Democracy Has Bad Taste

Although we live in an era when anything can be art, not everything is art

In the 2013 BBC Reith Lectures, Playing to the Gallery, the Turner Prize-winning cross-dressing potter Grayson Perry speaks about the role of art in today’s global landscape.

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In this first instalment, entitled Democracy Has Bad Taste, Grayson Perry tackles the question of what makes art “good” and who decides it. This question is particularly tricky in this era when preserved sharks and urinals can be found on display in galleries. Beauty is no longer a valid criteria, as Perry explains:

“In the art world sometimes it can feel like to judge something on its beauty, on its aesthetic merits can almost feel like you’re buying into some politically incorrect, into sexism, into racism, colonialism, you know class privilege. It almost feels it’s loaded, this idea of beauty, because it’s a construct because where does our idea of beauty come from?”

Grayson Perry talks about the politics of the art world, describing the rigorous validation process that a work of art goes through before arriving on gallery walls. He discusses various criteria and tools which can help us (people outside the “art world”) to understand and appreciate art.

Click here to listen to the lecture or here to read the transcript.

One of Grayson Perry's exclusive drawings for the 2013 Reith Leactures

One of Grayson Perry’s exclusive drawings for the 2013 Reith Leactures


Today I was in Siurana, a beautiful little town on the top of the Prades Mountains in Catalunya. Joan Miró painted it in 1917:


Joan Miró. Siurana, the Path. 1917.


B0008308 Xenopus laevis oocytes

This is a micrograph (photograph or digital image taken through a microscope) of “Xenopus laevis oocytes” taken by VINCENT PASQUE, of University of Cambridge for the Wellcome Image Awards 2012.  Despite its resemblance to a firework display, this is actually part of an African clawed frog. Amazing!


It’s a stunning image, but I must admit that cells and atoms baffle me (as do many other things including internet, politics, taxes, and action films).

My limited understanding of science means I can appreciate it from a strictly aesthetic point of view, so for now I will stick to the views of Teddy and Muriel:

“Doctors talk about cells as if they had such unlimited importance all by themselves. As if they didn’t really belong to the person that has them […] I grew my own body, nobody else did it for me. So if I grew it, I must have known how to grow it. Unconsciously, at least. I may have lost the knowledge of how to grow it sometime in the last few hundred thousand years, but the knowledge is still there, because obviously -I’ve used it. It would take quite a lot of meditation and emptying out to get the whole thing back”

Extract from J.D. Salinger‘s story Teddy (from his short story collection Nine Stories)

“The Universe is made up of stories, not atoms” 

Muriel Rukeyser

Here are some more amazing photos of cells (etc.) for those of you who also enjoy the artistic side of science. It’s hard to believe these beautiful images actually come from living organisms. Our own bodies are filled with these things!

Xenopus embryos

Xenopus embryos (no, this is not a study of corn kernels)

B0005151 Drosophila oocyte showing actin/red and GFP-Staufen/green

Drosophila oocyte showing actin/red and GFP-Staufen/green

B0003595 Front end of transgenic Xenopus tadpole; GFP

Front end of transgenic Xenopus tadpole; GFP

Early human embryos

Early human embryos.

La Femme Bavarde

Here’s a cool video by artist Sandrine Estrade Boulet. La Femme Bavarde (The Talkative Woman)

Zoo Without Animals

I read about a zoo in Gaza, the Marha Land Zoo, which is now famous in its area for its creativity and ingenuity in bringing Gaza its first zebra. Many of their animals were dying and they were suffering from a lack of visitors. So they summoned their imaginative powers to transform 2 donkeys into “zebras” with the help of some masking tape, paintbrushes, and hair dye. The children were delighted and the zoo filled with visitors. The success was short-lived, however, and one year later it was once again a sad zoo with very few visitors and very few animals, including a funny donkey-zebra.

Maybe zoos should do away with animals altogether and instead have a zoo without animals? Not that I am a strongly against zoos or anything, but just take a moment to imagine what it might be like without the animals:

I imagine a cool sculpture park where you could spend the day climbing trees and cages and gazing at the weird “sculptures” all around. You could have a nap in the cool, smooth shade of the empty penguin pool, or a picnic on the little island in the middle. You could walk through rooms lined with glass tanks full of water and seaweed and rocks before resting on the dry logs where the lions used to lay, while birds fly freely overhead. Or, if you wished, and there was free wi-fi available, you could even just sit in a grassy spot and watch cute videos of cats and dogs.

Root in the dark

A car without an engine

And to finish off, here’s an excerpt from The Unbearable Lightness of Being (p. 277) by Milan Kundera:

“The very beginning of Genesis tells us that God created man in order to give him dominion over fish and fowl and all creatures. Of course, Genesis was written by a man, not a horse. There is no certainty that God actually did grant man dominion over other creatures. What seems more likely, in fact, is that man invented God to sanctify the dominion he had usurped for himself over the cow and the horse. Yes, the right to kill a deer or a cow is the only thing that mankind can agree upon, even during the bloodiest of wars. The reason we take that right for granted is that we stand at the top of that hierarchy. But let a third party enter the game –a visitor from another planet, for example, someone to whom God says, ‘Thou shalt have dominion over creatures of all other stars’ — and all at once taking Genesis for granted becomes problematical. Perhaps a man hitched to the cart of a Martian or roasted on the spit by inhabitants of the Milky Way will recall the veal cutlet he used to slice on his dinner plate and apologize (belatedly!) to the cow.”

unbearable lightness of being

Click to read more

Accidental Drawings

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Remind you of anything?

These are sketches of the shapes and patterns created by my hair on the walls of the shower.
OK, it’s a bit strange, but I love the way they look on the white ceramic tiles, the way the thin, crisp lines create accidental “drawings”. I imagine them in bright colours and they remind me of Miró paintings and Calder sculptures. I look at them like clouds in the sky, searching for hidden forms. Sometimes I move them around and see new shapes forming. For me it’s a great starting point for developing ideas. Who would have thought washing your hair could lead to so much fun?

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