But is it art?

I know what response I don't want. I don't want people to think it's crap.

Feature by Will White | 14 Aug 2006

Before handing over £125 for parts and labour, it's rare that you'll need to ask your plumber, "But is it plumbing?". And I've never shaken my head as the letterbox clatters in the morning and sighed "But is it post?" But it seems fair to ask David Shrigley – whose exhibition, Recent Prints, continues at the Edinburgh Printmakers Gallery until September 3 – whether his work should be thought of as 'art'; working in many media and freely mixing clumsily handwritten words with childish and naively drawn figures, Shrigley's work seems consciously to confound that label. And yet he strongly asserts his status as an artist: "I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone who could say that what I do isn't fine art. I do what fine artists do. I make a piece of work, it gets put in a gallery and bought by rich people."

That his work operates within The Art World, being exhibited, reviewed and traded, is undeniable but this reveals very little about the work itself. When I ask him about a recent review of Ron Mueck – in which Jonathan Jones suggested that those who enjoyed Mueck's work simply hadn't seen enough art – he is, again, strangely capricious, at first strongly defending the artist and then alligning himself with Jones, asserting that, "You see it and that's it; the experience doesn't get any better afterwards." For Shrigley, Mueck's huge, visceral sculptures run the risk of operating on too simplistic a level and it is this risk – of being thought of as intellectually and emotionally two dimensional – that he hopes to avoid in his own work.

To some, the appearance of this work on the front of greetings cards is inconsistent with a fear of being perceived as shallow or intellectually undemanding. Shrigley sees it first and foremost as just another good way to communicate with people. But the audience, whether it be those who have commissioned the work or those who will eventually see it on a birthday card or in a gallery, come a distant second in the creative process: "As I draw, I respond to the work myself and my response is the most important." It is only later, when the work leaves the studio and enters the public arena, that this feeling of self-sufficiency changes: "I know what response I don't want. I don't want people to think it's crap."

Although Shrigley feels most comfortable drawing ("I'm better at that than I am at anything else. It's the most intuitive thing for me and I don't have to think very hard.") his current exhibition draws together a series of woodcuts and etchings created between 2000 and 2005. It is far from representative of his output during that period – in which he has worked in sculpture, photography and animated film – but it gives a fair impression of the breadth of his interests and the direction of his work. Shrigley's recent Prints are sparse and elusive. Whether they're art or not is anybody's guess.