I highly recommend anyone who has one or two feet in the art world taking some time out to listen to Grayson Perry’s recent Reith Lectures which can be found on BBC iPlayer. He speaks a lot of sense in these lectures. Here he talks generally about art and his thoughts on the current art scene in a very down-to-earth and humorous way.
There are so many interesting and poignant points he makes in all of the four lectures that have an impression on me, too many for me to mention them all here. However, the most insightful points for me came from his last lecture ‘I Found Myself in the Art World’. This lecture is about how Grayson himself came to art. He also gives advice on others coming to art. Here, two of his points resonated with me.
Firstly, he talks about the Helsinki Bus Station Theory which was coined by Finnish photographer, Arno Minkkinen. The theory runs thus. You are an artist, metaphorically, stuck in Helsinki. You are at the bus station and you have just left art college and you need to go somewhere. There are about twenty buses to choose from. You catch one. You travel for a few stops and get off. At that point you show your work to someone in the art world and they say ‘oh that’s nice, reminds me so much of <famous artist>’. This riles you so you return to the bus station and get on another bus. You travel on this bus for another twenty stops and get off. Here you meet another art critic who responds with, ‘your work is great, you must have been influenced by <famous artist different from the first>’. So you go back again to the bus station and continue. The moral of the story? You should have stayed on the first bus. The message Grayson Perry is giving here is that it is not a bad thing to be compared to someone else or to be influenced by other artists. There is no such thing as true originality so why fight it? Stick with your gut feelings and stay true to your own personal style.
The second point he makes that stays with me is a point he makes with reference to Proust. He cites an argument made by Alaine de Botton in his book How Proust Will Change Your Life, which I read a few years’ ago being a huge de Botton fan (in fact I’ve just noticed he has a new book). In it de Botton talks about people who make pilgrimage to France looking for Proust’s fictional village of Combray in an effort to have the Proustian experience. In trying to look at Proust’s world through their own eyes, they are missing the point of Proust entirely. Rather, all they need to do is stay at home and look at their world through Proust’s eyes. This is something which I try to do in my art and research. Proust studied the minutiae and ordinary around him and he emphasized the art of examining the stuff of our lives. People are all about what they seem, rather than what they are. Things are all about how we feel about them, not what they are. He linked our feelings with our memories of things. He was all about interpretation and analysis of things. He is very relevant to the world now.
In conclusion, I hope to stay on that first bus and I will be on that bus looking through the window at the world with Proustian eyes. I don’t want to be tempted to hop off and go back. Let me have the courage to do that.