Research – review, reflection and personal response to an article by Grayson Perry (2005)

Right at the beginning of this first part of the course there is a reference in the article concerning Edmund de Waal of the fact that Grayson Perry had once referred to the ‘craft lagoon’ and also the emphatic response of de Waal to the interviewer’s question.  In order to answer the question posed I decided to read the original article by Grayson Perry to understand what he meant by his terminology and now as I near the end of this first assignment I feel now is the time to write a review.

Grayson Perry is someone I have  become increasingly aware of in recent years due to his high profile social status – he has really come into the public eye, not least for his ‘dress sense’ in the literal meaning of the phrase which also fits what comes across as a slightly eccentric but highly intelligent persona.  I have been more aware of this social being for his eccentricities rather than his pottery but my studies have now correct my error and certainly changed my opinion of this artist – I do however recall coming across his name through the fact he also does hand stitched quilts (and a little research recalls the exact piece entitled Right to Life which is very thought provoking). This is clearly a man who has many layers and complexities could be described as a work of art himself due to both his creativity and the aforesaid personality and he is clearly someone who is like Marmite – you either love him or hate it but somehow unlike Marmite there is that grey area in the middle because you just cannot fathom the man out but personally I love Marmite and am becoming an increasing fan of his artistic works as well as the person himself (an interview with Graham Norton recently certainly helped as it was a chance to see him interviewed by a TV personality rather than an art critic or journalist).

So back to the article from March 2005 in which he immediately refers to the craft lagoon and the art world being separate in an ocean – a view that is certainly considered controversial.  Grayson Perry states that there an emphasis on the individual in the western world and this has distorted how we view crafts because of the buyers wanting to be able to have direct contact with the crafts person rather than going through an agent or the product being manufactured.  Perry’s view is that the mistakes in an object or product are what gives it its spirit or character and this is something I totally agree with – there is a saying in the quilt world that a mistake is never a mistake but a gift to God because the only thing that is perfect is God and it is these mistakes that set a hand crafted item apart from the perfection of industrial manufacture.

My understanding of crafts is that the techniques and skills have been developed over considerable time and our ancient crafts that still exist have been handed down from generation to generation and Perry has the additional view that behind a crafted object there must be a traditional or innovative idea.  However Perry also has the view that ‘the best thing is a combination of its meaning, its beauty and its craftsmanship.  It is all these things combined that make art exiting’ (Perry, 2005) but this is to separate art and craft into the lagoon and the ocean because as he states in the next paragraph art is in his view concerned with ‘feelings and ideas’ whilst craft relies on technique – I cannot agree with this now.  If I am working on something that is handcrafted my emotions play a huge part in the idea and the formation of the piece and I do not work solely with just technical skills – does a willow artist such as Laura Ellen Bacon, who now rightly terms herself as a sculptor,  use just her technical skills or is she termed an artist because she works with ideas and emotions?  I have personally met Laura and seen her works and I class her as an artist craftswoman because her work crosses the two genres so perhaps this comes down to the questions posed in Exercise 1.1 concerning identity and labels.

Grayson Perry speaks of his favourite artist as being an anonymous figure from before 1800 if is ever asked who it may be and his suggestions are those of crafts people and artists and the fact that these great hand-made objects have been ‘refined by tradition’ but have come from the culture of the people spontaneously – this is ultimately how crafts of our varying nations have developed.  The people themselves have worked on skills passed down through generations to develop great objects and also objects that reflect their culture and identify that culture to the rest of the world.

Grayson Perry goes on to speak about his view that ‘craft has lost its way and become precious’ and that if craft wants to be accepted in the art world it needs to speak the same language and accept the culture and also he sees the craft world as ‘failed ambition’ because you are either an artist or not and this for me is wrong.  I am not training to be an artist but maybe I do view my future persona as an artist crafts-person and as someone who crosses those boundaries in the same way that countless others do now – you can be both an artist and a crafts-person and craft now encompasses emotion and feelings and ideas and is not reliant on purely skill.

As is pointed on in the following paragraph this whole argument comes down to defining what exactly an artist or crafts person does and craft itself no longer has its own world – the boundaries have become blurred and perhaps this is what Perry is trying to get across as he points out the fact that if something is called ‘craft’ it is referring to the fact it is physically made by someone.

At the time of writing this article Perry was of the opinion that conceptual art was not necessarily full of good ideas and therefore craft was the ‘hot word in the art world’ and that even some paintings would be classed under the craft heading and maybe this is where he has a valid point.  Craft has become trendy and desirable and a buzz word but crafts people are now breaking in to the art world too – I have a follow up blog to write on the subject of quilts due to two articles discovered whilst researching Perry’s hand stitched quilts (one link always leads to another!!).

In his final paragraph Perry refers to the fact he sees himself as an artist due to his main occupation of being a potter and the fact that this skill is older than painting but he comes across as almost slightly bitter or perhaps just reflective on the fact that pottery does not get the same recognition in terms of artistic or monetary terms.  Perry also points out the fact that there are no high-profile collectors of crafts but may be this should be re-phrased as ‘no known’ high-profile collectors – by this I mean is that there may well be the collectors but their identity is not known and this is frustrating because the world of craft should be an equal to the world of art …. how is a hand-carved chair or chest be any less skilled or emotionally invested in than a painting that hangs on the wall?  the object may be something which is used but that gives the object more character as it has a history of its own but ‘used’ is also a by-word for second-hand and those objects are classed as antiques rather than art.  The antiques of the craft world do not fetch the large sums of the paintings and it takes longer to accrue  monetary value but they are still art in my personal view.

The sentence that personally irks me is the final one – ‘The craft world has become a refuge for the less challenging artists’ and his comes across as someone looking down on fellow artists or less talented from an exalted position of someone who has become successful in his field.  Many consider pottery a craft not an art despite how Perry defines himself.  Are the artists who decided to concentrate on a craft any less talented than those who paint or sculpt?  are these artists less challenging in their work and have they became precious?  no I don’t think they have because as I learn my skills throughout this degree I am gaining a deep understanding of the technicality required. I already have that deep understanding with regards to quilting or embroidery and also knitting and crochet due to my childhood – my late Mum was  a skilled knitter and I took up crochet which I am trying to re-learn.  To gain even basic recognition at a local quilt show you must attain a certain level of skill and being a member of several on-line quilting groups I understand the emotions as well as blood, sweat and tears that go into making even a small quilt (particularly if you misjudge your use of a rotary cutter which is well known to result in trips to the local hospital!).  To reach a high level in the quilting world the ability to design and draw is usually now required particularly for those who cross over into the contemporary art quilts which now cross the borders of craft and art but are still looked down on by many in the art world – are they any less art than the paintings in a museum? what I am trying to say is that I cannot agree with Perry that the craft world has less challenged artists because I believe the craft world can have more talented and more diversely skilled artists in a variety of techniques and who use their emotions and ideas to create items of great beauty that deserve equal recognition and status as the paintings of any era.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Bacon, L.E. (date unknown).  Laura Ellen Bacon Sculptor [online].  [Date Accessed:  25 February 2017].  Available from:  http://lauraellenbacon.com/

Perry, G. March 2005. A refuge for artists who play it safe [online].  [Date Accessed:  25 February 2017].  Available from:  https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2005/mar/05/art

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