Epater Le Bourgeois, And Other Dinner Party Games

Turned on the radio a moment ago, Radio Four, because I needed some background noise while cleaning three years of grime from my window frames, and here's Grayson Perry again, the sculptor--second or third time on the BBC in as many days--talking, again, about cross-dressing.

Yes, that's right, you remember him now; he's the bloke who made the "provocative" gesture of dressing in women's clothes to go and receive the Turner Prize (or whichever parade of Establishment mediocrities it was.) Well, as I recall, he dressed like Alice-in-Wonderland, or Little Bo Beep. Oh ho, you arty little tike you.

Now, old Grayson is a genuine cross-dresser, and there's nothing wrong with that. A man who hasn't put women's clothes on at least once in his life has no sense of adventure, as far as I'm concerned. But when he wears costumes, rather than clothes--which he appears to do--he resembles a pantomime dame most of the time--he reveals what his real intent is, at least in his public appearances. Epater le bourgeois, right Gray old chap? It's an old artistic tradition, after all.

Except knocking the bourgeois just doesn't work anymore, and it certainly doesn't prove that you are on the edge artistically. Why? Because the bourgeois hegemony has broken down; they don't set the standard for behaviour in society anymore. They might still have their own restrictive conventions, but nobody else adheres to them or gives them any credence. The only people who want to knock the bourgeois are bourgeois, and the only people who get a kick out of watching it are bourgeois. To the rest of us a cross-dresser receiving a prize for middling sculptures, and then being interviewed by Melvin Bragg as if he were daring, or even interesting, just demonstrates how clueless and irrelevant and removed from the real cultural vortex everybody involved must be.

We all knew that about the art world, of course.

But I do long for the day when I switch on my radio and hear the BBC talking to someone who's actually taking sculpture, or painting, or writing, or poetry, somewhere that it needs to go. This danger they parade in front of us is all so disappointingly safe.


tom said…
very true