('Beating the Bounds' - an ancient ritual dating back to time before there were accurate maps. Every decade or so, a group of old and young parishioners would walk around the boundaries of the parish, to pass on the knowledge of where they lay. And when they got to an important corner or marker, they would beat the boys with a whip, to ensure they had a strong emotional memory of that exact place.)
So here are some of Perry's bounds that make something "Art".
Is it in a gallery? By bringing it into a gallery, Duchamp transformed his urinal into art. But if you brought a beautiful Ferrari, it would still be a lovely car, but it would be quite a lame bit of art.
Is it made by an artist? In 1995 an artist had a show in which one piece was an actress sleeping in a glass case. Most people agreed that this was art. Then in 2013 the actress decided to do it again, this time at NY MOMA, but without any collaboration from the artist. So was this still art? Traditional bark paintings by Aborigine painters for spiritual and cultural purposes. The painters don't consider themselves artists, they are preserving and continuing their history. So is it art if not made by an artist?
Are photographs art? "We live in an age when photography rains on us like sewage from above." (So he's not keen on it then.) One definition is 'if it is bigger than 2 meters and costs 5 figures or more it's art not a photo'. The highest price of any photo was Andreas Gursky's pic of the Rhine, which sold for $4.5 million. The reason it made that price was that it was the last of an edition of five, and the rest were already in museum collections and so would never be available. So have to avoid the 'endless reproduction' potential before it becomes 'Art'.
The rubbish dump test. Only qualified as Art if it were chucked on a pile of rubbish and someone wondered why a work of art was being thrown away.
Art now quickly goes out of fashion. Media constantly drawn to what they can describe as 'avant-garde' or 'cutting edge'. And of course all artists cherish the idea that they are revolutionary and original. The worst thing you can do is go to an opening and say 'Oh yeah this reminds me of .... ' "Do not do this. This is a bad, bad thing to do."
Problem is that Art is getting quite jaded. It's mostly 'Yeah had that idea already, but that's a great version of it.'
Robert Rauschenberg encapsulated idea of killing off previous art movements by taking a drawing by the reigning modern master Willem de Kooning and carefully erasing it, then exhibiting it as his own work.
Have to keep going further to shock people. Current extreme Chinese artist Zhu Yu photographed eating a stillborn baby.
When, in the early 60's, people encountered Roy Lichtenstein's pic of a leg opening a pedal bin, it was a huge culture shock. Artists found it liberating that this could be Art. But subsequent artists have never had that shock-and-awe.
All the stuff that used to be rebellious - long hair, tatts, drugs, inter-racial sex, fetishes - have gone mainstream (although you still don't see a lot of underarm hair on women). Tracey Emin went really counter-culture and supported the Tories.
WHEN Grayson Perry won the Turner prize in 2003, a journalist asked him, 'Are you a lovable character or are you a serious artist?' and he answered, reasonably: 'Can't I be both?' Which is what he has been ever since, though increasingly taking on another role as a cultural educator, most recently with his Reith Lectures, which form the basis of this jaunty little book.
Perry wants to be helpful, both to young artists and to people who still feel a bit intimidated by art galleries (that is, most people). He wants them to feel 'a little smarter, a little braver and a little fonder' when approaching art. And he carries off a brilliant sleight of hand by saying, reassuringly, that you don't need to know anything at all to enjoy art, while simultaneously smuggling in lots of names, quotes and facts that might come in useful for gallery conversation.
Perry addresses not so much the age-old question of what art is (art, he says, is what you find in art galleries), but the equally tricky question of how you know if it's any good. We know that 'posterity' will reach some consensus down the line, but that's not much use if you're standing in an art gallery today, wondering, is this a load of tosh? And if you are British, you probably are thinking it's a load of tosh because we Brits, far more than any other nationality, are notoriously resistant to contemporary art. But that’s fine, says Perry, because there's a lot of it about and a lot of it is rubbish.
'There's no such thing as good taste' - Grayson Perry guides us around his new exhibition - taste and class.
However, he explains, art usually goes through some filtering process before it turns up in a public gallery. The first and possibly most rigorous judgment comes at art school: if the other students think a work is good, then that is almost the best accolade an artist will ever have. The next stage is when the critics move in. Critics used to be more important than they are now, but in the 1990s their influence was, to some extent, displaced by collectors such as Charles Saatchi, who could enhance the value of a work simply by buying it. Then come the competitions, the prizes, the biennales, which indicate when an artist has definitively 'arrived'.
The general assumption in the art world, Perry says, is that 'democracy has bad taste': if an artwork is popular, then, almost by definition, it must be bad. And, certainly, if you canvassed the public, you'd find Jack Vettriano up in the pantheon. But you'd also find Hockney. Is he bad? Just because people like him? Perry thinks not - though he has a sour word for LS Lowry, whom he finds 'repetitive'. But 'if quality smacks of elitism, what form of art should the proles have'? What indeed? Perry never really finds the answer. But whereas in the past the art world could be an entirely inward-facing transaction between artists, collectors and 'cognoscenti', nowadays it is far more complicated because it needs the public, too. Collectors like to buy artists who are shown in museums, and museums, if they are in receipt of taxpayers' money, also need attendance figures.
Perry says he gets fed up with being the poster boy for handmade art - and nowadays, he draws his tapestries on Photoshop and has them woven by computer-controlled looms - but he is still closer to the old art/craft tradition than most contemporary artists. He tends to disdain video and photography, and sniffs: 'We live in an age when photography rains on us like sewage from above.' He recalls that he once asked the brilliant photographer Martin Parr how you distinguished an art photo from an ordinary one and Parr told him you could tell it was art if it was 'bigger than two metres and priced higher than five figures'. This book is full of good jokes like that, full of cartoons, full of memorable epigrams, but above all full of thought-provoking ideas that make you want to pause on every page and say: 'Discuss.' I have never read such a stimulating short guide to art. It should be issued as a set text in every school.
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