Grayson Perry Decries Portsmouth Plans to Cut Crafts

Grayson Perry has spoken out against arts cuts at university where he was student, arguing that digital media is no replacement for traditional crafts

Grayson Perry has spoken out against the proposed cuts threatening the arts at the University of Portsmouth, where he was once a student.

The Turner Prize winning artist (currently exhibiting at the British Museum to critical acclaim) studied at the Portsmouth school before it became a university, while it was Portsmouth Polytechnic. But the arts courses in which he found his feet as a burgeoning artist now faces closure, with 16 staff redundancies proposed at the university’s school of art, media and design.

In their place, the university has proposed a new contemporary fine art course focusing on digital media. But craftsman-loving Perry believes that this is small compensation for the loss of the school’s workshops in small metals, glass and ceramics.

‘To make good objects you need to have a relationship with the material’, he explained’. He argues that the new emphasis on digital media must not supersede the traditional crafts for, while ‘Computer-controlled delivery systems are marvellous’, they ‘have a certain deadness to them’: ‘The problem with making things on computers is you could be making a tapestry or a metal sculpture, but the artist’s only contact would be a digital pad or a screen – that’s lame.’

He spoke of how, when he was student, he had tried his hand at woodwork, ceramic and painting. He had been ‘inspired by the processes I had a go at’, and still deploys many of them today to create his award-winning work.

Grayson Perry embraces digital media, but warns that they must co-exist with the traditional skills of an artist: ‘Computers are a great gift to craftsmen but only in combination with practical skills. People who haven’t had their hands dirty are useless because they don’t have a practical ingenuity’.

Perry puts down the current obsession with digital media to its newness, explaining how the people in power are ‘enthralled to the computer – a bit like Victorian doctors thinking electricity is a cure-all’; ‘They feel digital is the future’. But, he warns, ‘we might all get bored of digital art quite quickly’ – ‘You don’t know what the future holds’.

He feels, furthermore, that ‘writers, thinkers, bureaucrats’ are in no position to dictate the direction of art: ‘They don’t have that relationship with things, they don’t treasure it. If it was a committee of experienced craftsmen closing the workshops I would give the proposals some credence.’

The consultation into the proposals closed at the end of last month, and the university is currently considering its response. The future of British craft hangs in the balance.

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