Nick Ahad: Time for the art world to improve its communication skills

LAST summer I had the enormous privilege of interviewing Grayson Perry.

Meeting him was something of a revelation. Ever since I was appointed the arts correspondent of the Yorkshire Post a decade ago, I have tackled something of an internal dilemma. On the one hand I am a Keighley-born no-nonsense Yorkshireman. On the other, I write about the sometimes nonsense filled world of the arts where – in some quarters – the adage appears to be: why use three words when you can utilise 24 pretentious ones?

Before we met, Perry, to me, was the epitome of the fluff that exists around the art world.

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A transvestite? In the rarified art world? How very shocking (yawn).

By the by – just for absolute clarity, I hold no prejudice towards transvestites – to each his or her own, say I and if living as a transvestite is someone’s personal choice, I entirely support their right to make that choice.

Before I met Perry, however, I wondered if dressing as a woman was all part of a schtick to garner publicity, something on which some artists rely. Turns out his transvestism is not an attention-seeking plot, but something he actually feels – more power to his elbow.

Once I met him it also took all of 20 seconds before I realised I was in the presence of a powerful communicator. The great surprise here was that we met as visual artist and journalist and – trade secret here – they really are not the best at communicating their ideas.

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A great joy of my work is that I get to speak to artists from lots of fields and, for the most part, those who are the least good at communicating their ideas happen to be generally from the visual arts world (sorry, but a decade of experience says it’s true).

It transpires I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Earlier this week Perry gave an illuminating, funny and erudite Reith lecture at the Tate Modern. It is the first in a series and the ones that follow will, justifiably, be very closely listened to. Titled Democracy Has Bad Taste, from a series of lectures under the umbrella title Playing to the Gallery, Perry did nothing of the sort.

He told the gallery – the art world – among many other things, to stop being such poor communicators. In one of the most entertaining and powerful passages of his lecture, which was never less than entirely illuminating, he exposed the vacuousness and pretentiousness of some of the language used by artists and the galleries that represent them.

He actually read out a text he found in a gallery at the Venice Biennale. In Perry’s hands this little found poem was uninentionally hilarious.

It will, hopefully, serve as a reminder that while the art world can’t be expected to communicate as well as Perry, it should make a bit more effort.