‘I think the art world had more trouble coming to terms with me being a potter than my choice of frocks’. – Grayson Perry’s Prize acceptance speech for the Turner Prize in 2003. In this supposedly free and permissive modern society which we live in, are there still rules in art?
Let me document a few pieces of evidence, so that we can draw our own conclusions on this matter, along with the concepts which surround the processes which go into making a piece of art, in line with the building blocks which led to its creation.
If we look at this from a gallery perspective, we observe that variance is a key feature as regards what they “allow” or “accept”.
Fig 1. Castle Fine Art (2017)
Step inside somewhere like the above and you will discover a plethora of wall mounted work, neatly framed to encapsulate and favour the galleries “aesthetic”; oils and other traditional painting mediums take weight. We look for a touch of the tactile and simply it won’t be there. In contrast to this, within the same city (Newcastle) we find this venue:
Fig 2. The Biscuit Factory. (2017)
The Biscuit Factory welcomes a range of materials, wood, ceramics, paint, sculpture, textiles and jewellery to name a few. Innovation is praised not declined. It proudly classes itself as ‘Britain’s largest independent contemporary art, craft and design gallery’.
Summing up the above, we can see that it depends on the venues ethos, not the art world as a whole. Free expression is allowed in art: Who will accept it is another matter.
Let me use a few artists who work in Textiles, to see how their work fits in the art sphere and what drives their own practice, what lies beneath the final piece?
In his book ‘Playing the Gallery’ (2016) Grayson Perry marries rules in art with viewing textiles. We ourselves may make “rules” in our own heads, as to what “art” is. He states: ‘when we walk into a contemporary art gallery for the first time and expect to understand it straight away, it is like me walking into a classical music concert, knowing nothing….and saying ‘Oh, it’s all just noise’. He warns us that we may have to ‘live with it’ for a while, in order to appreciate it.
Fashion is another factor for some. Do we like something, or accept it because the majority do?
Fig 3. Grayson Perry. Playing the Gallery. (2016)
Sometimes it is all about making art accessible. Take the work of artist Laura Ford. Her work is unusual and not necessarily something we would all flock to visit in an art gallery. Yet this is where the setting comes in. Last year when her work was opened to the public within the gardens and house at Blackwell, children could walk up to her sculptures as easily as an art critic.
Fig 4. Laura Ford. Blackwell House. (2016)
Personally I feel that in this context, we didn’t need to comprehend the concept behind the work, as it was captivating enough in its own right; yet some of us may have chosen to enquire further detail.
In contradistinction to this, some textiles requires more explanation. Take for example the work of Tracey Emin. Her work elicits a marmite reaction, with some viewers responding strongly to her pieces. Take this example:
Fig 5. Tracey Emin. My bed. (1997).
Only when we investigate, can we appreciate the intention beneath the visual; this is more than a domiciliary depiction. In Emin’s own words: ‘Art has always been a mysterious coded language. I’m just not a coded person; I wear my heat on my sleeve…What you see is what I am’. She showcases life as she knows it; no embarrassment quashes her.
In the publication ‘Conceptual art’(Marzona, 2005) the author states: ‘Conceptual Art has often been described as a theoretically top heavy, over-intellectual art form. And it is certainly true that many artists, in the development and underpinning of their work, do indeed use theoretical models which have been developed in other principles’.
We may have to use our brains a little more, in order to grasp the meaning of an artist’s outcome or to understand its undercurrent, which can only widen out our experience.
The artist Jann Haworth once said: ‘I failed to see the barriers between ‘high art’ and ‘the crafts’. (Jefferies, 2008)
Rather than questioning rules and being stubborn to understand, surely we should take her following comment to heart?
‘We embraced experiment and our mistakes…the limitation of the ‘Known’. Art is a quest’. (Jefferies, 2008)
I propose that we all enjoy being the child, play, yet with the depth, emotion, permanence and experience of adulthood.