Grayson Perry’s ‘Who Are You?’

[Written in December 2014 for 53 Million Artists Blog]

Grayson Perry: Who Are You?

“The most beautiful and complex artwork that we can make is our identity” – Grayson Perry

Who Are You?, Grayson Perry’s brilliant three-part series on Channel 4 explores individual, family and tribal identity in modern Britain. In each episode we see him meet various people and groups undergoing change or a crisis in their identity. He then captures this in a portrait in wide-ranging mediums including paintings, sculptures and tapestries, which are now currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery.

Linking creativity to identity is a fascinating notion in contemporary society. Take the social media platform Facebook. The way you select, edit and adjust images and text to portray your life is arguably a creative project. As the quote by Perry at the beginning suggests, your identity is a complex artwork, which is made manifest through such digital tools as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Flickr and so on. You’re constantly making creative decisions in how you present yourself online.

This raises the question of how much of your identity do you display? Which part of you are you expressing, or not expressing? Since recently getting into creative writing, I’ve rediscovered or perhaps found for the first time a different and new part of me that I’m enjoying exploring. It’s been rewarding and fun re-imagining myself with this new interest in my life and trying to develop my aptitude in this area.

For me, the Grayson Perry TV show was communicating something about identity and creativity and the present moment. Identity is not just about the past (where do I come from and how did I get here?), nor solely about the future (where am I going?), but about the present. This is where creativity fits in.

Creativity is all about being present in the moment. Doing something right here and now. Getting absorbed in an idea or a project. Rather than creativity escaping the present, it makes us face it head on. Creativity is about embracing the present moment, reimagining yourself and being playful. This brings about renewal and a source of nourishment for us.

Spending time doing something you wouldn’t normally do allows a space for experimentation; you don’t have to conform or meet expectations. You’re not trying to achieve anything, you’re just being. This is very liberating and rejuvenating. And is a path full of discovery.

Furthermore, opening up a playful and creative space in your life gives you the opportunity to break habits. Some habits can be good in that they allow you to get things done quickly and more efficiently as you’ve honed them over time. However, often habits belong to a certain chapter of your life and can be out of date. Being creative allows you to be or do something new. The way we have constructed our lives and daily routines might need a bit of a shake up and require updating. Break free of the chains of your routine for a while. If it doesn’t work, so what? You still had fun being playful.

As Grayson Perry said in this interview, “I think the artists who will go down in history are the ones who in some way respond to the moment they’re in.” This can be interpreted as artists who say something meaningful about their time and place will be the ones who are remembered. However, it could also mean artists who act in the present moment they find themselves in will be the ones in the history books. If this is the case, we all ought to seize the moment and explore our identities through art and creativity.

What does the Tinchy Stryder and Chuckle Brother single tell us about creative collaborations?

[Written in October 2014 for 53 Million Artists Blog]

The recently unveiled collaboration between Tinchy Stryder and The Chuckle Brothers has gone viral in less than a week, clocking up over a million hits on YouTube. One of the reasons that it has gone viral is the unlikely nature of the collaboration – a young grime artist from East London rapping with a geriatric duo who made ChuckleVision, a children’s comedy TV show.

According to the video description, Tinchy met The Chuckle Brothers while filming for Celeb Juice and really hit it off so decided to record something in the studio. The resulting song, ‘To Me, To You (Bruv)’ was released through the online youth broadcasting platform SBTV with all proceeds going to charity.

Although there are jokes abounding on the internet about potential future collaborations with Rosie and Jim or the cast of Saved By The Bell and other 90s TV icons, there is something quite distinctive about the creative energy produced in putting together two unlikely collaborators.

We tend to be drawn to the image of the lone genius who brings insight or a particular kind of creative flair to the world. However, research has shown that the lone genius is a myth and instead it’s partnerships or groups that generate breakthroughs.

In Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration (2008), Dr Keith Sawyer, lists 7 key characteristics of effective creative teams. These are:

  1. Innovation Emerges Over Time – no single actor comes up with everything, every person contributes something.
  2. Successful Collaborative Teams Practice Deep Listening – most people spend too much time planning their own actions and not enough time listening and observing others.
  3. Team Members Build on Their Collaborators’ Ideas – when teams practice deep listening, each new idea is an extension of the ideas that have come before.
  4. Only Afterwards Does the Meaning of Each Idea Become Clear – creative actions take on meaning later.
  5. Surprising Questions Emerge – transformative creativity occurs when groups think in new ways.
  6. Innovation is Inefficient – Improvise rather than evaluate and judge. Improvised innovation makes more mistakes and has as many misses as hits. But the hits can be phenomenal and thus make up for the efficiency and failures.
  7. Innovation Emerges from the Bottom Up – Improvisational performances are self-organizing.

As we can see, the Tinchy Stryder and Chuckle Brothers collaboration embodies many of Sawyer’s characteristics of successful creative teams. Perhaps one of the reasons the artists kept the partnership a secret is because of the tendency of people to judge and shoot down ideas rather than see them through. As Sawyer notes, when you take risks and improvise, it can lead to phenomenal hits.