Who is the greatest artist? Balloon debate

Saturday 20 October, 5.15pm until 6.30pm, Fountain Room

While the London Olympics has understandably dominated the capital’s cultural agenda, 2012 has also been another booming year for art lovers. Major exhibitions of Leonardo da Vinci, JMW Turner, Pablo Picasso, Lucian Freud, David Hockney and Damien Hirst have seen audiences flock to the capital’s galleries to enjoy some of the most important artists through the ages. The international arts trade continues to be robust against the backdrop of the global financial instability, although few would feel the $250million paid for ‘The Card Players’ in 2011 offers much of a guide to where Paul Cezanne truly stands in the pantheon of great artists.

Yet beyond the household names who can pack out blockbuster shows, debates around contemporary art reveal general confusion over what art is and how it is judged. The late Thomas Kinkade, who was one of America’s most popular and commercially successful painters, is barely known outside of his own country. In the UK, Jack Vettriano has become an eye-roll-inducing byword for middlebrow commercial tastes, while the conceptual art of YBAs such as Hirst and the annual populist hostility to the Turner Prize seems to confirm public bewilderment over artistic value.

Who, then, can lay claim to the title of world’s greatest artist? Polymath visionaries such as Leonardo or Blake, or would we be better focusing on a Rodin or van Gogh who came to define one medium or style? Did Duchamp or Warhol successfully overturn our conception of what had come before? Or Kandinsky or Picasso who made us look at the world afresh? Could Hirst’s fascination with mortality qualify him for immortality? Or should we drop the obsession with personality and, in the style of Grayson Perry, start singing the praises of the unknown craftsman?

Artists being represented by our balloonists include:

-Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)
-Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610)
- David Hockney (1937-)
-The Rohan Master (c.1410-1440)
-William Morris (1834-1896)
-Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
-Mark Rothko (1903-1970)

Listen to session audio:

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Jan Bowman
author and illustrator; author, This is Birmingham

Sara Radstone
artist; tutor, HE Diploma in Fine and Applied Arts (Ceramics), The City Lit, London

Emma Ridgway
curator, creative learning, Barbican Centre

Sarah Strang
founder, CIVIC ROOM

Richard Stubbs
educational consultant; former teacher; advocate, Greenwich Advocacy

Richard Swan
writer and academic

Jason Walsh
journalist; foreign correspondent, CS Monitor

David Bowden
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; culture writer

Produced by
David Bowden associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; culture writer
Richard Stubbs educational consultant; former teacher; advocate, Greenwich Advocacy
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