storing things up all the time, or another one; you lose the thread of a conversation because you are absorbing something on the periphery. Something I get stick for a lot – “Oh! she’s off again”.

Ray Tallis summed the process as; the mechanisms in place to be creative can be a complex mix of the personal and a greater universal life full of incomplete meanings, a personal passion and a medium in order to make sense of it all.


Grayson Perry at the Frieze 2008

Grayson Perry at The Frieze 2008

image courtesy Guardian Fashion at the Frieze

The article emphasising nearly everyone being dressed in black and Grayson looking uncomfortable.

(personally I think he looks great – but there you go!)


Grayson, has also made one thing very clear and he is passionate about it – that in order to create, it so totally helps to have knowledge, practical knowledge of how to make something – and this for too long has been snobbishly pushed by the fine art world into the poor relative corner of Craft.


Rendering craft as something you would encompass only if you were a) destroying any credibility as an artist proper and b) selling out (cos of course anything made from a craft technique will open up all the village fates and craft fares for you in one fell swoop and so critically devalue your work forever).

Grayson once opened a piece on social mobility saying he was sat in the Stedelijk when an invisible hand tapped him on the shoulder and said “What are you doing here, you oik? These places ain’t for the likes of you.” – he was waiting to meet the main curator to discuss his imminent one-*man* exhibition. His upbringing had ingrained a sense of art-outsider or working class – call it what you will – but the feeling of not deserving to be in certain areas of life because of the way you spoke or dressed, where you were from or educated. Class.

Thank goodness Grayson is also around to prove that pottery and fine art still do mix. And that the craft of making things has been so knocked in general that the very basics of knowledge are being forgotten.

All this goes right across the board with many different skills.

And some skills have been so finitely preserved they seem the reserve of a certain exclusive area of art – usually with prices to match.

Li Edelkoort has been of the same belief for many years and actively promotes any fine art and design that involves a basic knowledge of skills that are being lost. Not in a purist way either, with her, just like Grayson incorporating technology. But also from the reality of losing valuable knowledge.

So the TV-ratings-quest for numbers, through some misguided thinking on how the real world of creativity should be *fitting into* the more readily understood dog-eat-dog business models – is time for a re-think?.

These kind of cash award prize systems are nothing new in the Art world ; the Booker Prize says just that. A moneyed carrot and Establishment Endorsement, most throw their doors open for submissions of this type for a prize. But the art-as-entertainment, creativity made more accessible by gimmick renders the credibility nothing short of voyeuristic art-light TV.

Let’s have some substance thrown into the mix: With Art mystification and snobbery put paid and some real-reality tips on how creativity can be embraced and understood and made.

Back on Sunday………