96 | Fuck the Canon - Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

I was in London a while ago, staying for a few Days. It was rainy and cold for the first time in months, which, while I enjoyed the more normal London climate very much, made being outside uncomfortable, so we went to see the 250th Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. It was a revelation.

Now there’s something very special to know about this exhibition. The Royal Academy of Arts consists of 80 artists professionally active in the UK at least partially. At all times at least 14 sculptors, 12 architects and 8 printmakers have to be members alongside painters and other artists. This makes for a very diverse collective. Every year for some 250, the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition is held, which allows every member to submit 6 artworks. There is no, or little quality control. Which means, as an RA member, you’re allowed maximum artistic freedom, with somewhat of a guarantee to be exhibited. Everybody just does what they want. A sculptor might find themselves intrigued to try out painting, no experience required. It’s more about having fun than proving your worth to the art world. No artwork titles or even artists are written out besides the artworks and no explaining text is bombarding you with pretentious art historian slang. So viewing the RA Summer Exhibition has a very different feel to it than other art exhibits.

Usually, going through a museum I worry about missing something. The canon tells me all of what I’m seeing is important art, if something doesn’t speak to me, it might just be because I haven’t understood it yet. What if I missed out on a revelation, something life changing. I still enjoy going to the museum, but at times it can become exhausting very quickly.

But it doesn’t have to be. Going into the Summer Exhibition one doesn’t have to expect anything and one shouldn’t. The canon is unknown. Especially, being so wonderfully curated by Grayson Perry this year, you never know what to expect. The relieving feeling of knowing there might be nothing in the whole exhibition worth your time. Every Room is a mix of a lot of silly jokes, badly painted drawings, some kitsch and some really great stuff.

What I ended up doing was slowly strolling through the exhibit, my eyes as well as my feet, until something caught my eye. Then I’d stand still for a while, digest, appreciate, giggle, and move on. No worries about missing out, but excitement for what I might find next. The only thing that matters is the artwork, and the only artworks that matter are the ones that immediately entangle you.

And this got me thinking, shouldn’t this always be the way to look at art. Of course, money changes the situation, trying to get the most bang for your buck. But in the end, we’re all paying for an experience, for memories, which should be the best they can be. It can be hard to overcome oneselves completionist mindset, but artists are just people as well. Not gods, bestowing great wisdom upon you with every work. Just enjoy yourself. Fuck the canon.



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