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Brushing shoulders with British art


So on the first day of March, crowds of skinny art students armed with Blackberry in one hand and Starbucks in the other descended upon the Dominion Theatre in London for the annual Art Live!, a one-day art conference offering creative stimulus to art lovers from around the UK.
At first sight, it may have looked like the Convention for Pretentious Hipsters with all the plaid shirts, oversized jumpers and skin tight jeans, but I can truly say that Art Live! proved to be a fascinating event for all. Leading artists and thinkers such as Grayson Perry and Antony Gormley OBE, established as perhaps the crème de la crème of the modern art world, offered an intellectual platform for different ideas and perspectives on the purpose of real art in society.

To begin the day, Turner-prize winner Mr. Perry, sadly not dressed as his female alter-ego Claire, spoke fondly of his work in ceramics and textiles, as well as his eccentric adventures with his beloved teddy bear, Alan Measles. His classically shaped vases in particular were strikingly beautiful; richly decorated with figures, patterns and text, they often depicted shocking and unconventional subject matter. Like other modern day artists, personal and social concerns dominate his work as he asks the question, ‘What is the devil if art is my religion?’ The answer lies in his psycho-criticism of the evils of technology and the Internet. This is perhaps summed up in his lines:  ‘Westfield is the Death Star of consumerism!’ Perry ends his truly entertaining lecture with the declaration that ‘innovation is really overrated’ and leaves the audience after posing the question: ‘Anything can be art; but what is good art?’

The second speaker, Steve Bell (replacing Posy Simmonds), prominent cartoonist with The Guardian newspaper talked of how ‘comics are not just art; they’re literature too.’ The savagery and precision of his satirical works, which date back to the Thatcher era, often leave a huge impression on how we view politicians in general. Some of his most hilarious comics depict crude caricatures of current Prime Minister David Cameron, producing hysterically funny images which simultaneously make a political statement. He asserts the fact that cartoonists may be vital in creating our perception of government and state; and perhaps he is correct to a certain extent. He ultimately ends by proclaiming that cartooning is certainly not an exalted art form but vital as an attacking medium.

From here, a short lunch break was given (to refuel on Starbucks and drool over a quintessential hot-male-artist-slash-probably-musician who embraced skinny guy chic) and a half hour later, another Turner-prize winner Antony Gormley graced the stage with his esteemed presence. Gormley immediately emphasised his need to deal with the human condition in his works of sculpture; he is perhaps most famous for his large-scale public works, which are considered some of the most celebrated examples of British sculpture (such as The Angel of the North in Gateshead). Gormley’s lecture was no doubt the most inspiring one, as he explains that in his eyes, we are all capable of being active in producing art. We need to dispense with traditional views that only a selected few are good enough. He ends on the note that it is indeed difficult being creative and that no matter what, ‘every work that is made has to renegotiate its right to exist.’

Finally, the conference was spiced up with the arrival of deliciously controversial Germaine Greer, journalist and radical feminist. She undoubtedly has a knack of looking at the world from a perspective that is both challenging and refreshing. So somewhat fittingly, her lecture began with a tribute to Lady Gaga; one who apparently truly understands the value of art. She goes on to give an interesting analysis of art’s function to create images of ‘things that we cannot see’, and argues that real art does not have to be beautiful or pleasing but possess inner logic.
Like Gormley, her ideas stressed that fact that one’s whole heart and soul should be absorbed into their art.
Greer certainly ended the day on a high and all four speakers confirmed my views that Art Live! was indeed worth a visit; purely for providing an excellent opportunity to engage with some of the most imaginative minds of the British art scene.

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