In this Culture Show special on the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition, art critic Alastair Sooke asks what makes someone an artist and why do they do it?
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17 and I read about it for years when I was younger and always wanted
to be a part of it. When I first entered the Summer
Exhibition, my eldest son was about four and now he is in his 40s!
He is six foot four and I am for four foot five!
-- four foot five. It is one of our real institutions, established for a
long time. A really prestigious place. So entering the competition
is slightly daunting because I have only just really started.
I am quite prolific so I am making, making, making, and I was here last
night until the early hours. I contacted my friend and she said, go
to bed, I said, I need to do a bit more!
Here we go again! I cannot find the end!
I read somewhere that they have 13,000 entries. Carroll made me this
bag, it is the perfect size. Good luck.
Thank you. I feel really nervous but also quite
excited. It could mean a new phase in my life.
It is the top one, if you get in, I think you have got it made!
If I got in this year, it would be fantastic. I will enter and see what
Exhibition, the largest open art exhibition anywhere in the world and
I have, many times, have visited and reviewed and even entered work. What
I always think when I see people submitting work is, why do they do
it and why do we do it, where does this compulsion to create, from?
--, from. I remember when my husband was buried, I was sitting in bed
until two a.m. Doing a watercolour. And I could forget all that was
going on. You lose yourself in it. If you love what you do so much
committee will it wherever you are, even if you are living in a
cardboard box. But if you are a pain to or a sculptor or a poet or a
writer, you will make sure you do that. If you are dedicated and you
are going to be an artist coming you will do it.
My husband has always been very supportive. I was ill for a long
time and had one treatment and at the end of it, he said to me, I
should do what I love. After everything I had been through.
I have been shortlisted ten times and last year, I actually got in.
One of the judges is one of my icons. Norman Ackroyd. And he is a
printmaker, and his work is fantastic. It is exciting to think
of Norman Ackroyd seeing my work. It This is an extraordinary exhibition
where we attempt to open it up to the entire country and abroad. They
can submit before us. They will be judged by their fellow artist, not
before art historians and curators. And that is pretty unique.
judges being artists and critics. The fact that anybody can enter,
everybody is on an equal footing. I like to keep those to -- I would
like to keep those two back. It is quite, no, no, maybe.
We are going to look at a total of possibly ten, -10,000, 11,000.
You sometimes when you have not chosen one for a while, think, my
eyes getting jaded? Then suddenly something good hit you and you
realise the good thing will still hit you. And you will be able to
keep it back. That is well painted.
You are just not quite sure exactly what they are looking for!
You cannot please everybody so I think you should stick to what you
know and believe in. It has to be genuine. And say the
truth. That is good art. It is like John Keats and owed to it
Grecian urn. Duty is truth and truth beauty. -- Ode To A Grecian Urn. --
beauty is truth. There is nothing MORI can do.
It is in the hands of the judges. -- there is nothing MORI can do.
-- and MORI can do. very personal thing. All careers in
the art world depend to some extent on the vagaries of taste and
judgement of others, but it -- but it is especially true of the
thousands who submit work here every year. And in the vaults beneath the
Royal Academy, there are 1,000 works of art which made it through the
first round of judging. And today, I will look through them with a top
commercial art dealer and I am careers to find out what she makes
of it. -- curious. Kate, come in here and
come to the vaults of the Royal Academy.
The vaults of the Royal Academy, what a privilege!
It took the judges five days to choose the shortlisted 1,000, but
only half of this lot will make it onto the wars!
I think it would be quite good if we try and select if you works we think
will make it in. It is not competitive.
Maybe it is! It could be slightly. At we have to
wear these gloves. And I think we are allowed to rummage around and
see what we can find. I will go around here. I think there is some
fertile territory this way. I will head over here.
John is my art handler for the day. You have a colleague who will look
after Kate. We will start here and work
through. How do you approach this genuinely when you see works of art
you have never encountered before? You can give them a couple of
seconds and no if you will engage with them. So it is a gut feeling?
Think it is. Pasted interesting because it feels conscious and
refined and that you learn it. -- taste is. Which you are saying it is
the opposite. I think you can combine the two but it will always
be highly personal to me. In some ways, I think I have lost my
personal taste and it is hard to choose art I want to buy for myself,
That is quite interesting. It is origami. Don't look at my! It is
cheating. -- mine. Go back, there was a drawing unfinished and it has
stayed with me. What you would potentially see in the exhibition is
not necessarily the cutting edge of the London art scene, but that is
really refreshing because we think we are these big taste makers and
everything we show in our galleries is the be all and end all and we are
probably speaking to a much smaller audience than this show. Probably
200,000 people see the summer show, it is non-elitist.
I like that. This stack, for me, is Aaron, let's find another.
I will, over there in a minute. -- is barren.
This is your selection. There is something quite insistent about what
you have chosen. Those two definitely work together.
-- consistent. A photograph very quickly becomes the style trick, it
is difficult for a photograph to live in the moment and it dates
really quickly. -- idealistic. When you look back at an old photograph,
they were probably just as colourful than as we are now. This has a
fairly autobiographical connotation because there is nothing I love more
than art history. You have Guernica, Hokusai's Wave, Rafael,
Lichtenstein. Of all, it is probably the one I would not sell in my
gallery but if I saw it and I could afford it, I would have to buy it.
That is interesting, different levels of taste. Oscar Wilde said,
all criticism is a form of autobiography, and I have not shown
you mine yet but it is exposing when you pick things and say, this is
what I have chosen. Particularly when we have two
references to fake blonde hair. Getting a bit worried about my
taste! I have picked things that I think
quite pleasing and satisfying images that you could have at home, that
you might have in a small intimate, domestic setting. If this gets in,
we could be wandering around and there will be a moment of stillness
and quietness and a space for technical brilliance within the show
that was the thinking. Walthamstow Marshes, which is somewhere I cycled
through a lot, so a personal connection. And although it is in
monochrome again, it is technically very good. This is pretty safe and
was pleasing. This, I just picked on in cheek, not
because it is just a bunch of statues of naked women -- Tong in
cheek. I liked the idea it is puncturing the pretension of looking
at art and pontificating about something. But my favourite piece of
all is this big photograph. There is nobody in it but it is clearly a
self-portrait and it feels full of identity and personality, even down
to finishing a Coffey... That coffee is still warm. As a journalist,
which would these are -- which of these artists would you want to know
more about? This is complicated and a what is happening, you want to
find out about the person who created it, there is a creative
intelligence behind it. We have had a sense of these able
who created these works, I feel quite confident about two, three of
my pics. You are quite confident? hope I see some of them. The next
stage is from tomorrow, all the work selected will be put in the gallery
and somebody starts to hang them and then of course you have much more
complicated processes of how they bounce off against each other.
whole new set of rules. Handing a letters of notification are going
out. My husband told me to practice my faces, but I haven't! Aah, they
haven't been chosen. So, that is sad. I feel really disappointed,
but, on the other hand, I know a lot of people entered, and it's not
going to stop me entering in the future. I think my work is good
enough to be shown there. I've got so used to getting the old reject.
Ooh! "I'm pleased to inform you that the selection committee is still
considering your works." Well, that's made my day. Oh, that really
has. They're still considering my work! Yes! OK, cool. Woo! Amalia, my
mum needs a hug because my work wasn't selected. So I feel sad about
that. OK, I will give you a hug. I have to go upstairs and do homework
the shortlisted works are in the galleries, the serious business of
the hang is underway. Is that the way up, is it? It's all done under
the watchful eyes of this year's co-ordinators, Norman Ackroyd and
Eva Jiricna. Their job is to hang an exhibition, not just of members of
the public, but of famous artists too. That is the great thing about
the summer show. I remember Jasper Johns giving me an absolutely
beautiful mass massive etching. I just chose about a dozen really
beautiful student works and hung them around the Johns. It was a,
kind of, shrine, you know? You can do that in the Summer Exhibition.
What an amazing validation, particularly when you are
potentially in the next room next to Anthony Caro. How brilliant. I mean
I would love it if they hung the pictures with no labels. Emphasise
the fact that it is a completely mixed occasion. Norman and evil ya
might be judges this year, but back in the day they submitted
themselves. If you want to be an artist, that is what you do.
submitted by drawings in 1973. I think that was. So they were hung on
this wall. I never expected that anybody would select my little
drawings. You know, it was just an absolutely fantastic event in my
little life. Before I was an Academician I used to submit for the
summer show. Most years I was accepted and hung. A couple of years
I was rejected and not hung. I was disappointed. In order to make it a
little bit sweeter, we always open a bot of champagne when we lose the
competition and then we cheer up and think, OK, so when is the next one?
You've got to be tough as old boots as an artist especially if you get
past the age of 40. There's the old quote - that everybody is a poet at
18. You know to be a poet at 40 is to be a poet. If you can survive
right up to the age of 40 and you are still working then, you are
probably going to carry on doing it for the next 30, 4 o 0 years.
years. Nice, nice. I will do that now. One artist showing this year
found fame late in life. Like international artists invited to the
Summer Exhibition in the past, El Anatsui is installing his work in
the courtyard. Hi, El. Hello, good to see you. This is looking
spectacular. It's actually a work that I hadn't seen face-to-face
because I worked on it all on the ground. So it is my first time of
actually seeing it. What is it made of? Bits of metal? Yeah. It's made
of liquor bottle caps. You know, I cut and flattened out and joined
together into the sheet. His massive works have been hung in Berlin,
Venice and New York this is one of the biggest of the lot. It's made by
a huge team of workers in Nigeria stitching together a �250,000 bottle
tops. I fwound them in a bag that was thrown in a bush. I knew because
I crushed them and they were soft and you could crumple and all those
things that was something that could be developed in into an expressive
material. Stumbling across treasure. Yeah. He found fame with great
shimmering cloths at the age of 70. He is proof positive that
after hours. You think about all the artists, living and dead, who have
come and gone over the years. Perhaps that's why anyone makes art
in the first place, to be remembered, to leave your mark on
the world. Norman, it's quite a pleasure being here out of hours,
when there is no-one around? Beautifully quiet in here. Nobody
bothers you. It's wonderful. When I came round the corner I found you
contemplating these. These are paintings by Mary Fedden? When Mary
died last year we put a memorial group together and I volunteered to
put Mary's group together because she was a very dear friend. I have
known her for 50 years. I thought this should be in this big gallery.
I wanted to put them in my gallery. When I think Mary Fedden I think of
pictures that look look more like the upper two, a still life, a lot
of colour, a flattened sense of the picture plane. Tlt isn't a sense of
tremendous depth. She is deliberately flattening things out.
This isn't a still life at the bottom. That does have enormous
depth in it, in terms of landscape, going through the graveyard with
cows. You want to go in and round the corner. There is some light
coming in. It's a mysterious picture. I've always thought that
artist must have one eye all the time on posterty. I mean we are
looking at a picture in which there is a graveyard, there a's a sense of
pronounced sense of mortality. Are you thinking of what happens next?
Nt aren't we all? It's a bid for immortality, as well? I have
pictures by dead artists on my wall. I suppose it's immortality. I look
at Samuel Palmer in the morning. You know. ?It gives me great joy,
virtually every day. I suppose it's immortality. Maybe my etchis will
give other people that joy. I suppose it's immortality, yes, I
concede -- etchings. I don't mean it's an egotistical thing but I
always imagined you know as a successful artist you must think and
hope that it's what will happen to your work. I hope my work, I hope my
work survives. And that some people are carrying on looking tat in 100
years' time and think that's not the at all bad. There are certain
subjects which are going to encourage immortality within art?
The human face will always be a subject to the Uffizi, there's two
Rembrandt paintings about the size, one of him when he's a young Jack
the lad and one of him about a year before he died. They are just
sitting there. There's Rembrandt's life and the way he could look at
himself and was in touch with his own mortality and all that kind of
things. Well that's what Rembrandt's about. There's a paradox there. He's
painting his own mortality and in doing that he's achieved
immortality. That's art.In two weeks before the Summer Exhibition
opens, the galleries are almost finished and the last paintings are
being hung. The second and final letters of notification are going
out and the wait is almost over. Didn't get in, did I? What does it
say? "they, available to collect and remove by 4. 4.00pm on Saturday 8th
June. Never mind. Because I got shortlisted that is enough for me at
the moment. It 's got to keep showing my work. Keep making and
keep growing as an artist. I'm still young. I've got time. Ooh. There's a
card in here. That looks, ooh, that is significant that. I'm in! I'm in!
He-he. Varnishing Day. Oh, a week Monday. Iement' in! I'm in! I got in
the Royal Academy again. You're joking? No I'm not. I've got in with
Bodiam castle. Have you? That's brilliant. Ain't that lovely?
Varnishing Day at the Royal Academy used to be a chance for painterses
to apply a few final touches, but these days it's more of a
celebration for the successful artists and also the first chance to
see their works hanging on the walls of the Summer Exhibition. Oh, I can
see it! That's a good position. It's not very good, is it? Just a few
days before it opens to the public, the Royal Academy throws open its
doors to invited art biest who have been queueing round the block. --
buyers. Good to see you again. We have come together on Buyer's
Day. We have indeed.Are expecting 4,000 to 5,000 people through the
doors today. Everyone has a book, a price list, they are having a look.
Red stickers have gone up beneath certain works. Since I have got to
know you, Kate, I like you very much, I noticed you have a slightly
competitive side? It has been said. It has been said. Do you remember
when we met before and we were walking through the vaults? Yes.
Works did we both select? Five. Five each. I've been told that I'm quite
bad at masking my emotions. The score is. I might have to sit down.
Tell me. The score is Kate Bryan 4, Alastair Sooke 2. I'm so happy.I
thought you might be. Well done. Thank you. We should go on a victory
lap for you. We will look at some of the pictures that made it in. Here
is one. Yep.You liked this most of all? I thought, for me, if I
switched off from work and I just thought something that I would
really like b quite diverting and nice to have at home, I think I
think I could live with that. news for you? It's sold.'s gone. It
could have been yours for... What would you price this at? I don't
know, �2,000. Somewhere between �2,000 and �5,000. I think you need
to make Nelly an offer. In here it's �1,300. I should have got in
earlier. The record, there is a print over there that I did pick out
and then I put it back. I just want it to be known. If that makes you
feel better. This is one of my two. Do you remember that one? I liked
that. It still has a presence because it has that quietness and
that sense of interiority. Your eye is drawn to it? It's the strongest
work on that wall. , where shall we go next? Shall we do one of yourts
or several of mine? I'm not enjoying this. I want to go home! You are not
even drawing attention to it. There it is. Fine. I'm trying to play it
cool. Here is another. Yes. Yes. No, you have a very, very good eye.
is actually quite an interesting wall, I think. Because it has two of
your works on it? I feel this room is a nice happy balance for us both
because there are two works in here. Here is your photograph. Yes.There
is mine. Both really good pieces. This is a fantastic room. I would
hang, all of these works here in this corner in my gall wri --
gallery. No problem. Maybe I should put the competition to one side and
Now in its 245th year, and with 12,000 submissions, the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition is the largest open art exhibition in the world. In this Culture Show special, art critic Alastair Sooke asks what makes someone an artist and why do they do it? He hears from curators, art dealers, and of course the artists themselves.
From Sunday painters to international contemporary artists, from traditional landscapes to giant sculptures made from bottle tops, the Summer Exhibition is the British art scene laid bare.