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.