Taste and Democracy: From William Hogarth to Grayson Perry and Beyond
14th Mar 2018
Introduced by Professor David Crow Pro Vice Chancellor Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon Colleges and Professor Philip Schofield, Professor of the History of Legal and Political Thought, Head of Department The Bentham Project, UCL Faculty of Laws
‘Taste and Democracy’ is the title of a glazed ceramic pot made by Grayson Perry in 2004. When Perry delivered the first of four Reith Lectures for the BBC in 2013 with the title ‘Democracy Has Bad Taste’, arts practitioners were given a new kind of platform in debates on taste. In this Professorial Platform, I will ask what position the art school occupies in debates on taste and democracy in the twenty-first century and how it can affirm its position when caught between the cultural ideal of the critically astute tastemaker and the contemporary spectre of the algorithm. I will argue that the true democratic problem of taste lies in the claim on a socially responsible act of self-representation within the domain of free choice, which sacrifices individual gratification in the name of better judgement. The historical basis of this claim is worth examining in order to understand the role of the art school at a moment when the commercial idyll of middle-class taste is coming apart at the seams.