Self expression from the home-place. A vibrance yet untapped?

BY Cherry Irvine: Arts Columnist

As lockdown three trundles on in the UK, people are looking for new ways to stay entertained. For many, art has come to the rescue!

By grabbing a pencil or paintbrush we can express ourselves and create something new without leaving the comfort of our home. But can we as society gain something more from making art than just a pretty picture?

There exists a strange disconnect between galleries and the act of making art. An unfortunate paradox, due to the fact that galleries only exist on the basis that people make art. However, galleries display art not just by anyone, specifically those who gain the label of ‘Artist’. This conception of the artist as ‘genius’, someone who is creatively superior to the rest of us, stems from the Renaissance with artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael.

Over the centuries museums and galleries have turned into quasi-churches, places where we go to worship and pay our respects to the ‘Old Masters’. The public nature of galleries functions to elevate the status of the artist. When we visit, we are taught to stand in front of a painting in awe, and think how could I ever make something as great as that?

When many are faced with contemporary art, the opposite reaction occurs.  The phrase ‘my child could do that’ often echoes through the rooms of London’s Saatchi Gallery. This disillusionment with art further widens the deep crevice between galleries and the public they are dependent on. However, it is exactly this concept that could be the gateway between us and the gallery – the thought that we could do something better ourselves.

The increase in people making art in lockdown has been spurred on by nationwide initiatives such as ‘Grayson Perry’s Art Club’ on Channel 4. The series proved hugely successful back in the first lockdown and the second series will make its debut on Friday the 26th of February.

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The renowned contemporary artist Grayson Perry and his wife Phillipa invite the British public to create art for the show. Each week tackles a generic theme, such as ‘Nature’, which anyone can submit an artwork for.

The beauty of the show (and perhaps the reason behind its success) is the fact that the artworks chosen to be featured are not technically the best, but are often made by those who are new to making art. There is no money prize or chance of stardom for those who are featured, instead the chance for their work to be exhibited.

There is a way to be featured in an exhibition without submitting anything at all! ‘The Great Big Art Exhibition’ is a new initiative created for the third national lockdown. The walls and windows of our home are symbolically transformed into the pristine white walls of a gallery. A collective of artists, including the sculptor Anthony Gormley, alongside Colchester’s Firstsite (a visual arts organisation) are encouraging us to make art as a household and exhibit it in our windows for passers-by to see. Our days are often defined by the daily walk around the block, but its repetitive nature is now history as the walk is upgraded to an exhibition. The gallery has been brought to us.

Such initiatives encourage a breakdown of the boundaries between the public and the gallery. Through painting a picture, we can enter this strange world we call Art without becoming intimidated. Grayson’s Art Club subverts the traditional idea of the ‘artist genius’. We are the artist instead and Perry becomes the observer, who is in awe of us. More galleries and museums should latch onto the power of making art as a way to encourage a wider audience to visit their institutions and make Art accessible to all.