Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Reith Lectures: Grayson Perry: Playing to the Gallery

In this episode, artist Grayson Perry asks whether it is really true that anything can be art.

He draws upon different theorists to ponder what art is.

Philosopher George Dickie said an artwork is “a candidate for contemplation or appreciation.”

Arthur Danto, another philosopher, said an artwork is about something, has a point of view,  and it uses rhetorical ellipsis - i.e. that it engages the audience to sort of
fill in the gaps. So call and response; you know you have to respond to the

Danto also said, it needs an art historical context. This is a kind of institutional definition of art. It needs to be in the context where you might find art  .

We live in an age when many contemporary artists follow the example of Marcel Duchamp, who famously declared that a urinal was a work of art. It sometimes seems that anything qualifies, from a pile of sweets on a gallery floor to an Oscar-winning actress asleep in a box. How does the ordinary art lover decide?

In a lecture delivered amidst the Victorian splendour of St. George's Hall in Liverpool, Perry analyses the common tests to help determine whether something is art.

1. is it in a gallery or an art context?

2.  is it a boring version of something else?

3. is it made by an artist?

4. photography

5. limited edition test -  if something is endless, it’s giving away part of its qualification as art. 

6. the people that are around looking at it

7. The "rubbish dump test". “Throw it onto a rubbish dump. And if people walking by notice that it’s there and say “Oh what’s that artwork doing on that rubbish dump”, it’s art.

8. Art is able to detain and suspend us in a state of frustration and ambivalence and
to make us pause and think rather than simply react.

He concludes that in his opinion, the quality most valued in the art world is seriousness.

To listen to the Reith Lecture and find out more information, please visit

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