Critic Attacks Hospitals' 'Comfortable' Art Hanging art on hospital walls improves the sterile atmosphere. At least that's what people say. But Grayson Perry, the Times of London art critic, recently wrote an essay criticizing the practice. Perry says that art should challenge, not comfort — even in hospitals.
NPR logo

Critic Attacks Hospitals' 'Comfortable' Art

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Critic Attacks Hospitals' 'Comfortable' Art

Critic Attacks Hospitals' 'Comfortable' Art

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Back now with DAY TO DAY.

Hospitals can be scary, sterile places, so what's wrong with a little art on the walls to humanize the place, make people feel better? Plenty, says British Artist Grayson Perry. He wrote an essay for the Times of London, criticizing hospital art.

And Grayson Perry joins me now. Welcome to the program.

Mr. GRAYSON PERRY (Art Critic, Times of London): Hello.

BRAND: Well, you know, no one's saying that hospital art is high art or even good art. But, you know, what's wrong with a soothing landscapes to make people feel better?

Mr. PERRY: I don't know if it does makes them feel better. I mean, I think, they just used it as a distraction, you know, and an old magazine would do that. For me when I - one of the great things about art is that it could have make us think about being human. And one of my favorite bits of art was actually made for a hospital in 16th century, which is Grunewald's "Crucifixion." It's probably the most gory painting you can ever imagine, you know? And really it was made for hospital for the kind of the patients to maybe think about their condition and realize that we do have fallible bodies carrying us around.

BRAND: Well, do we really want to be reminded of that as we're being wheeled into surgery?

Mr. PERRY: Yeah, I think it's quite good to be realistic. I mean, you know, I don't really want to die looking at some kind of placid fishing boat scene or you know, soothing, meaningless abstract. I think it's quite...

BRAND: So you'd rather look at a Francis Bacon as your kind?

Mr. PERRY: Yeah, why not look at a bit of really good art before I pass away and...

BRAND: But for people who are not at death's door and perhaps are feeling a little freaked out about being in a hospital, you know, maybe some - a nice watercolor could calm them a bit and not make them dread the whole process.

Mr. PERRY: Yeah. As an artist, you know, I object to some of the uses art gets put to. You know, often, politicians want to use art to kind of improve neighborhoods and stuff like that. I think in hospitals, they kind of use it like - it's got two reasons: One is the kind of - it's kind of like a nursery mobile. And the other reason is that it kind of makes the hospital look a little bit more upscale. I think art is now part of this kind of vocabulary of kind of interior fittings that give a place a kind of cared for aspect. I think, why do we have to have lowest common denominator art in hospitals, you know? I think intelligent people, you know, get broken legs as well.

BRAND: What about all these scientific studies that say that art does indeed have curative properties?

Mr. PERRY: Yeah, I wonder who the scientific studies that commissioned by, you know, probably the same people that commission the art up in hospitals?

BRAND: So what is art for then in your opinion? What...

Mr. PERRY: Nothing. The only reason to make art is because somebody wants to make it. And the only moral benefits of art - usually afforded to the people who make it and not the people that look at it.

BRAND: But you're an artist, you do want people to take something away from your art, don't you?

Mr. PERRY: Oh, for sure, yeah. Preferably a catalogue.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: Spoken like a true artist.

Mr. PERRY: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: Grayson Perry, thank you for joining us.

Mr. PERRY: You're welcome.

BRAND: That's British artist Grayson Perry. He won the 2003 Turner Prize.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.