Grayson Perry on the search for originality in art

It always faintly depresses me when I’m trying to find arts coverage in a news website, and I have to get to it by clicking on the ‘Entertainment’ link. But that wasn’t what I wanted to say. I’ve mentioned Grayson Perry’s columns in the Times before; I think he writes well and his position as an insider of the contemporary art world doesn’t prevent him from exhibiting thoughtful scepticism. His latest includes this:

Crash my party you bastards, a work by Richard Hughes, one of the nominees, is made of artfully arranged debris. It reminded me of one of my tutors at art college who said he sometimes applied “the rubbish dump test” to work by students. If their work was thrown on to a rubbish dump, would passers-by say: “Oh, look, there is a work of art on that dump”, or would they pass by oblivious to the discarded piece of avant garde? To this day I am not sure which result constitutes a pass or a fail in my tutor’s eyes. If they had spotted something recognisably an art work, was that good or bad?

On the Beck’s Futures website the word “innovative” crops up several times. Terms such as innovative, original, ground-breaking and cutting-edge make me suspicious. These are not words an artist would ever use about himself or his work. They are PR terms, they are words used to engage a news agenda, to appeal to a desire akin to the male sexual appetite, a lust for fresh meat. The economist and social philosopher Ludwig von Mises said: “Innovation is the whim of an elite before it becomes the need of the public.”

I thought ‘These are not words an artist would ever use about himself or his work’ was a particularly interesting comment. It’s nice to think it’s true, but even if they don’t say it, it could still be driving the way the work.

As ever, I’m tempted to make this into a comment about poetry, but I’ll resist.

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