This week I’ve been listening to the 2013 Reith Lectures by Grayson Perry (or perhaps it was “Claire” his female alter-ego). In this fascinating series of four lectures he discusses what makes one an artist, the limits of contemporary art, how to gauge the quality of new artworks and the future of the avant-garde.
Significant international thinkers have been delivering The Reith Lectures since 1948, “instituted by the BBC as a stimulus for thought and a contribution to knowledge”. Figures such as philosopher and Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell (the inaugural 1948 lectures), father of the atomic bomb, Robert Oppenheimer and art historian, Nikolaus Pevsner have all taken their turn to present their ideas and findings to the BBC’s listeners. 2013 saw the lectures delivered with an unprecedented level of wit and humor by Grayson Perry, the British artist once turned down by Chelsea School of Art for being “too much of an artist”!
One of the most interesting parts of the series was Grayson describing Finnish Photographer, Arno Minkinnen’s “Helsinki Bus Station Theory”. This theory is a metaphor for the struggling artist or photographer trying to find they’re own voice in the art world. Here’s an extract from the 4th lecture “I Found Myself in the Art World”.
When you’re leaving art college [he said] and you choose your style and what path in the art world you’re gonna take it’s like going to Helsinki Bus Station. There’s about twenty platforms and each platform maybe ten buses leave from it. And you choose your bus and you get on the bus and each stop is a year in your career. And maybe after about three stops you get off. And you kind of walk into a gallery and you show them your work and the people look at it they go “oh, very nice – reminds me a bit of Martin Parr though”. And you go “aarrghh, I’m not original, I’m not unique”. And you get really cross and you get a taxi back to the bus station and you get on a different bus. And of course what happens is the same thing, you get off at three years and the same thing happens. What you need to do [says Arno Minkkinen] is stay on the effing bus! … all the buses for the first ten, twenty stop away from the bus station often they’re on the same road, in the same as we copy something, we’re gonna be influenced by something as artists for the first ten years of our career.
There are four forty minute lectures on the BBC Radio 4 website.